In two weeks, when Cupid draws his bow and arrow on Valentine’s Day, he should be armed with a permit. It seems his aim has been off target lately. How else do we explain so many marriages ending in divorce?
The tale of Cupid is a fantasy, but the tragedy of divorce is not. While divorce has been around almost as long as marriage, splitting up soon after the exchange of vows is a sad reality.
Some years ago, I came across a book titled “Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony.” It offered a disturbing look at a new trend among newlywed Generation X-ers: the “starter marriage.”
Starter marriages were defined by author Pamela Paul as first marriages lasting five years or less and ending without children. In her book, Paul, a journalist and starter marriage “survivor,” interviewed some 60 couples between the ages of 24 and 36.
Paul made a brief comparison between starter marriages and starter homes. The difference between the starter marriage and the starter home, she said, “is that virtually nobody who enters a starter marriage thinks he’s in it for the short term and will eventually upgrade to a better marriage.”
What becomes painfully clear in Paul’s book is that the couples she interviewed just weren’t prepared for marriage and definitely not committed to making sacrifices to keep them going.
“I rushed to get married,” stated one 29-year-old divorcee. “My marriage was an unfortunate mistake, and it wasn’t worth saving because we were not meant to be.”
Preparing couples for marriage is one of the Catholic Church’s most important ministries. Without healthy, happy couples, all other sacraments suffer greatly. That is why the U.S. bishops issued a national pastoral framework for marriage and family ministry in June 2021. Titled “Called to the Joy of Love: A Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry,” the document is intended to serve as a practical guidebook for couples and families.
In addition to a high divorce rate, church leaders worry about a low marriage rate. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S. marriage rate declined to six marriages per 1,000 population in 2019. It’s the lowest level since the U.S. government began tracking marriage records in 1867.
Other recent challenges to the traditional bond of marriage include same-sex marriage and cohabitation.
One part of the bishops’ pastoral initiative for marriage is a website — foryourmarriage.org — that offers tips and articles aimed at promoting healthy marriages. It’s an excellent resource for couples and parish ministers to explore. The DIocese of Green Bay also offers its own resources to couples at gbdioc.org/families-and-schools-of-discipleship-formation/marriage-prep.
Tracking social trends, such as the starter marriage phenomenon, is a necessary task for church leaders if they want to help married couples avoid split-ups. So, too, is evaluating our current marriage preparation programs.
Pastors, lay ministers and parish members need to offer their support for these important outreach efforts, which seek to put a stop to starter marriages. Who knows? Maybe we’ve found a way to restore Cupid’s expert marksmanship.