Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Which types of relationships have the highest rates of divorce?

A quiz for you, from Ruth Blog.

Question:

Same sex couples have had the legal right to form domestic partnerships in several European countries.  Denmark was the first to introduce registered partnerships, in 1989. Norway was second, in 1993, then Sweden in 1995. Data from 2 of these landmark countries, Norway and Sweden, as well as California,  have been studied enough to answer this question:

What types of unions have the highest rates of divorce?

  • Opposite sex married couples: men and women are so different, it is a wonder they ever stay married.
  • Male unions: men are naturally less committed, and less monogamous, so their partnerships don’t endure.
  • Female unions: women get so emotionally distraught over things. A union of two women, without any male counter-balancing their roller-coaster, is very unstable.

Hint: the answer is the same in all three countries!

And here’s the answer:

Female unions seem to have the highest divorce rates, followed by male unions, followed by opposite sex unions.

“For Sweden, the divorce risk for partnerships of men is 50% higher than the risk for heterosexual marriages, and that the divorce risk for female partnerships is nearly double that for men.”

“For Norway, divorce risks are 77% higher in lesbian partnerships than in those of gay men.”  (The Norwegian data did not include a comparison with opposite sex couples.)

In California, the data is collected a little differently. The study looks at couples who describe themselves as partners, whether same sex or opposite sex. The study asks the question, how likely is it that these couples live in the same household five years later. Male couples were only 30% as likely, while female couples were less that 25% as likely, as heterosexual married couples, to be residing in the same household for five years.

The only contradictory data I have found to this pattern is from the Netherlands. In the Dutch data, same sex couples have a 3.15 times greater dissolution rate than opposite sex cohabiting couples, and a 3.15 x 3.66 or 11.5 times greater dissolution rate than opposite married couples. But, female couples seem to be more stable than male couples.

And not all married heterosexual couples are equally stable.

Consider this USA Today article from 2011 about that.

Excerpt:

It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.

But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

“It’s a useful myth,” said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.”

“Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her.”

The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.

Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

[…]Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

Here’s a quote from an Oklahoma State University study that confirms the Wright and Wilcox conclusions:

History of Divorce and Religious Involvement

Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced. This pattern of findings held using various analytic techniques that test which variables differentiate persons who have been divorced from persons who have not been divorced, while controlling for other variables that might affect the interpretation of the data, such as age, age of first marriage, income, and gender. When both the global rating of religiousness and the item assessing fiequency of attendance at religious services are entered into the same analysis, the attendance item remains significantly associated with divorce history but the global religiousness item does not. This suggests that a key aspect of how religious faith affects marital relationships may be through involvement with a community of faith.

Basically, the more your worldview grounds self-sacrifice over self-centeredness, the more stable it’s going to be.

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The meaning of marriage: a lecture at Google by Tim Keller

Disclaimer: I have reservations about Tim Keller. I consider him to be too liberal for my tastes, especially on scientific (intelligent design) and political/economic issues. However, I think he did a good job explaining marriage in the lecture below.

Here’s the the video:

Details:

Timothy Keller visits Google’s New York, NY office to discuss his book “The Meaning of Marriage.” This event took place on November 14, 2011, as part of the Authors@Google series.

Timothy J. Keller is an American author, speaker, preacher, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is the author of several books, including “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.”

“The Meaning of Marriage” touches on topics that all readers can relate to, starting with the role of marriage in our culture, its history and the pessimism that is often associated with it. The Kellers also discuss the feelings of and acts of love, romantic relationships, gender roles, singleness, and the role of sex in a marriage.

I saw a lot of things in his lecture that echo my own views. One point where we agree is on not just looking for traits and virtues in the other person, but in seeing how they handle conflict and solve problems with you.  You have to give the other person things to do and see if they make progress and work cooperatively with you. Wes, who linked me the lecture, introduced the link by saying that this is the way that Christians should explain marriage to non-Christians. I agree, and I’ve added the book to my cart.

Here’s an article entitled “You Never Marry the Right Person“, that discusses one of the points in the lecture.

Excerpt:

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.

[…]The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “

The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Hauerwas gives us the first reason that no two people are compatible for marriage, namely, that marriage profoundly changes us. But there is another reason. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living lifeincurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love … ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.

When you are courting, don’t worry about appearances and feelings and passion so much, because that is all subject to change over time, and those things won’t help you with the real challenges you’ll face in a marriage. Worry about whether they are the kind of person who can make commitments and love other people self-sacrificially – even if they are unlovable. In the long run, their ability to read and understand issues, to care for others and serve them, to keep promises, to be respectful and supportive, to argue respectfully and reasonably, and to solve problems constructively, will all be far more important than appearances and feelings and passion.

