Resources from Marriage Savers: Articles
Marriage Savers Answers 25 Tough Questions
by Mike McManus
- What is the evidence that half of marriages are ending in divorce?
Demographers are projecting the number of divorces in the future from the
present trend. The comparison that has stood since 1973 is that there is one
divorce for every two marriages. For a quarter century! For example, in the
latest year with data, there were 2,244,000 marriages and 1,135,000
divorces. The odds are, those numbers will continue. Yet it is also true, as
the Barna Poll reported, that only a quarter of Americans have ever been
divorced. How is that possible? Clearly there are millions like me who
married 30+ years ago, who have a small chance of divorce. When I was
growing up I did not know any friends whose parents were divorced. Now more
than half the kids in any classroom have had the experience. I am not the
person to argue with about this, but the demographers, like Dr. Larry
Bumpass at the University of Wisconsin who says that if separations are
included, the divorce rate is 60%.
- How does the U.S. divorce rate compare to other nations?
America's divorce rate is double that of France or Germany and three times
that of Japan, nations where few people are religiously active in contrast
to the U.S. Only England has a divorce rate comparable to the U.S., and that
only since 1996.
- How much has the divorce rate grown?
Divorces tripled from 1960 (390,000) to 1979, then leveled off. There were
1,181,000 divorces in 1979, and 1,163,000 in 1997, a drop of only 1.5% in 19
years. Divorces should have come down much more since the marriage rate
fallen precipitously, as noted below. One result: the number of divorced,
unremarried people has soared from 4 million in 1970 to 19.3 million in
1997. This is the fastest growing segment of the population, even though
more than two-thirds of divorces end in remarriage!
- What has happened to the marriage rate?
The marriage rate has plunged. It fell 43% since 1960, from 148 marriages
per 1,000 people to 87/1,000 in 1990. The marriage rate continued to fall to
83/1000 in 1998. For example, the number of marriages fell in a single year
from 2,384,000 in 1997 to 2,244,000 in 1998.
- How much has cohabitation increased?
The number of unmarried couples living together has soared ten-fold since
1970:There were only 430,000 couples cohabiting in March, 1960 and a
staggering 4.2 million doing so in March, 1998. The Census estimate of 4.23
million couples cohabiting was taken in March, 1998. Cohabitation lasts only
1.3 years on average. By December of that year probably another 2 million
were doing so. So the number cohabiting in a year is probably 6 million
couples, nearly triple the 2.24 million who married in 1998. Cohabitation
has become the dominant way men and women in America begin their
relationships -- not marriage. According to Dr. Linda Waite of the
University of Chicago, "Recent figures show that almost two-thirds of young
adult men and women chose to cohabit first rather than marry directly." The
pattern is taken into the church. In dozens of cities, hundreds of pastors
tell me the majority of couples coming for a church wedding are living
- Is cohabitation popular with the general public?
Yes. Remarkably, 55% of Americans believe it is a good idea for couples to
live together before they marry, according to a Wirthin Poll for the Family
Research Council in 1997 This is evidence that movies and TV have
transformed America into a post-Christian age. Even 45% of those who attend
church regularly agree that it makes sense for couples to cohabit first!
Isn't that evidence that pastors have avoided the issue, and are as culpable
as Hollywood? Wirthin reports that 26% of adults cohabited and 3% are doing
so at any moment.
- Why is cohabitation is a double cancer of marriage?
For millions, cohabitation is the substitute for marriage. The number of
never-married adults has grown from 21 million in 1970 to 46.5 million in
1998 while the national population grew only 28%. Thus, the number of
never-married people increased by 25 million in a generation. The percentage
of men and women aged 35-39 who have never married has tripled since 1970. A
Wirthin poll found that 43% of all single women have cohabited. Obviously,
many women believe that living together is a step toward marriage. They are
sadly mistaken. This is one role they cannot audition for.
- Should "trial marriages" be called "trial divorces?"
