Knot Yet, a report released in April 2013 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, The Relate Institute and The National Marriage Project at The University of Virginia, explores the positive and negative consequences for 20-something women, men, their children and the entire nation concerning two troublesome trends:

  • The age at which men and women marry, now at historic heights – 27 for women and 29 for men; and
  • The age at which women have children.

Delayed marriage has elevated the socioeconomic status of women. This is especially true more-privileged women, as it allows them to reach their life goals. It has also reduced the odds of divorce for U.S. couples who are now marrying.

But although they are marrying later, women have not put off childbearing at the same pace. The median age at first birth for women, 25.7, falls before the median age of first marriage, 26.5.

  • By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married. Overall, 48 percent of first births are to unmarried women, most of them in their 20s.

This phenomenon, called “the crossover,” happened decades ago for the least-economically privileged. However, for middle class American women (those who have a high school degree or some college), the crossover has been recent and rapid. There has been no crossover for college-educated women, who typically have their first child more than two years after marrying.

The “crossover” is concerning. But why?

  • Children born outside of marriage are much more likely to experience family instability, school failure and emotional problems.
  • Children born to cohabiting couples are three times more likely to see their parents break up than children born to married parents.
  • Middle class and poor Americans and their kids are more likely to pay the cost of delayed marriage in America, and
  • College-educated Americans and their kids are more likely to enjoy the benefits of marriage.

Does Sequence Matter?

Researchers believe that for the sake of today’s 20-somethings and their children, syncing marriage and childbearing would be beneficial. Becoming a parent requires intentionality, and relationships flourish within what Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill call “the success sequence”:  Complete at least a high school education, get a job, marry and then have children – in that order.

Marriage is clearly not for everyone, but the decoupling of marriage and parenthood is deeply worrisome. The “crossover’ fuels economic and educational inequality, not to mention instability. Knot Yet proposes a comprehensive approach encompassing economic, educational, civic and cultural initiatives to help 20-somethings find new ways to put the baby carriage after marriage.

The sequence of marriage – then parenthood – is not a guarantee for success. And, going out of sequence is not a recipe for failure. However, there is clearly a growing disconnect between sexual activity, parental intentions and marriage.

Most young adults believe non-marital childbearing is acceptable. They seem unaware of the toll that it can take on their lives and society. Unfortunately, the research shows that when people become parents before having a plan or a partner, children are the ones who stand to lose the most.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 14, 2013.

More than 2 million marriages take place annually in America.

“Almost all couples anticipate ‘living happily ever after,’” according to Dr. Gary Chapman in his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable, yet the highest percentage of divorce occurs within the first seven years of marriage.”

When you consider the fact that most people spend more time planning and training for their vocation than they do for their wedding, is it any surprise that the divorce rate is so high?

“What is ironic is that we recognize the need for education in all other pursuits of life and fail to recognize that need when it comes to marriage,” Chapman says. “It should not be surprising that they are more successful in their vocational pursuits than they are in reaching the goal of marital happiness.”

Chapman’s book provides a marriage blueprint for people. It’s also useful for engaged couples or those preparing for marriage.

“As I look back over the early years of my marriage, I wish someone had told me what I am about to tell you,” Chapman says.

The book addresses 12 areas of potential stress for couples, including money, in-laws and personality. Here are a few of the 12.

I wish I had known…

  • Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage. Research indicates that the average life span of the “in love” obsession is two years. Then differences become apparent and people start to question if they married the right person.
  • Romantic love has two stages. Chapman describes the first stage of love as a time when couples expend lots of energy doing things for each other, but they don’t consider it work. The second stage of love is more intentional. It requires work in order to keep emotional love alive.
  • The saying, “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son” is not a myth. While Chapman does not suggest that the person you marry will become exactly like their mother or father, parents do greatly influence children.
  • How to solve disagreements without arguing. It never crossed Chapman’s mind that he and his wife would have any major disagreements. No one ever told them that conflicts are a normal part of marriage.
  • That apologizing is a sign of strength. Apologizing is often something people find difficult to do. Some people perceive admitting wrong as a sign of weakness. In reality, it takes a strong person to say “I was wrong, please forgive me.”
  • Mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic. Many couples never anticipate that this would be a problem area. Dr. Chapman shares that while men focus on sex, women focus on relationship. In a fractured relationship, the wife will have less, and more difficult, interest in sex.

When not discussed beforehand, these issues (and more) can create a marriage filled with conflict, misunderstandings and frustration. Investing time and effort to learn these things in advance could save you a lot of heartache and pain in the long run.

For more information on becoming a Newlywed get our E-Book “10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know” Download Here.

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No one wants to suffer the heartache of a broken relationship, whether it is a divorce or the dissolution of a cohabiting situation. While living together may have short-term advantages, it comes at a high long-term cost.

