Exposing the Lie: Marriage and Manipulating the Media

No doubt you’ve seen the headlines, Marriage Is Not an Antidote to Poverty.  It’s a lie–or at least wishful thinking.  If Marlboro came out with a pr campaign that said, “Anti-Smoking Efforts Fail to Curb Lung Cancer Rates” would you believe it?  Or would some part of you say, “Hmmm.  Maybe there is something else going on here.”

The same is true about the paper underlying the headlines. It’s a position paper–essentially a PR campaign of the marriage-hostile “Council on Contemporary Families”, and since all news is PR these days, the press is swallowing this report whole.  The paper is fine for what it is, but it is not a study, nor does it report new findings.  Despite what the news is leading you to believe (or has been lead to believe) this isn’t a new study demonstrating the failure of the marriage movement to address poverty.  In fact, the position paper  that is the source of all the buzz actually supports a foundational point of the marriage movement’s campaign to fight poverty.  Namely, that marriage after baby is a risky proposition, especially if the husband isn’t the father. 

University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox does a great job respectfully fisking this non-story.

Ironically, this CCF report just confirms that old wisdom recently articulated in the report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America: namely, men, women, and children are much more likely to enjoy a stable and supportive family life when they sequence marriage before parenthood. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution pointed out in their book Creating an Opportunity Society, young adults who put education, work, marriage, and parenthood in the right order—first finishing high school (or college), then getting a job, then marrying, and then having a baby—face very low odds of poverty.

And while it is true that most of the federally funded programs designed to strengthen relationships among low-income couples with children have not achieved success, this is a common pattern for new policy initiatives (most of these programs are just a few years old). It usually takes some time for policymakers to figure out the best strategy to address a critical public policy challenge. Heck, almost fifty years after Head Start was launched, the evidence suggests the federal government still has not figured out how to make Pre-K effective for poor children—and yet, given preschool’s potential benefits, lawmakers remain determined to make the program work.

He goes on to share actual research on marriage initiatives that actually are fighting poverty.  You should go read his post.  It’s good stuff and essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come out on top in those water-cooler conversations where people can’t wait to tell you how your values are outdated and your morals are dead.   The data is on our side, folks.  When you see reports that claim to show that marriage isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, know that there is a growing body of data–never mind 4000 years of cultural experience–that gives you the power to say that the rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated.


The Emotionally Distant Marriage–Can Catholics Accept It?

New research shows that a “happy marriage” depends less on whether a couple is actually close and more on whether the couple is as close as they care to be.

I often run into this with the couples I counsel.  One spouse wants more emotional/spiritual/psychological intimacy and the other is fine with the way things are.  They then challenge me to tell them who is right, while simultaneously asserting that no one has the right to tell them how they should live their marriage.  This is where Catholic approaches to marital counseling differ significantly from secular approaches.

The secular counselor would try to split the difference, saying that there is no objective ideal of what a good marriage looks like and that the couple just, basically, has to find a level of intimacy they can both tolerate and try their best to just camp out there.  That makes sense if marriage serves no greater purpose than the mutual comfort of the couple.  But, as a Catholic counselor working primarily with Catholic couples, I think this approach is deeply flawed.


For me, it all comes down to who gets to define what a happy marriage looks like.  For most couples–especially those who get married by a JP or in a denomination with a limited theology of marriage–the answer is, “they do.”  For these couples, as long as they fulfill the basic, civil, commitments of financially providing for each other and raising whatever kids they have, they are allowed to define their subjective union however they like based on whatever makes them comfortable.

Catholic couples (or at least Catholic couples who marry in the Church) don’t have this option.  When a couple gets married in the Catholic church (whether the couple realizes it or not) the couple is promising to live up to the Catholic Church’s definition of what a marriage ought to look like–not their definition.  When you get married in the Church, you surrender your “right” to define what your marriage ought to look like.  That’s why the Church doesn’t allow couples to write their own vows.  The vows you say define what you have a right to expect of each other and the marriage.   When you get married in the Church, the vows you make commit you to becoming a living, breathing example–not of your vision of love and marriage–but the Church’s vision of love and marriage.  Choosing to be married by the Church and in the Church means that you want to bear witness to the rightness and value of the Catholic vision of love–not yours.