Absolutely. Most cohabiting couples break up before marriage or afterwards.
At least 40% of couples living together do not marry. "Marriages that are
preceded by living together have 50 percent higher disruption (divorce or
separation) rates than marriages without premarital cohabitation" according
to the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households.
Instead of half of marriages ending in divorce, 75% do so. Thus, out of 100
cohabiting couples, 40 break up before the wedding, but of the 60 who do
marry, 45 will divorce within ten years. That leaves only 15 intact couples
after a decade. Few who live together seem to know the odds of failure. In
John 4, Jesus was critical of the woman at the well who was living with a
man who was not her husband. Here is secular evidence he was right. Yet have
you ever heard a sermon on cohabitation?
- What percent of American adults are married?
Only 56% of U.S. adults are married today, up only 1% from the lowest
percentage ever recorded according to the Census Bureau.
- How many million children have seen their parents divorce?
One million American children have suffered from divorce every year
since 1972, or about 30 million children over the last three decades. Half
of them will witness a second divorce before aged 18. Some will see many
cohabitations, and as many as two to five marriages by parents.
- Are children harmed by divorce?
Yes, profoundly. Dr. Judith Wallerstein, who tracked 60 divorcing families
for 25 years, writes in Second Chances: Children feel intensely rejected
when their parents divorce: "He left Mom. He doesn't care about me."
Dr. Wallerstein was "surprised to discover that the severity of a child's
reaction at the time of the parents' divorce does not predict how that child
will fare five, ten and even fifteen years later....Girls seem to fare much
better psychologically than boys. A sleeper effect in females surfaced of
troubles they are experiencing now at entrance into young adulthood (which)
came as a complete surprise. Girls who have never been betrayed or abandoned
by a lover fear betrayal and abandonment...Many find maladaptive ways to
cope. Some take many lovers at one time. Others seek out older men who are
less likely to betray a younger woman." Many cohabit rather than wait for
"Ten years after divorce, close to one-half of the boys (now 19-29 years
old) are unhappy, lonely, and have few, if any lasting relationships with
women...One out of three young men and one of ten young women between the
ages 19 and 23 at the ten year mark are delinquent, meaning they act out
their anger in a range of illegal activities including assault, burglary,
arson, drug dealing, theft, drunk driving, and prostitution," wrote Dr.
Even 25 years after their parents' divorce, their adult children say, "My
childhood ended with my parents' divorce." Of the 60 fathers, 57 remarried
and stopped child support when their children reached 18. Few of the
children attained college or graduate education of their affluent fathers.
(However, fathers underwrote the college education costs of their
stepchildren and their children from a second marriage but rarely their own
children from a first marriage.) Most of those offspring had difficulty
bonding to someone of the opposite sex. There was much cohabitation and few
- How many children live without their fathers, and what is the impact
In 1960, 7 million children were living without their fathers. Today the
number has soared to 24 million, according to the National Fatherhood
Initiative. Nearly two-fifths of all kids live in homes without their
father. Of those children, more than half have never been in their father's
home, and 40% have not seen them in at least a year. Never in the history of
the world has there ever been such an abandonment of children by their
Impact Increases for Decades: Dr. Wallerstein recently re-interviewed
children of divorce 25 years after the divorce. Her conclusion is chilling:
"Adults get over divorce, but unlike adults, children's suffering does not
reach a peak at divorce. The impact increases over time, throughout the
first three decades of life and in all developmental stages."
The impact is calamitous:
- Teen Suicide: As divorces tripled, teen suicide rates
tripled. Broken homes contribute to three of four teen suicides and four
of five psychiatric admissions.
- Poverty: Many kids are pushed into poverty. Children whose
fathers left experienced their 1985 income fall from $2,435 a month to
$1,543 four months later, a 37% drop. Since 1970, child poverty grew by
42 percent. Isabel Sawhill, of the Urban Institute says, "The rapid
growth in the number of children living in single-parent families can
explain virtually all of the growth in poverty among children since
- Out-of-Wedlock Births: Children growing up with only one
parent -- compared to kids with both parents -- are three times more
likely to have a child out of wedlock, 2.5 times more likely to be teen
parents, and twice as likely to drop out of school or become delinquent.
