THE deterioration of the marriage relationship in American society has assumed almost epidemic proportions. The long lists of divorces and separations in the daily newspaper, the distraught people we come in contact with, the shocking news that long-time friends have decided to separate, and the current attitudes of people toward the marriage relationship are constant reminders of the high rate of divorce in the United States.
In the light of the growing nature of this problem, the question of consequence for the concerned Christian is how to respond to the human problems of marriage. How do we personally react to the breakdown of the marriage relationship? Does one sit back and fold his arms while he reflects on seeing a sign of the end or does he bring his Christian convictions and his energies to bear on divorce as a social problem?
If one accepts the challenge of consciously developing a personal program to meet the marriage crisis he should begin by determining the causes of the failure of this basic institution of society. Any serious effort to determine cause and effect in marriage failure will lead one to place money problems well at the top of the list and possibly at the very top.
Lester Velie, in his Reader's Digest article (February, 1973), proposes that money problems are indeed a causal factor. "What breaks up the young marriage? . . . It is lack of money. Or, to put it another way, lack of preparation for the job of supporting a family." He goes on to state that the lower the economic level of the family, the higher the likelihood of teenage marriage. His conclusion is that "it's the poor (teenagers and adults included) and not the rich who divorce most often."
The relationship of income to educational level has been well established. We need to take this relationship into account in thinking about the success potential of marriage. In tracing the cause of failure in marriage to its source we often find that it is finances and that this in turn relates to preparation for earning a living. In the latter half of the twentieth century career education involves a lengthy period of training. This is the age of the specialist, and it is essential for economic survival that the breadwinner have a specialty. Preparation to earn a livelihood in the trades also involves a long period of apprenticeship. Those who are not prepared to support a family in some way are seriously handicapped in respect to financial and marital success.
Economic survival is, of course, an important contributing factor in a successful marriage. This principle was expressed in the context of another century by Ellen White.
"Many have entered the marriage relation who have not acquired property, and who have had no inheritance. They did not possess physical strength or mental energy to acquire property. It has been just such ones who have been in haste to marry, and who have taken upon themselves responsibilities of which they had no just sense. They did not possess noble, elevated feelings, and had no just idea of the duty of a husband and father, and what it would cost them to provide for the wants of a family. . . . Most men and women have acted in entering the marriage relation as though the only question for them to settle was whether they loved each other."—Messages to Young People, p. 461.
The same mistake is made today by people who marry without the potential to support a family.
Many young people, shortly after making a start on career preparation, enter into marriage. The lengthy periods involved now in preparation for a lifework make it almost necessary and normal for young people to consider marriage before they finish their education. If this possibility were not open, marriage would be delayed in many cases until the late twenties.
Of course, it is not necessary to undergo this delay if there is a reasonable plan for support of a home until the career preparation period is finished. If a couple understands the problem of survival while one or both of them are still in school and have a well-worked- out program to finance both home and education, meeting the challenge can be a mutual project that binds them together. If, however, they are not willing to make the sacrifices involved, the price will be too high. This decision is one that needs to be carefully discussed and considered in the full view of its consequences, before marriage.
The companion financial problem to adequacy of income is economy in expenditure. Few people spend their money wisely. For the same level of support one family may require twice the amount that it would take for an other family in comparable circumstances. (See Gospel Workers, p. 460.) A great deal of money is wasted by many people on use less articles or on items purchased at the wrong time. The problem of economy is a complex one involving the personality and the habits of the people involved.
Some people have not learned to shop for a bargain. Bargain hunting can be overdone in either direction. Some waste endless hours trying to save a dollar while others go to the other extreme and buy a new automobile on impulse. To paraphrase an old saying, A dollar saved is a dollar earned, if it doesn't cost a dollar to save it. Some people walk all over five-dollar bills picking up nickels. We should train ourselves to concentrate on the large items first. Ten per cent saved on a $500 purchase is more worthwhile than 10 per cent saved on a 50 cent purchase. Shopping for major family items can be a fun experience for the whole family if it is approached properly. All too often one member of the family reserves this as his or her prerogative and buys on impulse or to satisfy his own selfish needs. The smaller items are important, but the tendency with many persons is often to go to extremes in comparison shopping on these.
We should consider all of the significant consequences of a purchase. To have a second auto may be a convenience, but it may not always be worth what it costs. In some circumstances a second vehicle may be essential, but we should remember to add up the total cost, including depreciation, insurance, repairs, service, and operating expense before we commit ourselves. When we look at the alternatives that are open for the dollars involved in this purchase we may find that a second auto is not worth it.
Communication about financial matters between marriage partners is absolutely essential to happiness in marriage. A bitter spirit is cultivated and a great deal of joy is missed when disagreements about finances are allowed to develop. The way to avoid these disagreements is to approach marriage finance as a family problem for which we are seeking a cooperative solution. To settle for less than joint agreement is to miss out on the satisfactions of doing things together. We all know that it is more enjoy able to do things with the persons we love. Why not include the financial aspects of marriage in our shared experiences?
To fail to cooperate in this sphere is to invite possible marriage failure. Many marriages are broken by contention over trivial matters, and all too often money is deeply involved in the trivia.
Practicing family economy is one of the challenges that can hold a marriage together when it is approached cooperatively. The lesson that it is more blessed to give than to receive is a statement of a basic principle about human behavior. Some have not learned that the greater pleasure comes from giving oneself and one's possessions to worthwhile people and causes. Too much has been said about the obligations of giving and not enough about the satisfactions. Giving satisfies needs of the givers. The basic needs of people include both the love need and the belonging need. (See A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1954, pp. 80-106.) Giving makes a contribution to fulfilling both of these human needs. If we are to be happy, productive people, we need to give of ourselves to God's cause, as well as to the human beings around us.
Giving brings a twofold blessing. "If you do, I will open up the windows of heaven for you and pour out a blessing so great you won't have room enough to take it in!" (Mal. 3:10, T.L.B.).* This promise is fulfilled in both material blessings and a blessing in personal satisfaction. To give fulfills the needs of man. To see the needs of man in the sense of things only is a narrow view and one that concentrates on the lower levels of need. God asks us to prove Him because He knows the nature of man and knows that the blessing is assured.
The well-being of society depends upon the success of the home as an institution. Christian living depends on the success of the home as a worship unit. One of the important works of the church should be to prepare people for marriage and to preserve the marriage relationship once it is established. God established marriage in the beginning by providing Adam with a companion; it is our work to fulfill His purpose.
"God Himself gave Adam a companion . . . celebrated the first marriage. Thus the institution has for its originator the Creator of the universe. . . . When the divine principles are recognized and obeyed in this relation, marriage is a blessing; it guards the purity and happiness of the race, it provides for man's social needs, it elevates the physical, the intellectual, and the moral nature." --Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 46.
The breakdown of marriage should be of special concern to the minister. Our solutions to the problem should be based on principle. Financial problems should be looked at as one of the primary causes. The couple that are willing to discuss both the income and expense side of the problem in search of long-range answers will be on their way to a solution. Ministers concerned about the purity and happiness of the human race will certainly want to direct some of their energies to dealing adequately with this growing problem.