And let me be clear again: give them things to do that challenge them during the courtship and see how they handle being given responsibilities – giving a person hard things to do is a much better way to test a person than recreational nights out with recreational drinking, recreational dancing and recreational sex. Marriage means commitment and hard work, not recreation. And that’s what you should test for – the ability to work hard at the relationship and to keep promises and commitments and to communicate reasonably and to work through difficulties fairly. The most dangerous thing you want to avoid is self-centeredness. You don’t want someone who is primarily interested in minimizing your feelings, and then getting her friends to agree with her that this is legitimate for whatever reasons. You want a person who has had a hard enough life that responsibilities and obligations are natural to her, and who doesn’t try to wiggle out of self-sacrificial acts of love when she doesn’t feel like doing it.

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What you do before you marry affects your marital happiness and stability

A recent article from The Federalist explains why chastity matters when choosing a mate.

Excerpt:

[A] new study shows that the more relationships you’ve had prior to marriage, the less likely you’ll have a good marriage. This seems somewhat obvious, but it’s so contrary to popular culture and practice these days that even the study’s authors say the finding is “counterintuitive.”

“In most areas, more experience is better. You’re a better job candidate with more experience, not less. When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality,” said Galena K. Rhoades, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver. She’s a co-author of the study “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?,” from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. The report has all sorts of interesting findings, including that large weddings and conscious decision-making in relationships are also factors in happy marriages.

Previous marriages and previously having lived with a partner were both identified as risk factors for less-happy marriages, the authors said. We know so much about how living together is a risk factor for all sorts of unhappiness that I seriously have to restrain myself from shouting at my female friends who tell me they’re moving in or have moved in with their boyfriends. I mean, even if there were no moral problem with it, it’s just bad strategy if you want a happy life.

[…][T]he nearly one-quarter of people in the study who had sex solely with the person they married reported high marital quality, higher than those who had sex with other partners prior to marriage. And the more sexual partners a woman had before marriage, the less happy she reported her marriage to be. Well that’s not what we’ve been told by the Cosmo-Jezebel alliance. The study’s authors speculate on why this might be.

One reason that more experience could lead to lower marital quality is that more experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners. A strong sense of alternatives is believed to make it harder to maintain commitment to, and satisfaction with, what one already has. People who have had many relationships prior to their current one can compare a present partner to their prior partners in many areas—like conflict management, dating style, physical attractiveness, sexual skills, communication ability, and so on. Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience.

I have to say that this factor is the biggest factor that gives me pause when considering marriage with a woman with a sexual past. Will I be compared to these other men? Will I be trusted? Will she be vulnerable to me? Usually when a woman has had past experiences with bad men, then she tends to be more guarded with me, regardless of how I would perform sexually after we were married. I am interested in a woman being trusting and vulnerable, yet a sexual past usually doesn’t make a woman more trusting and vulnerable.

However, there is a way to work on the problem, I think – and that way is taking a structured approach to courting that involves open communication and deliberate planning:

[T]he hook-up thing, which was a factor in lower marital quality, also matches with other less formalized arrangements that are becoming common among younger generations. If you can make out with someone thanks to the lowered inhibitions you guzzled down at the bar, you don’t have to make a formal request to ask her out or to plan a date. Similarly, many respondents reported shacking prior to marriage. And those who lived with their eventual spouse before making a commitment to marry reported lower marital quality than those who waited to move in together until they were engaged or married.

The study actually had people rate how much of living together was a conscious decision vs. something that just sort of happened. And the more it was a decision, the happier the eventual marriage was. This might be because of higher levels of commitment present at the time of moving in or because it reflects better communication skills, a key to marital contentment, the authors said.

The same sort of conscious decision making effect could be seen in differences in pre-marital counseling. While only 32 percent of those who did not have premarital preparation reported high marital quality, that jumped to 57 percent of those who did take part in premarital preparation. Less sliding, more deciding might not be a Millennial motto but it should be.

What you want to avoid is someone who cannot communicate and is not good at making decisions and then sticking with her decisions over the long haul. And that can be developed – it can be worked on and improved. But it takes time to do.

Here’s the author’s conclusion:

All the options make it hard to man-up or woman-up and make some decisions because we’re so terrified of missing out on the next best thing. But the whole truly counterintuitive point of a happy marriage is that you’re not supposed to be thinking about what your spouse can do for you so much as what you can do for your spouse. That’s why this whole commercialized approach to spouse-picking is wrong. When you’re trying to figure out which yogurt to buy, you’re doing a lot of comparison shopping, but you’re not thinking of what you can do for the yogurt, you know?

