TAKE BACK YOUR MARRIAGE:
A CHALLENGE TO COUPLES, CONGREGATIONS, AND COMMUNITIES

William J. Doherty, PhD
University of Minnesota
www.drbilldoherty.org

Keynote Presentation at the Smart Marriages Conference
June 21, 2001
Orlando, Florida

I've become a better culture watcher since I messed up so badly in 1994. Diane Sollee called
me in 1994 to say that she was thinking of trying to jump start the marriage movement, and I said,
"Forget it, Diane. Nobody cares. Marriage is not on the horizon as a key issue for the nation. I
had forgotten this wise comment until Diane graciously reminded me of it a few weeks ago. A
lot of what I'm going to talk about today is what's happening to marriage in today�s mainstream
culture, so fair warning: I've been wrong before. But I think I've improved a bit in my culture
watching, and I see trends pointing to a turnaround about marriage. Some are statistics and
some are anecdotes, but together they point to something important:

- There has been a recent up-tick in two-parent families in the United States, particularly in minority
communities. We may have bottomed out and started upward.

- The National Marriage Project's poll of twentysomethings found that 40% agreed that parents
should stay together for the sake of the children, compared to 15% of the rest of the population.
These are the children of the divorce revolution speaking from experience.

- The minister who helped popularize the marriage vow, to be stay together "as long as we both
shall love" has publicly recanted. He told USA Today, "I would never use such language anymore.
People need to take their vows more seriously." He regrets he ever used the phrase "as long as
we both shall love."

- The President of the United States recently spoke out for married fatherhood�yes, married
fatherhood. That's partly how I got into the marriage movement, by the way, through the path of
the fatherhood movement, because I saw that if I'm going to promote active, involved, responsible
fathers, there is no better way to do it than to promote good marriages. And I suspect that if Al Gore
had been elected president, he might have said the same thing, so I don't think this is a partisan issue.

- In the popular culture, in the last two weeks, I found encouraging words at separate ends of
the popular cultural spectrum, "Sex and the City," the HBO series, and The Prairie Home
Companion radio show. If they are converging something is happening. Now of course I never
watch "Sex and the City," but, you know, I hear about it. It's a show with racy content depicting
four thirtysomething women in the New York singles scene, fairly sexually active, but underneath
it's a very conservative show because they are longing for marriage. One of these women got
married this season, and soon after getting married, she and her husband ran into deep problems
with their sexual relationship, and I was expecting to see the marriage unravel, because sex is most
important--well, it's named "Sex and the City," after all. And they did separate, because Charlotte's
husband Trey was impotent and unwilling to really work at it. But much to my surprise, the writers of
the show, a week ago, depicted the couple as working on their problem, even after they separated,
and in the episode last Sunday they reunited. Trey said to his wife Charlotte, "My penis and I have
talked it over, and would like to ask you to move back in and marry us again." Even if this marriage
ends in the future, the writers are at least taking marriage more seriously than any other theme on
the show.

- And finally, the radio show Prairie Home Companion. For those of you who don�t know the show,
Garrison Keillor is a sort of folklorist of the Midwest and of rural community life. He talked about
attending college graduations this year, and what it's like to have your last child go off to college
and be left alone as a couple. In a vignette and song he wrote about it, he starts out with notes
of sadness and longing. I happened to tape his little presentation and his song. Here it is. Note
what he ends up saying about marriage after the children are gone.

"Children of friends at Princeton University, all these handsome young people in black, and little
touches of orange marching across a beautiful, beautiful mall and Gothic buildings up to Harvard
and students marching across Harvard Yard for commencement. So much pride, so much pride
in the air, just almost unbearable. And I wasn't even related to any of them - such an emotional
event. I wrote this song, this is for the graduates this year:

Oh here's to the children, who grew up too soon
Who all graduated one morning in June
Lindsey and Megan and Kevin and Sean
We gave them their presents and then they were gone

We're sorry for the all the wrong things that we did
We really meant well and we sure love you, kid
And as we drive home your old mother and I
Will think of your sweet face and sit here and cry

But soon we are finished, we've run out of tears
We'll look ahead to our post-parent years
When we'll spend your inheritance to the last dime
Have ourselves a remarkable time

