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The Wisdom of Marriage

Mar. 04 2010

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.|Christian Post Guest Columnist

Rightly understood, marriage is all about permanence. In a world of transitory experiences, events, and commitments, marriage is intransigent. It simply is what it is - a permanent commitment made by a man and a woman who commit themselves to live faithfully unto one another until the parting of death.

That is what makes marriage what it is. The logic of marriage is easy to understand and difficult to subvert, which is one reason the institution has survived over so many millennia. Marriage lasts because of its fundamental status. It is literally what a healthy and functioning society cannot survive without.

And yet, modernity can be seen as one long attempt to subvert the permanent - including marriage. The modern age has brought the rise of individual autonomy, the collection of populations in cities, the weakening of family commitments, the waning of faith, the routinization of divorce, and a host of other developments that subvert marriage and the commitment it requires.

Added to this list is the phenomenon of cohabitation. The twentieth century saw the phenomenon of cohabitation become the expectation among many, if not most, young adults. But the end of the century, the progression of intimacy (including sexual intimacy) was likely to follow a line from "hooking up" to cohabiting.

A new study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics suggests two very important findings: First, that cohabiting is now the norm for younger adults. Second, cohabiting makes divorce more likely after eventual marriage.

"Cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first co-residential union formed among young adults," states the report. The facts seem daunting. The percentage of women in their 30s who report having cohabited is over 60 percent - doubled over the last fifteen years.

Reporting in The New York Times, Sam Roberts documents the rise of cohabitation among the young. He cites Pamela J. Smock of the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center. "From the perspective of many young adults, marrying without living together first seems quite foolish," she explains.

That perfectly captures the new logic - that it would be foolish to marry without first cohabiting. How can you know if you are really meant for each other? How can you measure compatibility without the experience of living together?

That logic makes perfect sense in a society that is increasingly sexualized, secularized, and "liberated" from the expectations of the past.

Reacting to the research findings, Professor Kelly A. Musick of Cornell University asserted, "The figures suggest to me that cohabitation is still a pathway to marriage for many college graduates, while it may be an end in itself for many less educated women." The study report affirmed her assessment: "Cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first co-residential union formed among young adults ...As a result of the growing prevalence of cohabitation, the number of children born to unmarried cohabiting parents has also increased."

But, as this new report suggests, cohabiting before marriage does not lead to a stronger and more permanent union. Instead, the experience of cohabiting weakens the union. As Roberts reports: "The likelihood that a marriage would last for a decade or more decreased by six percentage points if the couple had cohabited first, the study found."

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This is an interesting and thought-provoking article. Given the state of marriage (and divorce) in America, there might be good reason to re-think our ideas of what marriage is, and what it could be...

From The Urantia Book:

Ideal marriage must be founded on something more stable than the fluctuations of sentiment and the fickleness of mere sex attraction; it must be based on genuine and mutual personal devotion. And thus, if you can build up such trustworthy and effective small units of human association, when these are assembled in the aggregate, the world will behold a great and glorified social structure, the civilization of mortal maturity. Such a race might begin to realize something of your Master's ideal of "peace on earth and good will among men." While such a society would not be perfect or entirely free from evil, it would at least approach the stabilization of maturity.(160:2.10)

Said Jesus:

"...it is the divine will that men and women should find their highest service and consequent joy in the establishment of homes for the reception and training of children, in the creation of whom these parents become copartners with the Makers of heaven and earth. And for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall become as one." (167:5.7)

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