We all want marriage, more or less, but we couldn’t be doing a worse job of trying to attain it. We want to find the perfect spouse, even though he or she doesn’t exist and finding a perfect spouse isn’t what marriage is about. What’s worse, we demand that someone forgive us our many faults even while we’re mentally comparing our potential spouse with other people or figments of our imagination. We should stop with that and really work at doing what it takes to get married and stay happily married.

[…]Even if you have not made the healthiest or most prudential sexual choices prior to now, don’t flip out or despair. Just because some factors are related to marital happiness doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy marriage. Just focus on making better decisions from this point forward. Be conscious and deliberate about them. Stop letting life happen to you and start thinking about what you want and how to get there. And, finally, remember that your big extended family is a blessing and that rituals occur throughout the world for very good reason.

I think having a string of past relationships does lead a person to want to delay marriage and hold out for “the next best thing”. That’s why so many women are delaying marriage and getting into fertility problems. They want to have fun and them jump off the carousel into the respectability of marriage at the last possible instant. Which is not fun for a man who is seeking the kind of intimacy that grows slowly over time. I have always been impressed by couples who have been married for decades, but you get that by marrying for the benefit of that other person, instead of holding out for the best deal for you. If you find someone you want to care for for the rest of your life, just marry them – that’s my advice. Try to make relationships more about planning and obligations, and less about fun and excitement.

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Christians have always stood up for a romantic, committed, exclusive view of sex

Nancy Pearcey tweeted this post from Michael Krueger, and it’s a must-read.

Excerpt:

[I]n the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture?

[…]While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

Compare that with the sexual ethic of Muslims, for example. It makes me wonder why any woman would freely choose Islam over Christianity. Or atheism, for that matter.

Here’s a pro-tip for women: you want men who believe in chastity before marriage and who believe in committing to you exclusively as protector and provider for a lifetime. And they should have to prove that they can be faithful and committed during the courtship, too. You can’t just take their word for it, they have to work before the marriage to demonstrate their ability as a husband and father.

This topic reminds me of my previous post about early church attitudes to abortion and infanticide. Yes, we were solid there, too. We really have always been on the right side of disagreements about sex and love.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

The meaning of marriage: a lecture at Google by Tim Keller

Disclaimer: I have reservations about Tim Keller. I consider him to be too liberal for my tastes, especially on scientific (intelligent design) and political/economic issues. However, I think he did a good job explaining marriage in the lecture below.

Here’s the the video:

Details:

Timothy Keller visits Google’s New York, NY office to discuss his book “The Meaning of Marriage.” This event took place on November 14, 2011, as part of the Authors@Google series.

Timothy J. Keller is an American author, speaker, preacher, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is the author of several books, including “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.”

“The Meaning of Marriage” touches on topics that all readers can relate to, starting with the role of marriage in our culture, its history and the pessimism that is often associated with it. The Kellers also discuss the feelings of and acts of love, romantic relationships, gender roles, singleness, and the role of sex in a marriage.

I saw a lot of things in his lecture that echo my own views. One point where we agree is on not just looking for traits and virtues in the other person, but in seeing how they handle conflict and solve problems with you.  You have to give the other person things to do and see if they make progress and work cooperatively with you. Wes, who linked me the lecture, introduced the link by saying that this is the way that Christians should explain marriage to non-Christians. I agree, and I’ve added the book to my cart.

Here’s an article entitled “You Never Marry the Right Person“, that discusses one of the points in the lecture.

Excerpt:

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.

[…]The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “

The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Hauerwas gives us the first reason that no two people are compatible for marriage, namely, that marriage profoundly changes us. But there is another reason. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living lifeincurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love … ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.

When you are courting, don’t worry about appearances and feelings and passion so much, because that is all subject to change over time, and those things won’t help you with the real challenges you’ll face in a marriage. Worry about whether they are the kind of person who can make commitments and love other people self-sacrificially – even if they are unlovable. In the long run, their ability to read and understand issues, to care for others and serve them, to keep promises, to be respectful and supportive, to argue respectfully and reasonably, and to solve problems constructively, will all be far more important than appearances and feelings and passion.

And let me be clear again: give them things to do that challenge them during the courtship and see how they handle being given responsibilities – giving a person hard things to do is a much better way to test a person than recreational nights out with recreational drinking, recreational dancing and recreational sex. Marriage means commitment and hard work, not recreation. And that’s what you should test for – the ability to work hard at the relationship and to keep promises and commitments and to communicate reasonably and to work through difficulties fairly.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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