I've seen her around cleaning toilets and doors
I remember her skin, so pale and so soft
I intend to take up right where we left off

We'll be lovers once more and not cops and chauffeurs
We'll enjoy all the foods to which you were averse
We'll have oysters and artichokes and nice steak tartar
As we listen to Jerry Garcia's guitar

We've thrown our parenting books away
We're done with youth groups and the PTA
Ten years of soccer leagues a merciful end
And we'll ever, ever go camping again

So good luck to you, kid, good to see you today
Hope to see you for Christmas but if not, it's okay
Here's a check for ten bucks, don't spend it all at once
And now we're off to Paris for a couple of months."

That's my phase of the family life cycle. It was terrible when they left but now it�s wonderful.

My point is that the culture is starting to turn around on a number of fronts. That�s my good
news for the day. But now I want to talk about is what I believe is the leading, hidden threat
to marriage in our society�the invasion of the consumer culture. Then I'll talk about a new
vision of marriage and democratic community that I think is needed to counteract this threat.
I'm going to offer some challenges to those of us in the marriage movement, and I'm going
to talk about my own fledgling initiative to build a community of support for marriage. First
we're going to look at the big picture, and then gradually get into specifics.

Marriage and the Great Upheaval

There was a great social upheaval, as you know, in the last third of the 20th century. It�s
unprecedented in human history that family life would changed so much in such a brief
period. You know the story: We've had dramatic increases in divorce, cohabitation, single
parent families, non-marital births. Many of the causes have been written about extensively:
the sexual revolution after the birth control pill, feminism and the rapid change in women's roles
(especially women�s entry into the labor force), a cultural lag in men changing (two-thirds of
divorces are initiated by women, many of whom are dissatisfied with the changes that men
have not made), an ending of the legal restraints to divorce in many states, increased personal
fulfillment expectations of marriage. Social historians believe that we really were finishing the
historic shift away from "institutional marriage," which is the primary marriage system of human
history and still in much of the world. Institutional marriage is based on solid commitment, duty,
raising children, economics, and stability. We have moved into "psychological marriage," based
on marrying somebody you fall in love with, being emotionally close, sexually fulfilled, and being
married to achieve personal happiness. This historic shift was accomplished in the 20th century
in the U.S. and other developed nations. Happiness is now ensconced as the raison d'être of
marriage; we want to marry our soul mate who will make us happy.

These factors have all been well documented. But I want to emphasize a less visible change that
has only recently emerged in the United States and indeed in North America, and is happening
in much of the rest of the developed world as well. You may have heard of the work of Robert
Putnam, the political scientist whose book is called Bowling Alone. He documents the decline of
civic engagement in the United States. Since the 1960s, There's been a dramatic decline in
Americans� involvement in community life, seen across the spectrum from the PTA to the League
of Women Voters. All church and faith community membership has not gone down that much,
involvement in leadership roles has dropped. Can some of you remember that 25 years ago, at
least in many congregations, people ran against each other for the board, and now you beg anybody
to serve on the board. Local political organizations have shriveled, as have service and social
groups like the Optimists and the Lions Club. There has been a large-scale movement away from
civic engagement. The only community organizations in the U.S. that have grown in the last thirty
years are "check-writing" membership organizations like the AARP, where you only have to write
a check for seven dollars to get probably hundreds of dollars worth of benefits. It's the only thing
that's required of you. Organizations that have active state chapters, organizations that expect
people to actually show up and work--all of these have experienced huge, unprecedented declines
in the last thirty years. At the same time, people know their neighbors less, they have fewer people
over for dinner, and they trust their neighbors less. We are less connected and more isolated from
our communities, and the decline has been precipitous.