- Prison: Of juveniles or young adults serving in long-term
correctional facilities, 70% did not live with both parents when they
were growing up.
- Future Divorce: When children of divorce marry, they are much
more likely to experience divorce themselves. Why? "They more often
escalate conflict and reduce communication" with a spouse than those
from intact homes.
- Are Adults also harmed by divorce?
Yes, in the vast majority of cases, according to Dr. Wallerstein:
- In two-thirds of the former couples, one partner is unhappy, lonely,
anxious, depressed and financially precarious ten years after the
- In 25% of the couples, both former partners are worse off, suffering
from loneliness and depression.
- In only 10% of the cases do both former partners reconstruct
happier, fuller lives after a decade.
- What percent of second marriages fail?
Sixty percent. So how long are people who are initially happy after a
divorce, and remarry, remaining happy? There are no greener fields. We need
to learn how to make the marriages we are in be successful.
- Do divorced people live shorter lives?
Yes, divorced men are twice as likely as married men to die in a given year
from heart disease, stroke, hypertension and cancer, four times more likely
to die in auto accidents and suicide, and are seven times more apt to die
from cirrhosis of liver and pneumonia. Divorced women are two to three times
as likely to die of all forms of cancer as married women. The impact of
divorce on health "is like starting to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day,"
says Dr. David Larson, President of the National Institute for HealthCare
- How many of those on welfare were married, or still are, but are
According to Census, "Socioeconomic Characteristics" March, 1995. More than
half (52%) of welfare recipients were once married!
- Is the church part of the problem?
Absolutely. Three-fourths (76%) of all marriages are blessed by the church,
and Gallup reports that in 1999, seven of ten of all adults were members of
a church or synagogue, and 43% attended services weekly. Yet for a
generation, half of new marriages failed. Clearly the church has access to
most couples, but has not used that access to prepare couples for a lifelong
marriage, to deepen the marriages of couples in the church, or to save the
troubled ones. In fact, few pastors have ever preached a sermon on divorce.
Based on my unscientific polling of clergy in dozens of cities, not one
pastor in 50 has preached on cohabitation. Sadly, most churches and
synagogues are "blessing machines" or "wedding factories" grinding out
weddings on Saturday with little thought about whether they would succeed or
not. Yet the Wirthin Poll indicates that 55% of Americans believe that
churches can do the MOST to promote strong, healthy marriages. Yet sadly,
either churches have never considered that to be their role, or have
- Is there good news about marriage?
There is new, powerful evidence that marriage is of enormous benefit to
both men and women. In a sense, it is the opposite information noted above
about divorce's negative impacts. Married couples have better health, longer
lives, much greater wealth and greater happiness than those who are single
for whatever reason. Oddly, this is news in our culture. Again, secular
evidence backs up Scripture. "The Lord God said, `It is not good for the man
to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" Genesis 2:18
- Yes! There's Good News at Two Levels. First, Marriage Is Key To:
- Health, Long life
- Life: A woman aged 48 who is married has an 87% chance of
living to age 65; but a divorced woman's odds are only 67%. A
married man at age 48 has an 83% chance of living till age 65, but a
divorced man has only a 63% chance of survival!
- Happiness: Married people are twice as likely as those
who are single for whatever reason to say they are "very happy."
Some 38% of married couples say they are very happy, compared to 14%
of divorced men and 18% of divorced women, about 21% of the
never-married, and an average of 18% of the separated.
- Wealth: A married couple in their 50's in 1994 had net
assets of $132,000. But a divorced person, $33,600; surprisingly, a
never-married person, only 35,000; the separated, only $7,600,
according to Linda Waite of the University of Chicago.