The Catholic Vision of Marriage.

Living up to the Catholic vision of love is a tall order.  Catholics believe that marriage is a sign of the intimate union Christ desires with the Church (c.f., Eph 5:32), and we know from the saints that God desires a complete, total, all-consuming union with us.  He wants a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love with his bride and he wants the world to know it.  It falls to Catholic couples to be a witness to the world of the kind of love Christ desires with each of us by being a physical representation of that love.  The world needs to be able to look at any Catholic couple and see–not perfection–but a consistent striving toward a one flesh, intimate partnership that inspires and reminds them that the Church is the place to turn to discover the love everyone aches for, but few believe is possible.  Catholic couples are challenged by the Church to stand out in the world as a prophetic witness to a love that never fails, that welcomes children as a sign of love and hope, that makes two into one.

So when Catholic couples come to me with different desires about the degree of closeness they want to experience in marriage and say, “Who’s to say which of us is right” I am able to competently answer, “The Church does.  And by marrying in the Church, you agreed to apprentice her definition of what your marriage should look like.  So let’s all get the chips off our shoulders and get to work building the prophetic union you promised to build when you stood at the altar and signed on the dotted line by saying, ‘I do.'”

The Catholic Difference in Marital Counseling

Granted, no couple is going to totally achieve that kind of intimacy this side of Heaven, but we have an obligation as Catholic couples to, well, die trying.  That’s why, when Catholic couples are struggling in their vocation, it is so important to seek a counselor who understands the Catholic vision of love and marriage (incidentally, it isn’t enough that your counselor is Catholic.  He or she really has to have a practical understanding of the Catholic vision of love and personhood). A secular marriage counselor can only get you to the place where you cobble-together a marriage that fits inside your comfort zone.    A well-formed, Catholic marriage counselor is going to give you the tools and support you need to pursue that Catholic ideal of intimacy and partnership in every aspect of your lives together.  A well-formed Catholic marriage counselor will give you the tools to overcome the challenge you are facing presently, but he or she will also remind you of your destiny as a Catholic couple to be intimate partners to one another–the kind of partners that show the world what love really is and what love can really do.


For more information on living out the Catholic vision of love and marriage.  Check out these resources.

~For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Life Long Marriage.

~Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

~The Pastoral Solutions Institute Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice–for Catholic-integrated telephone-based counseling/psychotherapy services

~Retrouvaille— A healing retreat for couples who are struggling in their marriage.


Marriage… Good for What Ails You?

“It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

We often think of that scripture in spiritual terms, but our souls are intimately entwined with our bodies to the degree that you can’t meaningfully talk about one without discussing the other.  Or, that is, you can, but then you’re talking about death–that unnatural separation of body and soul.

The upshot, of course, is that whatever affects the body affects the soul in some way and whatever affects the body affects the soul as well.  It stands to reason then that the way we choose to love one another–or not as the case may be–affects our health.

St Paul reminds men of as much when he says that a husband ought to love his wife as he loves his own body (Eph 5:28).  It turns out that he was speaking more literally than we knew.  According to a new study,

…married people have better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers and are less likely to develop chronic conditions than their widowed or divorced counterparts. A University of Missouri expert says that people who have happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age; aging adults whose physical health is declining could especially benefit from improving their marriages.  (read the article here).

If taking care of your marriage because you want love your spouse better wasn’t enough of a reason, then perhaps this will provide a little extra motivation.

For additional tips on how to make your marriage (and your health) better, I hope you’ll join me in my “40 Days to a Better Marriage” Challenge that I describe below. Every day, I’ll offer one, small, thing you can do to cherish each other a little better and help your marriage be a better witness to the free, total, faithful, and fruitful love God longs to share with all humankind.

Love doesn’t have to do big things to produce big benefits.