Now what does this have to do with marriage? During the past 30 years or so, marriage has come
seen as a private relationship apart from the public domain. How many people do you hear talk
about legal marriage as "just a piece of paper"? Why get the piece of paper." In this privatized view
of marriage, the only stakeholders are the couple themselves and maybe their children. It's nobody
else's business whether they get married or stay married. The community should not concern itself
about a private relationship. My governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, thinks this way. When I met
with him to talk about a piece of legislation that would give a $50 waiver on marriage license fees for
couples who have a twelve-hour premarital education course, he maintained that the state has no
interest in marriage; marriage is a personal, private relationship. But marriage, as we know, is also a
social institution that conveys public goods; it's not just a personal relationship. It provides the optimal
environment for a community to raise its children, it enhances the productive engagement of adults
in society (particularly men), it connects extended family networks to one another, and even work
systems to one another. No human society has failed to see marriage as a vita social institution with
both a private and public role. None. But that�s the myopic view we are hearing from many quarters
today. I pointed out to the governor that the state pays a big price for failed marriages, and thus has
a stake in helping new marriages succeed. He vetoed the bill, but we got it by him the next year and
it is now the law of the state, I am glad to say.

The tendency to ignore the public face of marriage occurs in our own field, in marriage education
and marriage and family therapy. When we work with individual couples or small groups of couples,
it�s tempting to fall into the private psychological mindset. I've heard people in our field say (and in
the past I have said this myself): "I just want to promote good, healthy relationships. It's about
relationships; whether married or not, it doesn't matter." At the level of working with individual
couples, that is true: the knowledge and skills that we teach are generic across relationships. They
can even help you with your mother and your boss. And they can help all kinds of couples. But at
the societal level, if we in marriage education only say, "We're promoting good relationships," and
we don't emphasize the importance of marriage as a social institution, we are falling into a dangerous
trap. This is a psychological blind spot that misses the sociological level, and it's occupational hazard
of those of us who work primarily with individuals and small groups.

Let me make my point by analogy. Imagine saying of parenthood, "I don't care about parenthood per se,
I'm just interested in good, lasting adult-child relationships. Kids need adult caregivers; let's not get hung
up on whether we call them a parent or not." Can you see how ludicrous that would be? Parenthood is
the social institution we have created to ensure permanent adult caregivers; in this real world we live in,
when kids are not raised by their parents, they are in for a very tough childhood." Or imagine saying of
education, "The educational system is not that important in itself. What we really need is competent adults
teaching children, in other words, good adult-child educational experiences. Schools are just brick and
mortar." Education, as we all know, is a public good, not just a private one. Final analogy: Imagine saying
about religion, "All that matters is me and God; religion is about personal spirituality; the rest of it is just
rules, hierarchies, and buildings." The sociologist Robert Bellah once interviewed a woman named
Sheila who, when asked about what religion she practices, claimed to practice the religion of "Sheila-ism."

Marriage in the Consumer Culture

When we look at marriage only as a personal relationship serving personal interests, we leave it
open it to the invasion of the pervasive consumer culture. This is one of the main themes of my
book, Take Back Your Marriage. The market-based consumer culture feeds on the idea that we
our primary role in life is to pursue our individual desires irrespective of notions of the common
good. The consumer culture, in my view, has trumped all of the social movements of the past
thirty years. When Virginia Slims cigarettes celebrated the phrase, "You've come a long way,
baby," that was the beginning of the trumping of feminism by the consumer culture. And sadly
now, Martin Luther King's family has sold his "I have a dream" speech to a company who shows
it on their television commercial to hawk their company�s services. Here I am emphasizing the
idea that the consumer culture has invaded marriage, and that if we don�t notice, we in the marriage
movement will fall prey to its seductions.

First, what do I mean by the consumer culture? With the coming of global capitalism and the end of
communism and state socialism as viable alternatives, the primary driving force in contemporary
society is the marketplace. Citizens are now defined primarily consumers of goods and services.
If you're a political conservative, you emphasize what business can offer as along as government
stays out of the way. If you are liberal, you emphasize the services that government can provide.
But hardly anybody in our political world is talking about an engaged citizenry debating issues of
public good and taking collective action. Political leaders and business leaders appeal to us as
consumers, not as citizens.