- Marriage Savers Is Helping Bring Down the Divorce Rate:
Furthermore, there is great hope for bringing down the divorce rate of
any church or community. Churches have pioneered answers that are saving
marriages by preparing couples better for marriage, strengthening
existing ones or restoring troubled marriages. Some "Marriage Saver
Churches" have nearly eliminated divorce! Christ Lutheran Church in
Overland Park, KS, a church of 1,500 people, has not had a divorce in
three years except two couples who walked off without telling anyone
they were in trouble. For a profile of six Marriage Saver Congregations,
While relatively few churches are taking these steps, it is possible to
persuade groups of clergy - typically 30 to 300 pastors, depending on a
city's size - to come together across denominational lines to adopt
these reforms and thus agree on a strategy to roll back America's
marital darkness by creating a "Community Marriage Policy." In at least
25 cities, divorce rates have plunged as a result. For example, divorces
have fallen by 30% in Modesto, CA, the first city to adopt a Community
Marriage Covenant(r) in 1986. Newer cities are getting better results.
Divorces plummeted by a third in Kansas City, KS and El Paso in only
three years - and by 17% in Chattanooga in only two years. By contrast,
as noted above, U.S. divorces have come down only 1.5% in 13 years.
- How big is Marriage Savers? What has been its impact?
Marriage Savers is not a giant institution with dozens of staff people. We
are my wife and me, Rev. Larry Ballard, our Mid-west Regional Director, Rev.
Del R. Palmer, our Southern Regional Director, a secretary plus dozens of
volunteer leaders around the nation. Yet we have been able to help 140
cities, as of April, 2001, to adopt a "Community Marriage Policy(r). We do
know the results our work in 28 cities. Some 32 of them have had a drop in
the divorce rate 10-100+ times more than the US rate. One remained the same
and two saw an increase in the number of divorces. See our memo on the Web
site: marriagesavers.org. Note particularly my report comparing the
one-third decline of divorces in Kansas City, KS and its suburbs compared to
Kansas City MO where divorces actually increased at the same time. Why? No
clergy were organized on the Missouri side of the river, and the press
coverage was targeted at Kansas readers.
Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, said there are enough results
from enough cities which adopted Community Marriage Policies, that "It is up
to the critics to prove McManus wrong."
- What is "Retrouvaille?"
Retrouvaille (pronounced Ret-roo-vie, a French word for Rediscovery) is a
weekend retreat that has been attended by 60,000 deeply troubled marriages.
"Back-from-the brink" couples whose marriages once nearly failed, tell
participating couples how the Lord helped them save their marriages. They
donate their time for a weekend to help other couples make it. Participating
couples, after hearing an inspirational story, are asked to write to each
other for ten minutes on specific topics, such as "What do I have difficulty
in talking to you about, and how does that make me feel?" After writing,
couples return to their motel rooms to read each other's reflection and to
talk about them in private. The result? Retrouvaille routinely saves four
out of five troubled marriages! This is the exact opposite of what happens
when going to a therapist, in which couples spill their stories to someone
who does not know them, at a high cost with typically low results. Call
800-470-2230 to talk to the nearest Retrouvaille and ask what their results
- How else can marriages be saved?
The most important answer can be summed up in one sentence: In every
congregation, there are couples in strong marriages who could be of help to
other couples, but have never been asked, inspired or trained to come
alongside another couple, and be helpful. We call these couples who can help
save marriages, "Mentor Couples." Their marital backgrounds differ. Some
have been in a solid, happy marriage for 15-40 years, and could help prepare
couples for lifelong marriages. Others have had marriages that nearly ended
in divorce, who really could be of help to those now considering divorce.
And some couples in second marriages with stepchildren, have truly created
"blended families" who could help others to do so.
