America is continuously plagued by divorce at an alarming rate destroying the basic structure of our society, which is the family. The trend is ever increasing and a growing problem in American culture. Divorce rate kept rising since 1920s with 13.4 per 100 marriages to 32.8 per 100 marriages in 1988. Today, studies have shown that 50% of first marriages in the United States fail. In 1940, the National Center for Health Statistics recorded 264,000 divorces and annulments and reached 1,182,000 in 1990.
On the other hand, the National Survey of Families and Household cited that 84 percent of separated women would seek divorce after three years of marriage and 91 percent after five years of marriage. Some studies find the divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples – including those who are currently satisfied with their relationship – to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong. (Gottman & Silver 4).
The effects of divorce are most severe among women and especially to children who may develop psychological problems leading to juvenile delinquency. Economically dependent to their husbands and fathers, these women and children are forced to live on welfare and practically left homeless.
Realizing this serious problem, state governments are now initiating measures to save marriages from deteriorating and protect families from breaking apart by enacting laws of mandatory marriage counseling prior to getting a marriage license in hope of preventing more divorces. I favor such law that would educate couples about the seriousness of marriage and the necessity to lifelong commitment. Critics oppose this early intervention because it is just a waste of time and money or that counseling does not work.
More often in marriage expectations are in contrast with realities resulting to various conflicts. It is extremely important therefore that would be married couples completely comprehend what they are up against, know the challenges that they may encounter, and learn how to deal with uncertainties. When Louisiana passed the law in 1997, Steven L. Nock conducted a five-year empirical study about the consequences of premarital counseling. In the report entitled Can Louisiana’s Covenant Marriage Law Solve America’s Divorce Problem?, 81% of the 521 married couples believed that mandatory counseling was very important.
Their overall marital quality was better compared to those who did not take premarital counseling. In addition, their levels of commitment and agreement were higher. They experienced fewer worries and have greater sharing of household chores.
The Evil of Divorce. To clearly discuss the merits of mandatory marriage counseling, I feel the urge to talk about the evils of divorce so that one can truly appreciate the benefits of counseling in the preservation of marriage. Each year, some 1.2 million children become products of divorced parents. Their normal childhood experiences are disrupted and filled with all sorts of stress. Many of them carry physical and emotional pain throughout their adulthood and may commit the same mistakes as their parents did. It is a chain reaction that affects family and our society.
Children raised in single-parent families are more likely to drop out of high school, have lower grades and attendance while in school, and are less likely to attend and graduate from college than children raised in two-parent families. They are more likely to be out of school and unemployed and are also more likely to become single parents themselves, than children raised in two-parent families. Studies have found that, compared to children in two-parent families, children of divorce score lower on measures of self-concept, social competence, conduct, psychological adjustment and long-term health. (Bramlett & Mosher 4).
Furthermore, they commit crimes, exhibit suicidal tendency, hook in illegal drugs, and become victims of abuse. They have turned into unproductive members of American society. The government spends almost $150 billion annually trying to subsidize single-parent families. However, only $150 million a year is devoted to programs that strengthen marriages. Most marriages end in divorce because of poor communications, financial problems, lack of commitment, infidelity, failed expectations, and physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
As an institution, the government has the obligation to protect and restore the integrity of marriage. Thus mandatory marriage counseling is one of the best ways to teach couples the importance and true meaning of lifelong commitment. To rebuild the traditions of family life, the government in all levels must have the will to act to safeguard the sanctity of marriage.
The Benefits of Marriage Counseling. The principal aim of marital counseling is to help couples stay together. Marital education “immunizes couples against disappointment and despair…it also prevents the development of problems that are costly to children and all of society. Mismanaged conflict… predicts both marital distress and negative effects on children’s physical and mental health”. (Leslie par. 21). Preparation before marriage is critical to the success of family life. Mandatory counseling will help couples strengthen their relationship, love, intimacy, and commitment. It will enhance their communication skills and manage conflicts with the right attitude.
This process will also evaluate the views and determination of the couples whether they are ready and compatible for marriage at the same time identify possible setbacks and weaknesses to better equip themselves in overcoming future challenges. Having a better view of marriage with its legal and natural obligations, couples will have a better chance to live a healthier marriage.
Through counseling, couples will have informed decisions to enrich their married life. A well-planned marriage is the key to combat divorce. More often people get married only to discover the true character of their partner and it is already too late to retreat. With mandatory counseling, couples will have the opportunity to know each other sincerely and have the chance to confront and resolve their problems and apprehensions before living together for a very long time. I suggest that couples seek premarital counseling so that they would fully understand and value the meaning of marriage and family.
Conclusion. In our modern culture many Americans no longer see the importance of marriage. They look at marriage as a private contract rather than a lifelong commitment. One can easily obtain divorce by simply writing “irreconcilable differences”. They forget that marriage has special obligations: 1) to love and respect each other; (2) to live together; (3) to make decisions relating to family life in the best interest of the family; (4) to maintain and teach their children “in accordance with their capacities, natural inclinations, and aspirations”; and (5) the right and duty of each spouse to manage the household. (Spaht 469).
Marriage is a social institution and the foundation of every family. As a moral fiber of American society, families must be protected by all means. It is the duty of all citizens. However, the government must take steps to enact laws in preserving family values as well as formulate and invest in social programs that strengthen marriages.
Counseling is a helpful tool in rescuing marriages. That is why I advocate for the passage of bills that would require couples to attend mandatory marriage counseling before they can obtain their license so that they be educated on the responsibilities and commitment they have to render to society and their families. Should it be necessary, the rules on divorce must be strict and that “no-fault” divorce must end.
The government must set goals to reduce divorce and campaign on its risks. Community-based marriage programs are advantageous to assist couples in getting married and monitor those marriages that are endangered. In this way, any problem would be resolved immediately. By saving marriages, we save our families.
Gottman, John and Silver, Nan. “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert”. Three Rivers Press, New York. 16 May 2000.
Bramlett, Matthew D. Ph.D. and Mosher, William D. Ph.D. Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, No. 22. Department of Health and Human Services. July 2002. 10 April 2007 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_022.pdf
Leslie, Mark A. Legislative Efforts to Strengthen Marriage. Public Law Research Institute. University of California Hastings College of Law. 2004. 10 April 2007 http://sierra.uchastings.edu/plri/spring98/marriage.html
Spaht, Katherine Shaw. Covenant Marriage: An Achievable Legal Response to the Inherent Nature of Marriage and its Various Goods. Ave Maria Law Review. Vol. 4:2. 2006. 10 April 2007 http://www.avemarialaw.edu/publications/lawReview/articles/AMLR.v4i2.spaht.final2.pdf