I want to emphasize two aspects of the consumer culture in today's marketplace, and then I'm
going to make the case for how it has invaded marriage. First is economic consumerism, with
the focus on consumer goods and services. We increasingly define ourselves by what we buy.
You know that line about the, "The one who dies with the most toys wins?" Or the Sprite
commercial: "Obey your thirst." Personal interest or self-interest, is the driving force--it has to
be--of a market-based economy. I have eaten Cheerios almost every morning for the last thirty
years. I like Cheerios. I have Cheerios with fruit and milk; I don't need a lot of variety in the morning.
But am I loyal to General Mills? No. If they change the recipe for Cheerios and I don�t like the result,
I'll move on in a flash. Thirty years of satisfaction means nothing if I am no longer pleased with the
product. Customers are inherently disloyal.

Not only is disloyalty necessary to keep companies on their toes, the vice of envy is necessary
for a vibrant market economy. That is, envy of what others have is crucial to getting us to buy
new products and thus keep companies prospering and workers employed. "Oh, your laptop
is smaller than mine." (Somebody recently said that electronics are the only things that men
compete over being smaller." "Your Palm Pilot has more functions than mine; maybe I need
an upgrade."

Disloyalty, envy � and also disposability -- drive the consumer culture. Everything is temporary
and disposable in a market world. Just this afternoon, my wife and I were given free flowers
outside the hotel. When we were out for a walk, we saw this guy loading flowers into a truck.
My wife said, "Those are gorgeous tropical flowers!" He said, "Do you want some? They're
going in the trash!" The flowers had been here at the hotel for a week, and a week is as long
as the hotel keeps them. I tell you that these flowers were still gorgeous! I would have bought
them, but he gave us some because they were outdated. Disposability is core to a modern
market economy; it�s cheaper to replace most electronic devices than to fix them. The same
with shoes. The new is what sells in a consumer culture and the "new" new thing is what
can make you rich if you create it and sell it before the big companies turn it into a commodity.

Let me be clear: I'm not a socialist. I believe that we have no alternative to democratic, free
market capitalism. Most of us flew to Orlando to meet in this nice hotel because of the
wealth generated by our market economy. I'm here to sell my book, for cryin' out loud -- what
could be more capitalistic than that? We all want to earn a living; we want to have money for
our children�s education, and this engine of democratic, free market capitalism is what drives
that. But in addition to creating a safety net for those who can�t compete, we have to buffer
our families from the corrosive effects of the consumer culture and marketplace values.
Without this buffering, even the beneficiaries of the free market become its casualties.

My previous book (sorry for the plug) Take Back Your Kids is about the consumer culture of
childhood, where parents become parental service providers to consumer children. Chauffeurs,
personal planners, personal shoppers--how many parents cannot say no to their children in
Kmart and Target? The same thing is happening in marriage. The central consumer question
in marriage is, "Am I getting enough out of this relationship?" Or another version:
"Is this marriage meeting my needs?"

There is nothing inherently wrong with these questions, but if they dominate our reflections
on our marriages, commitment is up for grabs. If commitment for the long haul is at the heart
of marriage, the consumer mindset is its antithesis. In the economic worldview, the past is
meaningless; only the future counts. "Will my rewards be there in the future?" You hold
a stock because of its future potential, not because it rewarded you in the past. The heart
of the consumer lifestyle is low cost of purchase, ease of use, and a willingness to switch
brands at any time. Read: switch spouses. These are the opposite values to withstand
the challenges of long-term marriage. A cost-benefit attitude towards marriage, as family
sociologist Paul Amato's research has shown, actually erodes marriage satisfaction
over time. This is not a surprise to anyone here.

(As an aside, consumer religion is also upon us. How many people shop for a religious
experience, wanting to feel comfortable, and are reluctant to become active and assume
leadership? A member of my congregation recently said at the coffee hour, "The tenor
was kind of off today, and I had a bit of trouble following the preacher. I did not get my
needs met this morning." You got it? We either name and resist this consumer mindset
or it takes over all spheres of modern life.)

Getting back to marriage, do you think I'm exaggerating when I say that the marketplace
culture has invaded how we think about marriage? Advertisers know a cultural trend
when they see one, and are quick to use it to appeal to consumers. In fact, advertisers
and cartoonists are our most astute observers of the popular culture. Here are some examples:

- A recent magazine ad pictures a new Honda Civic with the headline, "The sad thing
is, it'll probably be the HEALTHIEST RELATIONSHIP of your adult life."

