Marriage: is it going the way of the horse and carriage?

A new survey out this week from the National Marriage Project shows that marriage is an institution in decline in … Continued

A new survey out this week from the National Marriage Project shows that marriage is an institution in decline in many parts of American society. This “retreat from marriage in Middle America” will have wide-ranging social and economic consequences, say the survey’s authors.

Another recent study of marriage, administered by the Pew Research Center, showed that nearly 40% of Americans believe marriage is becoming ‘obsolete.’


What is marriage? Is it a civil union or is it a religious institution? How do you define it? Is there a marriage crisis in America today?

The horse and carriage is old technology; new technologies such as Facebook and Twitter are actually making it harder for young people to communicate in ways that can sustain the kind of life-long, sacred commitment that I believe makes a marriage. But young people are also rightly concerned about the hypocrisy they see in our society where “marriage” is supposed to be sacred, and yet is not available to all people.

If all people are created in the “image of God” in our Christian religious views, why isn’t legal and religiously sanctioned marriage available to all people? The hypocrisy in religion is also another reason many young people of my acquaintance are staying away from marriage in its traditional, legal and religious forms.

The new technologies of Internet communication, I believe, really are one reason why young people can’t seem to identify with marriage as an institution where you commit yourself to one person for your whole life. My husband and I just celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary, and I can tell you definitively that after four decades of marriage, it’s all about how you communicate.

I was visiting some friends recently and I noticed one of their young relatives sitting in a corner, tweeting furiously with a worried look on her face. She would tweet, check her phone again in a couple of minutes, and tweet again, looking more and more anxious.

When she went outside, I followed her and asked, “Is there something the matter?”

“I’m breaking up with my boyfriend,” she replied, looking at the phone.

“Why?” I asked.

“He says we’re not cutting it.”

“Why is that?” I ask. No answer. More tweets.

“You could call him and talk it through,” I suggested. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Well, you know the end of the story. She never did call him and by the end of the weekend they had broken up.

You can’t tweet your way through four weeks of a relationship, let alone forty years. I do believe that the overuse of social media in the age of the Internet is a serious barrier to the kinds of commitment that make for strong and sustained relationships.

But beyond this problem, there is also the issue of hypocrisy. I know quite a few twenty-somethings, and several of them have told me that they don’t feel it’s right for them to be able to get legally married when their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender friends can’t. I’ve also attended weddings of heterosexual couples in this generation where, as part of the service, this injustice is acknowledged and the right of all people to be married is named. And isn’t it tragic that LGBT people who want to get married and commit themselves to each other in a loving, life commitment are prevented from doing so in most states in the U.S. and by many religious traditions?

We as religious leaders have a hard time making a case to young people that a life-long relationship with one another and with God is possible when religious institutions discriminate. What does discrimination say to young people about God, and about the religious traditions where God is supposed to be at the center?

I believe hypocrisy by religious institutions, especially where discrimination is church policy, erodes trust in religious institutions and makes it hard for young people to believe that these institutions are of value in their lives.

Religious communities should be part of the way young couples find help in supporting their relationship through all the rocky times that marriage inevitably brings. But when the religious community itself seems shallow and hypocritical, young couples turn away and then they’re on their own trying to navigate their lives and their relationships without this support.

It’s a prescription for disaster.

I believe the best thing religious communities could do to help make a case for the value of a life-long, sacred commitment in marriage is to throw open their doors and welcome all people into sacred relationship with God and with one another.

And then, while we’re welcoming young people into sacred community, we might be able to occasionally recommend, “Put down that cell phone and talk to each other.”

  • thebump

    In the interest of journalistic integrity, I demand that the Post replace the above head shot of the authoress with a likeness that is less than three decades old.

  • rcvinson64

    For those lost on technology, cell phones and computers make it possible to communicate without having to face your partner. Face to face communication doesn’t allow you to ignore or silence your partner. The cotton gin and radio didn’t do that. The cotton gin is not kept in your pocket or beside. The radio does not feed voyeurism like a computer. My spouse and I use tech to enhance our relationship. We play games together at home and on our cell phones. Absent this endeavor, we could be doing those things with other people and creating a chasm in our marriage. We are non-recognized couple in Virginia (same sex). We aren’t letting that stop us from being a married couple(licensed in Connecticut). Marriage isn’t easy but we work at ours despite what society may think of it and us.

  • amelia45

    This is, actually, interesting. Is religious opposition to gay marriage causing young people to separate the ideals of marriage from religious ideals? Causing them to move away from faith rather that toward it?My children moved and did, actually, look for a church that is open to all, gays and straights alike. They love the Bible, but don’t read it as some word-for-word transcription taken by a scribe from God’s mouth to human ears to a clay tablet.It would be really sad if young people throw out religion and what it can tell us about love and relationships because they are so adament on a point which is not central to faith but to a viewpoint. No, the earth is not flat. No, the earth circles the sun. No, there really were dinosaurs before Adam and Eve. No, slavery is wrong. No, women can own property, vote, and go to church without a head covering, despite what Paul said. And, yes. I am as much a creation of God if the earth is 6,000 years old or 6 billion years old and if I am formed from the dust of the earth or the dust of the stars. My faith is not less if I find that gay people are also “normal.”

  • gladerunner

    FaceBook? Twitter? “making it harder for young people to communicate in ways that can sustain the kind of life-long, sacred commitment that I believe makes a marriage”I hadn’t thought of that. I’m pretty old though and don’t really hang around with many young whipper-snappers. I was always certain that it was the steam engine, the cotton gin, and maybe Marconi’s wireless that marked the beginning of the end for traditional marriage.

  • gladerunner

    “Religious communities should be part of the way young couples find help in supporting their relationship through all the rocky times that marriage inevitably brings. But when the religious community itself seems shallow and hypocritical, young couples turn away and then they’re on their own trying to navigate their lives and their relationships without this support. “There’s no real need for that community to be ‘religious’. There certainly is benefit, if not actual need, for community, we are very social creatures. But there is no reason to just assume that a person’s community must be religious in nature to provide meaningful support and encouragement in the realm of sage relationship advice/support. I’m still not sure what tweeting has to do with it. There’s always been one form or another of non-face-to-face communication… i.e, your example of someone ‘breaking up’ via twitter….. is that not exactly the same (just faster) as an old-fashioned ink and parchment Dear John letter?

  • RevMark2U

    First, congratulations on 40 years of marriage. That’s wonderful and amazing, and no mean feat.Second, although I agree with you about the excessive dependence on tweeting, I think it’s a storm that’s going to have to blow itself out; that we’ll have to wait until it comes up so wanting that there’s a new interest in the communication you speak of. In the long run I’m optimistic; in the short run, it’s sort of the drug of choice.Third, looking back on ancient documents (Gilgamesh, Mahabarata, Torah, Epistles, Luther’s “tisch reden”), has there ever been a time when marriage — ever shifting in its structures — has not been endangered?Finally, what is the deeper question? I think your focus on communication is one of the key dance steps, and then there are others (validation, passion, being for the other….)

  • getjiggly2

    Maybe young people are just tired of moralistic bombast. I mean, even I am, and I’m old.

  • platypus_chutney

    “But when the religious community itself seems shallow and hypocritical, young couples turn away and then they’re on their own trying to navigate their lives and their relationships without this support.”It always gets me when religious people assume that non-religious people feel lost and bereft in a lonely world. It couldn’t be further from the truth, because a fun, supportive community can be had without religion. Lately, religions seem more about condemning people than supporting them, anyway.