What happens when couples have healthy marriages? They are happier and healthier, live longer, are more financially stable, have better sex and intimacy, handle stress better, and raise children who have significantly better chances for success as they grow into adulthood. On the contrary, virtually every societal ill is rooted in the breakdown of the family.
Divorce rates have escalated over the past 50 years. Between 1960 and 2010, U.S. divorce rates have increased from 26% to 42%. 11 of the 50 U.S. cities with the highest divorce rates are found in Florida. This is how South Florida ranks:
• Broward 64%
• Miami Dade 68%
• Palm Beach 67%
God’s plan for marriage is not only fading in America, but is often mocked. America’s new relationship norm is becoming co-habitation, out-of-wedlock childbearing and serial marriages. Consider that in the 1980s, only 13% of the children of moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage. In 2013, that figure has risen to 53%.
The disappearance of healthy marriages costs us all. It is said, “Marriage is grand, but divorce is a hundred grand.” Unfortunately, the costs of divorce reach far beyond the individuals involved. American taxpayers cough up $33.3 billion annually in social costs, which works out to be over $30,000 per divorce per year. When coupled with out-of-wedlock childbearing, the costs soar to $112 billion.
“Why can’t daddy live here anymore?”
Every day in Broward County, an average of 22 couples are divorced; with about half of these cases involving minor children. That translates to 11 parents explaining to twenty-something children daily (close to 150 kids weekly) that daddy’s not coming home.
The price tag for the kids?
Nearly 40% of American children today live apart from their father. Fatherlessness is considered one of the most harmful demographic trends of this generation.
Children raised by single parents are less likely to graduate from high school and be employed.
Children raised by single parents are more likely to have delinquent behavior, get arrested, get pregnant, and have mental health problems.
Children living in homes with unrelated men are at much higher risk of childhood physical and sexual abuse.
Children of divorce miss out on opportunities to develop critical relationship skills that are more likely to be modeled by parents in a stable marriage.
Children raised in single parent homes are five times more likely to be poor. 80% of long-term poverty occurs in single parent homes. In 2008, 36.5% of single mothers were poor, compared to only 6.4% of married couples with children.
Is there hope?
Divorce rates can be changed by changing the culture. The question is: who is intentionally working toward change? Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).
Satan (the thief) has been destroying families by whispering the lie that marriage doesn’t matter into our hearts and souls. By manipulating media and our school systems, Satan has convinced us that “it’s all about me”. Heard any of these?
• Sex outside marriage is okay. Just protect yourself.
• Oral sex isn’t sex.
• Test drive your marriage…live together first.
The good news is that, through education, we can learn to spot the lies, just as tellers at a bank are trained to identify counterfeit money by studying what makes it counterfeit. A number of organizations have taken up the cause. Many of these have teamed up to form the National Association of Relationship and Marriage Education (NARME). Research studies show clear evidence that relationship and marriage education (RME) programs work to reduce strife, improve communication, increase parenting skills, increase stability, and enhance marital happiness.
Live the Life Ministries (LTL) pioneered the Florida RME effort. Starting in 1998 with a coalition of churches, LTL found and/or developed curriculum for all ages. While not quite cradle to grave, they offer WAIT (“Why Am I tempted?”) classes to middle schools, dating training, online premarital inventories, mentor training, marriage enrichment classes and weekend “intensives” for distressed marriages. These efforts have resulted in a 39.6% decline in divorce rates over the 15 years that LTL has been working to turn the tide in Leon County (Tallahassee).
What can you do?
Everyone can play some part in redirecting the course of American family life, starting at home and moving to community outreach.
Pray for your own relationship and for other marriages. Pray with your spouse and your children regularly.
Take an inventory of your family life and take action to make improvements. Seek God’s instructions. Be intentional.
Get regular training in relationships, whether parenting, dating or marriage.
Live the Life has recently expanded state-wide, including Broward. LTL offers RME classes for participants or leader training for those churches who would like to conduct their own RME classes. It also hosts classes in other locations which may be attended by the general public.
• Help bring middle school relationship training to your church or a school. You can either become a trainer, help sponsor someone for training or sponsor a kid for the class.
• If you church does not offer RME’s, suggest that they bring them in. Live the Life will either train you or someone at your church to lead an RME class or will teach the class in your church.
• If you are married, you can become a marriage mentor. Live the Life offers a Start Smart program to train mentors in churches. This is also a great outreach tool.
• Donate to an organization who is championing this cause, such as LTL, so that they can carry on the good fight. Donations can be made by visiting livethelife.org.
The saddest words spoken in divorce recovery classes are, “If I had only known…” Help stop the cycle of family fragmentation. Get involved in rebuilding America from the ground up.
Patricia Hartman is a forensic CPA who works with clients going through divorce. She is also the Director of Marriage Education for South Florida at Live the Life, a faith-based not-for-profit organization that provides marriage and relationship education with a goal of decreasing divorce rates and increasing healthy marriages. She is also an author and speaker. She can be reached at Trisha@livethelife.org or (954) 295-1103