- Toyota has an advertisement for a new model that takes the form of a pre-nuptial
agreement. Have you seen this in the New York Times magazine? Written in formal
legal terms about a division of property and other marital assets, at the end the ad says,
"Now that the formalities are over, let the love affair begin."

- A New York Times journalist attending a wedding reception reported hearing a relative
of the groom say of the bride, "She will make a nice first wife for Jason." Just like a
nice first house, or first car.

- In a recent cartoon a woman reassures her boyfriend, "Look, I'm not talking about a
lifetime commitment; I'm talking about marriage."

- A movie character says of men: "Men should be like toilet paper: Soft, strong, and disposable."

- A joke going around Boston, where I was a couple of years ago: "When you're thinking
of marrying a married man ask yourself if this is the person you want your children to be
spending every other weekend with."

Reflective social commentators also agree. I am going to quote the sociologist Arlie Hochschild,
a liberal and feminist, along with the Wall Street Journal, neither liberal nor feminist as far as I know.
Hochschild observed, "In the new American lifestyle, rootlessness occurs on a global scale.
We move not only from one job to another, but from one spouse and sometimes one set of
children to the next. We are changing from a society that values employment and marriage to
one that values employability and marriageability." You see, it's your ability to love, not the people
you love, that counts as a permanent asset in the consumer culture of relationships.

The Wall Street Journal, no enemy of capitalism, editorialized after the Who Wants to Marry
a Millionaire? debacle its concern about marriage in our culture: "The dominant view of
marriage in today's America is less a partnership than a joint venture between two parties
concerned with preserving their own autonomy."

What happens when we approach marriage and family life as entrepreneurs? We can
all see the results. When the initial glow fades, and the tough times come, we cut our losses.
We take what we want from our old marriages, in order to form new, more perfect unions
until they too must be dissolved. But where does it end? Even worse than the results of
business layoffs, there are few soft landings in marital downsizing. Of course, in practice,
most couples embrace a variety of values for marriage, including responsibility and
commitment emphasized by our forebears and our religious traditions. We still hunger
for permanent commitment in marriage, but what I'm saying is that these values are always
in danger of being trumped by the consumer values of personal gain, low cost, disposability,
entitlement, and keeping one's options open. In the consumer culture, the exit door is always
unlocked, and you are a chump if you stay very long in a marriage that's not making you happy.
And a lot of your friends will tell you that you are a chump for staying married if you are not happy.
Commitments are always provisional. For as long as we both shall love or until the "new"
new thing comes along.

What are the lessons for the marriage movement from what I'm talking about so far? As I
suggested earlier, if the consumer culture sweeps everything in its path, then it stands to
take over the marriage movement, too, if we're not careful. Here are some examples: The
enriched marriage can become an entitlement. One can be a critic of one's spouse's lapses
from appropriate I-messages and reflective listening. This is the graduate student syndrome,
when you take your first course in communication and you go home and you see all your
spouses' lapses from it. We're also in danger of getting into hyper-marketing of our programs
and competing with one another; we've not been putting one another's programs down yet,
publicly, but we could start. This is where the market culture would lead us, to put one another's
programs down, or inflate our claims for effectiveness, in order to gain market share. If marriage
education is successful in finding a market niche, venture capitalists inevitably will move in.
A recent cartoon has a minister saying to a couple at the altar rail, "If you should experience any
problems, feel free to call our 24-hour hotline." Finally, if we only emphasize what professionals
can offer to marriages, then we foster the idea that wisdom about marriage comes via trickle-down
from research to professionals to couples. And while important ideas come this way, what is missing
is the lived wisdom and experience of couples themselves. Now one alternative is to train lay
volunteers to deliver marriage education services, and they seem to do as well as professionals,
but it still doesn't change the basic provider-consumer dynamic. We are not going to have a revival
of marriage in America, in my opinion, simply by adding hundreds of thousands of couples to
our courses. I don't think it's going to happen that way, although I hope that that many couples
take our courses. My point is that marriage education programs cannot be the engine of the
railroad train that renews marriage in our society. Because they themselves never go deep
enough into the cultural roots of what I think is ailing marriage.

