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Study: 8-year mark crucial to marriages

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–On average, first marriages that end in divorce last about eight years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which also said most Americans eventually marry but are marrying later and are slightly more likely to marry more than once.

Tom Elliff, former leader of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life, told Baptist Press marriages that falter around the eight-year mark generally have experienced serious difficulties long before that time.

“Given the later age at which many are now marrying, and the delay in having children, the eight-year mark can often come at a time when individuals in a marriage are beginning to seriously question such things as career choices, job transitions and the role the church community will play in their lives,” said Elliff, senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations at the International Mission Board and former pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla.

“During this time, troubled marriages tend to become even more so as couples begin seeking reasons for what is interpreted as a lack of fulfillment,” Elliff said.

People born in the leading edge of the baby boom experienced high divorce rates in the 1970s and 1980s, the Census Bureau said in a September news release. About 38 percent of men born from 1945 to 1954 and 41 percent of women in the same age group had been divorced by 2004.

The antidote for fragile marriages is tied to a strong commitment to Christ through a local church, Elliff said, adding that premarital counseling is a key component of successful marriages.

“How we begin married life has a great deal to do with how we continue in it,” Elliff said. “I believe we need to take a new look at the statistics that show Christian marriages having a similar divorce rate as non-Christian marriages. Many people consider theirs to be a Christian marriage if they simply are on a church roll or are married by a pastor in a Christian church.”

True Christian couples who have a strong faith in Christ, attend church on a weekly basis, regularly pray together and have undergone a serious period of premarital counseling have a surprisingly small divorce rate compared to others, said Elliff, who also is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“That’s what needs to be present in each marriage,” he said.

Churches “should make it clear that they will not perform a marriage unless both parties possess a genuine and vibrant faith in Christ, and are attending worship and Bible studies on a regular basis,” Elliff said.

“Premarital counseling should take place over an extended period of time, perhaps lasting several months, indicating that marriage is considered to be one of the church’s highest privileges and responsibilities, one not to be approached lightly,” Elliff said. “A marriage ceremony should be seen as a worship service, pointing to the covenant relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.”

Elliff also noted that today’s American culture hardly ever encourages marital perseverance, especially in the tough times of life.

“On the contrary, marriage and fidelity to one’s spouse is looked upon as a joke, something not to be expected on the part of any sophisticated person,” he said. “Given the impact of the media, I am not surprised that contemporary statistics regarding marriages paint a sad picture regarding the shorter span of first marriages that end in divorce.”

Among the results of the Census Bureau survey:

— Only 49.5 percent of men and 46.4 percent of women who married in the late 1970s were still married 25 years later.

— The percentage of people who celebrated their 15th anniversary had declined in 2004 compared to previous years.

— About one in five Americans have been divorced.

— The median time between divorce and a second marriage was about three and a half years.

— In 2004, 12 percent of men and 13 percent of women had married twice, and 3 percent each had married three or more times.

“People are at risk of divorce throughout their marriages. That risk probably peaks in years 5 through 10,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, told USA Today. “… Lots of divorces are occurring after the first decade of marriage. It’s not the case that if you make it through the first 10 years, your marriage is divorce-proof.”

The Census stats were gathered in 2004 from 27,000 men and 32,000 women as part of the bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation. For more information, visit www.census.gov.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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