In short, Mentor Couples can help other couples:
- Avoid a bad marriage before it begins
- Prepare for a life-long marriage
- Strengthen existing marriages
- Restore 80% to 90% of the worst marriages
- Help 70% of the separated to reconcile
- Enable four out of five stepfamilies to be successful
- How can Mentor Couples help prepare couples for a life-long marriage?
Couples considering marriage or who are engaged can be given a premarital
inventory that can predict with 80% accuracy who will divorce. Nationally,
more than 200,000 couples a year take a premarital inventory. Of that number about one tenth break their engagements! Studies
show that those who break an engagement after taking a premarital inventory
- have the same scores as those who marry and later divorce. That's how a
bad marriage is avoided before it begins.
If the premarital inventory is administered by a Mentor Couple, who have
more time to give than the pastor, about 15% of couples break up before the
wedding. At my church we trained 52 Mentor Couples who worked with 262
couples preparing for marriage. Of that number, 40-50 broke their engagement
before there was a marriage. But of the 220 who did marry, we know of only
six divorces in eight years. That is about a 3% failure rate. So we can say
to couples who marry after our marriage preparation, "We can say with 95%
certainty that if you marry, you will obtain `marriage insurance' here."
- Can Mentor Couples Save Troubled Marriages?
Yes. The best example is a proven reform called "Marriage Ministry." It
began at an Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, FL when Rev. Richard McGinnis
asked this question, that any pastor could ask, "Are there any couples here
whose marriages were once on the rocks, but who have come off of them, and
whose marriage is now being healed?" Out of 180 people in church that day,
ten couples met with him. He told them, "I am overwhelmed trying to save all
of the troubled marriages in this church. I prayed and asked God what to do.
What came to me was that just as Alcoholics Anonymous helps ex-drunks to
overcome their addiction -- there might be "back-from-the-brink" couples who
could help those now considering divorce, to save their marriages. Would you
be willing to at least share with each other and my wife and me how the Lord
helped you to save your marriage? Seven couples agreed to do so. Within five
years, they had worked with 40 couples considering divorce, and saved 38
marriages! This Marriage Ministry has now been planted in 25 churches. And
they are saving nine out of ten marriages! (Compare that to therapists who
often save only a fifth of troubled marriages.) For example, First Assembly
of God of Rockford, IL has trained 14 couples who have weathered life's
storms, who have helped restore more than 100 deeply troubled marriages,
losing only four to divorce. To read more about this, see a memo on "Six
Model Marriage Saver Congregations." Or read Chapter 10 of my book, Marriage
Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce.
- What is a Marriage Savers Congregation? How can my church become one?
A Marriage Savers Congregation trains a network of Mentor Couples to help
other couples be successful. They put a "safety net" under every marriage,
virtually eliminating divorces in a local congregation.
You can learn how to put a safety net under every marriage by coming to a
National Training to Create a Marriage Savers Congregation that we hold
twice a year. The charge is as little as $210 for a pastor and up to three
couples. And that includes $110 worth of materials. For example, attendees
will receive our new 182-page Manual to Create a Marriage Savers
Congregation and meet the marital pioneers who created the most successful
mentoring programs for every stage of marriage.Visit our Church Training
page for details/
- What is the background of Mike McManus?
I am a former TIME correspondent and have been a syndicated columnist for 23
years. My "Ethics and Religion" column is syndicated by The New York Times.
I research everything that I write about, and provide secular evidence that
Scripture's guidance on morality, marriage and divorce makes practical
sense. As a speaker, I persuaded the clergy of Modesto, CA to adopt
America's first Community Marriage Policy(r) in 1986. My wife, Harriet, and
I created Marriage Savers in 1996 to devote full-time to helping churches
and communities bring down the divorce rate. We now travel together visiting
20-30 cities a year, training both pastors and Mentor Couples to launch
proven Marriage Savers reforms.
A Final Word
These are brief answers to complicated questions. The final answers, which
offer the most hope, are very condensed. We urge readers to learn more from our
website or call us at Marriage Savers: 301-469-5873.