Citizen Marriage

I think we need a new vision of marriage to counteract consumer marriage. A vision that
combines elements of traditional and religious moral ideas about permanent commitment,
with contemporary professional knowledge and the lived wisdom and experience of couples
in communities. I call this "citizen marriage," to distinguish it from consumer marriage. Citizen
marriage, in my view, has three elements: rock-solid commitment, intentionality, and community
engagement. I'll talk briefly about the first two and then elaborate on the third, since the least
work has been done about community-based marriage.

The first leg of citizen marriage is rock-solid commitment. As I said, in a consumer marriage
commitment is a commitment as long as it is working out. Consumer marriages break up for
the soft reasons: we grew apart, I deserve someone who can respond to my needs, my marriage
is stale and boring, we are different people now than when we got married, my affair showed me
what I could not get in my marriage, our sexual needs are incompatible. Citizen marriage
means commitment with a long view - commitment no matter what. I'm going to read a passage
that I've written about this my book.

"Marriage with a long view comes with the conviction that nothing will break us up, that we
will fight through whatever obstacles get in our way, that if the boat gets swamped we will
bail it out, that we will recalibrate our individual goals if they get out of alignment, that we will
share leadership for maintaining and renewing our marriage, that we will renovate our marriage
if the current version gets stale, that if we fight too much and too poorly, we will learn to fight
better, that if sex is no good, we will find a way to make it good again, that we will accept each
other's weakness that can't be fixed and that we will take care of each other in our old age.
This kind of commitment is not made just once, but over and over through the course of a
lifetime. We cling to it during the dark nights of the soul that come to nearly every marriage,
times when the love is hard to feel but the promise keeps us together. The playwright
Thornton Wilder said it well:

�I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you.
I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults, and
the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the
promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house
that protected them; it wasn't even our love that protected them. It was that promise.'"

This kind of commitment is moral and not just psychological. It's about character; it's about
habits of the heart; it's not just about competency. I think we need to do more in our field
to emphasize commitment

The second leg of citizen marriage is intentionality. We do well with this in marriage education.
Being mindful and planful about growing and developing a marriage, learning to communicate,
learning conflict management and problem solving skills, developing rituals of connection
and love, being smart about marriage� we have a lot to offer here. As Diane Sollee points
out to whoever will listen, marriage is not just about love, and it�s not just an endurance test;
it's a skilled relationship as well. And skills come from being intentional about marriage, not
just floating through it on the wings of love.

The third leg of citizen marriage is community engagement. This is the focus of much of my
work right now, a new career direction. We know the least about community-based marriage.
We generally launch marriages with public fanfare and then we live in solitary marriages. That is,
we know little about the interior of one another�s marriages. We tend to suffer alone in our distress;
we tend not to know when another couple has a relationship cold or flu or worse. We don't have
communities to rally around us when our marriages are hurting.

Sam Gurnoe, an American Indian healer and family therapist, once said, "Outside of a community,
a culture, and a spirituality, you can treat but you cannot heal." He is not against treatment, but he's
saying that it's the sustaining embrace of a community that's larger than an individual, larger than a
marriage and family, that tends to lead to deep, lasting healing. In therapy, and in much of marriage
education, we try to create a small healing community in our office or classroom, only to send couples
out to play solitaire again after we're finished working with them. What we often do is not deep enough
or enduring enough to counteract the toxic effects of the consumer culture and the claustrophobia of
solitary marriage.

I think we need to be about the work of forming intentional marriage communities. Eric Yancy,
who is an African-American man in Minneapolis-St. Paul, has formed with several of his friends
an extended family network, whose goal is to raise a healthy village for their children. He refers
to the phrase that's getting hackneyed, "It takes a village to raise a child" and asks a provocative
follow up question: "What does it take to raise the village?" Members of Eric Yancy�s network
of 48 families support one another's marriages, although not all are married. Eric told me of stories
of how he and several other men rallied to help preserve the marriage of one of the core families.
They met weekly with the husband to help him get his head turned around; they also met with his wife.

Marriage education as we now think of it can serve communities, but cannot create communities.
But marriage education can be a spring board to get couples linked up with existing communities,
and in turn, marriage education programs can be on the menu of a rich banquet available to
couples in local communities.

