Every time we turn on the news, it seems like our world is getting crazier. While we are more “connected” than ever because of social media, we also are increasingly isolated, divided, and lonely.
One of the boldly simple answers to many of our world’s problems today is healthy relationships and strong marriages. As the saying goes, “Strong marriages equal a strong society.” This couldn’t be more true.
Although marriage rates are at an all-time low and divorce rates are slightly down, many people still rightfully lament the broad societal loss of interest in marriage. We now have have a historic high in the number of young adults who have never been married. Why is that?
There are numerous reasons, but part of the problem is that young people haven’t had good marriages and good relationships modeled for them, and our culture has lost sight of the importance of real community, which is another strain on marriages and the marriage culture today.
Supporting and Strengthening An Institution We Need
In our work over the past decade, we saw a need to support marriages and invigorate the marriage preparation process in communities throughout our nation. The marriage preparation process has not seen any significant innovations in decades, and it shows.
For example, the “best” marriage preparation programs and resources in the Catholic Church and beyond were not actually lowering the divorce rate or increasing church attendance. So we went back to the couples who had divorced and interviewed them, plus hundreds of engaged and newly married couples, and realized we needed major changes in the marriage prep process.
We turned it on its head; the focus became more personal, relational, virtue-focused, and came to include the entire church community and mentorship from other couples that the engaged couple either knew and admired already or chose from a group of couples in the church community. We call our program Witness to Love, and the fruits of this work have been tremendous.
The divorce rates in churches where Witness to Love is implemented have dropped from a 23 percent divorce rate at five years post-wedding down to less than 6 percent. Both the newly married couples and the couples who mentored them are happier and thriving. Couples going through the program choose their own mentorship couple, then the church supports both couples in formation and community.
This program has been so successful that we released a version in Spanish that is now thriving, plus a program in French in the works. We also recently launched a program for civilly married couples, which will also be available in Spanish and French soon, and we’re working on a interdenominational version for those outside of the Catholic Church, so they may also benefit from this resource and community.
No Seeking Shortcuts
We consistently hear directly from young couples who go through the Witness to Love process in their communities. Their resounding response is that they crave friendship, connection, authenticity, support, truth, and someone to walk with them.
Early on, we discovered that young couples are not looking for a checklist of items to get done before the wedding day, or for other shortcuts. As one couple recently informed their pastor, who was taking the checklist approach, “We want the deluxe model. We want what our cousin and our friends had. We want the kind of marriage prep that will change our lives. We are willing to do the work, and we want to learn and grow together.”
Those of us who work in the minefield of marriage ministry often assume that young people do not want to do the hard work involved in setting their relationship up for success, but the reality is they are highly motivated to do the work and they want a marriage that will last. The one caveat is: they have to trust the people they are working with and see value in what is being offered, so that they can choose to invest time and energy in it. They do not want an information-driven, impersonal, “forced fun” approach that takes place in an office, in a large group, or from behind a podium with group of people they don’t know.
When marriage prep is personal, relationship-driven, focused on community, friendship, growth in virtue, and authentic accompaniment, the marriages born of this approach are a driving force that will renew churches and families, help build a society that values life and a community. In this space, marriage will flourish.
Looking at the world today, it can be hard to see a way forward for society, particularly for marriage. But we have seen that authentic relationships can transform marriages and, in turn, transform society. If we want to see a change in our world, we should look at our families and marriages. As Mother Teresa famously said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
This couldn’t be more true, especially today. Studies show that marriage strengthens and stabilizes society, so if we want to see a thriving society, we should re-focus our attention on our own marriages and family life, and support young people and other couples thrive in their marriages.