The number of people getting married in the United States is decreasing. According to W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project, marriage rates have declined over 50 percent in the last 45 years. Additionally, the divorce rate in America is nearly twice what it was in 1960. For a variety of reasons, Americans are wondering why they should get married. In a culture that touts the value of autonomy, financial freedom, personal happiness, and the importance of professional status and material luxuries, it is understandable how individuals might ask, “Marriage…what’s in it for me?”
As fewer men and women are deciding to tie the knot, those who do chose to say “I do” are making that choice later in life. According to the National Health Statistics Report (2012), the median age of those married for the first time is currently 28.3 for men and 25.8 for women compared with 23 for men and 20 for women in 1960. It is more and more common that women and men are spending their early years focusing on their career rather than building their families.
Traditionally, men supported the family financially and women took care of more of the domestic duties. As more and more women pursue higher education, gain higher paying jobs, and attain positions of influence, many are asking why they need a man in their life. Carmen Hope Thomas is a former Miami television executive and radio personality who was over 35 when she got married. Marriage was never in Carmen’s plan and in her new book, she intimately details why she chose matrimony for matters of faith, not a financial or emotional necessity.
Carmen’s book, in her words, is written from the perspective of a woman “who was successful in everything – except relationships.” She points out that often, “women adopt the thought that they need men that are doing ‘better’ than they are. If a man is not doing better, they feel they don’t ‘need’ these men; therefore, they opt to not entertain anyone that does not fit a certain financial status. This is problematic.” She points out that many women miss out on the happiness marriage brings because they make financial wealth their number one criteria. Carmen strives to challenge some of the myths and misconceptions some women have about the need for men in their lives.
Becoming who we are called to be
When asked about what she believes is most valuable about being married, she shares, “Marriage is that one relationship, that one union that has the ability to build your character in a way that no other relationship can. In marriage, you live with this person, enter into financial commitments with the person, have children with this person, and set out to spend your entire life with this same person. During this lifelong arrangement, there are health challenges, career shifts, loss of loved ones, personal triumphs and defeats, and your marriage – a good marriage – can get you through it, sharpening your character the entire way.”
While some voices in our culture purport that the purpose of life is to be happy, wealthy and comfortable, another view is that our purpose is far bigger. We are called to become more like Christ, by living a life that exhibits such attributes as love, joy, peace, mercy, kindness, selflessness and patience. Essentially, to become less self-focused and focused on becoming the person we were created to be by loving and serving others.
If love is the greatest commandment according to 1 Corinthians 13:13, it’s important to know what that looks like. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 paints a picture of what living out God’s greatest commandment looks like. It says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Marriage hones our character and teaches us, within the marriage covenant and beyond, to live out the greatest calling on our lives.
Hope Thomas notes, “What I discovered was, my skills and my successes were all training for my new career as an awesome wife.” She cites the Proverbs 31 Woman as an example of the kind of skills necessary for marriage. They go far beyond cooking, cleaning and carrying a baby on one’s hip. This chapter in the Bible paints a picture of a “wife of noble character.” She is described as resourceful, a business woman and someone in whom her husband has full confidence. She is not weak, meek or lacking in contribution. It is the knowledge, organizational skills, character, perseverance, commitment, understanding of relational dynamics and hard work, often learned in professional life, that can make women (and men) good spouses and partners.
While many women assume that marriage is a waste of time and resources, suggesting that somehow their career carries so much more importance than ‘home’ and ‘domestic’ duties, Hope Thomas disagrees. “It took me awhile to understand God’s ideal, but once I had children, I got it. I am far more fulfilled now than I’ve ever been,” she said. Her book unpacks this issue by discussing God’s plan for marriage and invites readers to consider whether we are getting what we want out of marriage beyond God’s ideal.
For more information on Carmen Hope Thomas’s perspective on marriage, check out her book, “Why Marry a Man You Don’t Need?”
Terry Morrow Nelson, Ph.D. is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She is also president of the Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. Terry is happily married with two small children.