Marriage Matters: A Citizen Marriage Project

I want to tell you about my own work in this area in the last couple of years. At Pax Christi Catholic
Community in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, we have been engaged in a process for over a year of
envisioning what a community deeply nurturing of marriage could look like. The bold vision that
we articulated is this: a community of faith where every marriage flourishes and where every
couple is a giver and receiver of support. This is a grass-roots community initiative based on an
explicit model that I call the Families and Democracy Model, which is in turn tied in to the Public
Work Model of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota. We are
attempting a grass roots approach to developing a community of married couples. The Families
and Democracy Model has the following tenets about marriage in community:

- The biggest resource for strengthening marriage is the lived wisdom, knowledge, and experience
of couples and their communities.

- Strengthening marriage in our time must be done mostly by couples themselves working
democratically in local communities.

- Professionals should be partners in this movement, but not the drivers of it.

- A local community of couples and those who care about marriage should work to retrieve its
own historical, cultural, religious traditions about marriage and family life and bring them into the
contemporary world of family life.

-No one should be involved only as a consumer of some service or a spectator at a meeting;
everyone is called to be a producer and a contributor as well. (This means that every time
somebody participates in a marriage education experience, they are invited to be a giver in
the community. They are invited to pass on what they have learned. No program ever ends
with somebody just going home, having paid their tuition, and having absorbed it only for themselves.)

- No group should look only inward; all groups have an external mission as well.

- Marriage initiatives should have a bold vision (what we call a BHAG--a big, hairy audacious
goal) while working on focused, specific goals.

Our initiative at Pax Christi Catholic Community is called Marriage Matters. After more than a year's
worth of preparation, we are at the launching stage of a Marriage and Democracy Initiative. We
have a coordinating group of couples who have been planning and interviewing people throughout
the community. We have four action teams chaired by members of that coordinating group who are
now putting four initiatives on the ground. These initiatives reflect the principles of the families and
democracy model. One is a babysitting co-op for couples so they can date again. Another is a
co-mentoring initiative. Another is separate groups for husbands and wives working on how to be
a better spouse, with members of the other gender coming in dialogue and consult. For all these
initiatives, the idea is that the action does not stop with the individuals involved, but there is a way to
be part of an ongoing couples community where everyone has a role.

The fourth initiative is anniversary celebration circles. These are intergenerational groups of couples
married in the same month, who jointly create rituals to celebrate their recommitment each year.
Couples not only celebrate their own anniversaries during their month, but assist other couples in
holding their own ritual celebrations. Eventually, monthly groups might take on other projects as well.
The democratic process we are using in inherently unpredictable, so I can't give you any more details,
because the anniversary celebration circle group will design their own future.

A Vision for the Future of Marriage

Now let me pull some of this together. I�m saying we need a new model of marriage, something
different from the marriage of fragile, psychological fulfillment, or the marriage of "me first" consumer
entitlement. We need models of contemporary couples who live not in denial of their problems,
but who survive through grit, courage and commitment to hold their marriage and family together.
Couples who are intentional about building their marriages. Couples who are supported in their
marriages and in turn support others.

We are engaged in a historic struggle to make it possible that these kinds of marriages can endure,
so that our children and grandchildren can have love stories with marriages that flourish for a lifetime
and that nurture their children, their communities and our nation. If we lose this struggle, the next
generation will witness the spread of a new form of social inequality, between the minority who have
the benefits of lifelong marriage, and the majority who will have serial relationships punctuated by
heartbreak, with their children growing up skeptical about the possibility of permanent love and
uninvolved in the communities around them.

This does not mean that every marriage should be saved; some destructive marriages are best
ended, and some spouses are so irresponsible that they give up their claim on undying commitment.
It does mean that every married couple should have a fighting chance, supported by a community,
and that most marriages should endure, just as most children finish school and grow up to be
responsible adults. I've come to believe that a vibrant American democracy of engaged citizens
is not possible to sustain without families who have powerful marital bonds and a willingness to work
for the common good of our communities. Of course, individual families without married couples at
the head can nurture their members and contribute to the common good, but I believe that at the
broad societal level, we will thrive or decline as a democracy by the quality and endurance of marriage
as a social institution. Fraying marital bonds lead inevitably to fraying social bonds in the wider world.

