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"More old fashioned marriage: Keeping it Together - Commentary by Joseph C. Phillips"

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Fourteen years of marriage! Even when I really take the time to study it, I have no clear answer as to how we made it this far. I have asked my wife and frankly, I don’t care for the way she laughs before answering me. After all is said and done, she is no clearer on how or why we are approaching our ivory anniversary than I am.

How odd that I seem preoccupied with discovering the source of our longevity. Perhaps I should stop asking questions and thank my maker; the less I know the better. However, I can’t help but wonder. We hear so often about the divorce rate and marriages. The streets of Los Angeles are littered with marriages that went stale at about the same time as the wedding cake. All of us know couples that did not make it this far. We are friendly with couples that may not make it much further.

I recently came across a bit of research that may shed some light on at least one road to marriage success.

Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, analyzed three national studies and concluded that couples who attended regular Christian church services were “35% less likely to divorce than those couples who did not.” Not only do couples stay together longer, it also appears as if they are engaged in happier and healthier marriages. In addition, men attending regular church services are more active in the lives of their children than are men who are not. Wilcox does not comment on those Jewish couples or Muslim couples that attend regular services. I suspect, however, that the results may be similar.

Ultimately, marriage must be more than a mere social contract, more than a vehicle for the purpose of coupling and more than a simple expression of the natural affection that a man and woman may feel for each other. Lust is an intoxicating asset, but will never be enough to carry a couple through the tough times. The couples I know that have long lasting marriages are committed to an idea of the marriage union as representing an institution greater than the sum of its parts. For these couples, to marry is to dedicate one’s life to a higher calling. Similar viewpoints are far more likely to be held by people of strong religious faith.

Of course, to paraphrase a popular saying, stuff happens. Two grown people living together, bringing with them all of their childhood baggage and disparate personalities attempting to merge two lives into one is difficult. And this before outside influences like money problems, sickness or unemployment. My marriage has certainly been no exception.

My wife and I have been around the corner and back again. Our marriage has at times resembled something from a Wes Craven film; call it “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Happily, both my wife and I can point to the exact moment the rough road of our marriage began to smooth out; we began attending church services every Sunday. Soon afterwards, we both gave our lives to Christ. That was the turning point.

Our marriage is by no means perfect. I am certain my wife will confess that I continue to occasionally get on her last nerve. We are, however, more in love than ever and most importantly more committed than ever; 14 years in and eagerly looking forward to the next 14.

Like most couples, we married with hopes that it would be forever. Like other newlyweds, we began to build a family weaving our hopes and dreams together into an epic narrative. No doubt this is why most of the divorced couples I have known – my parents included -- suffered mightily during their break-up. Dreams and hopes do not die easily. When it seems that in spite of our best efforts we will fall short, we despair.

Faith is not a panacea. A 35% lower rate of divorce does not mean no chance of divorce. It does, however, suggest there is truth in the old adage that in navigating the trials that are inevitable with marriage; “the family that prays together stays together.”

Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.

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