When I began my career I thought that when social problems such as the decline of marriage
confronted us, the solution was to train more professionals to work with more families--to fill the
breach with more experts. I now view this as misguided thinking. Ventura and Hillman published
a book a while back with the title: We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's
Getting Worse. The biggest increase, by the way, in marriage therapists occurred during the
period when divorce increased the most. The same critique could be true for marriage education
if we construe our work too narrowly, if we fail to see that we are just one set of players in a big
social movement. We will not educate our way out of the marriage crisis.

For too long we have assumed that serious social problems should be left to the experts. This
occurred during the time when market economists taught us that our principal contribution to the
common good was to earn and spend. Many of us went along with these trends, leaving social
problems to the experts and retreating into our private worlds of television, shopping malls, and kids'
soccer games, or struggling at the bottom of the social ladder while waiting for those above us to
give us a chance to compete in the global marketplace. What we need now is:

-A citizens movement of married people and those who care about marriage, based locally but
connected nationally, to reclaim marriage from a toxic culture and eventually to transform that culture.

- A movement based first on the aspirations, values, wisdom and lived experience of couples
who become stakeholders in one another's marriages and in marriage as an essential social institution.

- A vibrant citizens movement that journalists will track and media will make visible.

-A movement of active citizens that government officials will have no choice but to support with
public policy, that judges and lawyers will find ways to support legally, that researchers will provide
scientific grounding for, that marriage educators and therapists will provide tools for, that schools
will prepare children and youth to be part of, that employers will have no choice but to pay
attention to, and that faith communities will provide religious and ethical grounding to.

If you doubt the power of grass roots social movements to make change, think of Mothers
Against Drunk Driving. This was not a professionally-led initiative, and governments had been
struggling for decades to try to reduce drunk driving. It was a handful of empowered mothers
who got a national movement going. Maybe we need to start Mothers Against Unnecessary Divorce.

My main message this evening is that although marriage has declined over the past 35 years, it
can and must be revived and renewed, not just one couple at a time through education or
therapy, but all of us together as part of a broad, democratic community doing the work of
citizens building a nation. Solitary marriage, even if the spouses are committed and have good
skills, fits too well with the consumer culture of marriage, which leads to loneliness and fragility.
When the cold and rain come, we need the shelter of more than each other in our marriages,
knowing that a true community will not only nurture us but make demands on us to be accountable.

Community is about accountability, not just feel-good support. A woman once approached me
after a talk, saying he she had felt guilty about this what she had said to her daughter when her
daughter suddenly announced she was getting a divorce. There was no abuse and the couple
had never sought any marriage education or therapy. After her daughter�s announcement that
"we are going to get a divorce," the mother blurted out, "Over my dead body you will! You're gonna
be responsible and get some help before you bail out on this relationship." The mother felt guilty
about her "intrusive" response until she heard me talk about holding one another accountable.
By the way, her daughter and son-in-law got help, saved their marriage, and are doing well.

There are also gentle ways to start building couples communities, beginning with breaking the silence
about marriage. One of my clients told me that she's begun to ask her family and friends about their
marriages, in a low-key, caring manner. She explains to them that she has become aware that we in
quire about every other area of health and well-being except this central relationship. So she started
asking her friends and her sisters, and in every case they responded positively. She invites them to
inquire about her marriage too. One of her friends said, "With you asking me that question, I think
I'm going to have start working on my marriage. If we are going to talk about it, I�m going to have to
do something about it."

We need communities that expect us to take our marriage commitment seriously, to become
intentional and skilled in our relationships, to become stakeholders in the marriages of others
around us, and to be engaged citizens in our wider world. We either stand together for our
marriages or else we would be picked off one at a time, the weakest first, by a culture that preys
on long-term love. Even if you feel strong in your marriage, consider that the next weak one in
the pack may be your friend's marriage or your daughter's. We have to build a world that is safe
for our children's marriages.

I don't have the game plan or the engineering design for the social revolution that is already under
way, but I do know that if we work together as married people and single people, as members of a
broad, vibrant democratic community of every race and every social class and occupation, we have
the capacity to turn the cultural tide and take back our marriages.

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