MYTH: Living together is an easy way to “try out” the relationship before committing to marriage.

Truth: While the idea of “test driving” a car before you buy it is a good idea, it doesn’t apply to marriage. Couples who live together often have attitudes like: “I can leave any time,” and “My money vs. your money” that married couples don’t typically have. Married couples often have a stronger bond to each other because of their vow of permanence. Married couples also tend to have less volatile relationships.

MYTH: Living together will give us a stronger marriage.

Truth: Although many couples think that moving in together can give them a great head start in their marriage, living together can actually harm your marriage. Couples who live together before they marry have a divorce rate that is 50 percent higher than those who don’t.

MYTH: Sharing finances and expenses will make things easier on our relationship.

Truth: While sharing finances and expenses seems like the easy thing to do in the beginning, problems do arise. Just like any couple, disputes often center around money. Couples who live together have more financial issues to resolve. Conflicts arise over who is responsible for which bill, and the rights that one partner has to tell the other how to spend “their” money.

MYTH: Your sex life goes downhill when you get married.

Truth: The level of sexual satisfaction is higher among married couples than for couples who live together. Couples who live together tend to be less faithful to their partners than married couples.

MYTH: Marriage is just a piece of paper.

Truth: Emotionally, physically and spiritually, marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. It is a commitment. Viewing marriage as only a legal arrangement strips it of its meaning and sets the relationship up for failure. If couples do not view marriage as a loving, committed relationship, divorce is almost inevitable.

MYTH: It’s only temporary.

Truth: Many people enter a cohabiting relationship hoping they will be married soon. However, living together isn’t always a stepping-stone to marriage. Statistics report that 60 percent of couples who live together will not go on to get married either because they break up (39 percent) or just continue to live together (21 percent).

MYTH: Living together is best if children are involved.

Truth: The effects of cohabitation on children is significant. Children in these situations are at risk of emotional and social difficulties, performing poorly in school, having early premarital sex and having difficulty forming permanent emotional attachments in adulthood. If the man in the household is not the biological father, children are at greater risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse.

How to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship

If your goal is to have a stable, healthy and fulfilling relationship, here are some tips.

TIME. This is the only surefire way to find out if a couple is compatible. Time gives you the opportunity to see how your partner handles different situations that life throws at you: the hard stressful times, the joyous and rewarding times, and the humdrum of everyday. If you can survive these life events with someone and still love them then there is an excellent chance your relationship will last.

COMMUNICATION.

Relationships aren’t always wine and roses. Know that your partner will disappoint and frustrate you at times. Knowing how to communicate increases your chances of being able to resolve and even prevent conflict.

CONSIDER MARRIAGE.

What makes marriage unique from simply living together is a “vow of permanence.” Partners publicly promise they will no longer be alone and no matter what happens down the road someone will be there to take care of you and support you.

PREMARITAL EDUCATION.

Couples who attend premarital programs experience a 30 percent increase in marital success over those who do not. They report greater communication, sharpened conflict management skills, a strong dedication to one’s spouse and overall improved relationship quality.

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Cohabitation has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. In the 60s and 70s very few couples lived together before marriage. Today, more than 60 percent of couples cohabit before marrying. Numerous reputable studies, however, find that couples who cohabit prior to marriage significantly increase their risk for divorce.

In April 2012, a New York Times piece addressed the downside of cohabitation. It said that couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to have less-satisfying marriages — and are more likely to divorce — than couples who live apart before marriage.

Researchers call these negative outcomes “the cohabitation effect.”

Prior to the NYT piece, the March 2012 Christian Science Monitor touted “new research” that was part of a Centers for Disease Control survey of 22,000 men and women, focusing on marriage and divorce and what makes a good marriage. It suggested that times have changed from when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later. The study’s lead author, Casey Copen, says that cohabitation plays a smaller role in predicting divorce than it used to.

So does cohabitation harm your chances of marriage? Does it increase the risk of divorce?

“I would tell people to hit the pause button before they run out and encourage friends to start shacking up,” says Glenn Stanton, author of The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage. “A wealth of data suggests that the significant negative impact of cohabiting has not disappeared into the ozone.”

Stanton points out that the Christian Science Monitor did not cite a study on cohabitation. Instead, it cited a study examining first marriages in the United States.

“This is only one study in a long, impressive and robust body of research showing that cohabitation is generally associated with greater divorce risk in marriage,” Stanton says. “In fact, the study actually acknowledges that it has been well-documented that women and men who cohabit with their future spouse are more likely to divorce compared with the non-cohabiting marrieds.”

Stanton cites a particular study about cohabitation’s negative impact on both marital quality and marital longevity. The negative impact did not wane as cohabitation has gained social acceptance.

But does “social acceptance” mean that living together before marriage is a positive thing?

For example, smoking cigarettes was not only socially acceptable in the past. In fact, it was the cool thing to do for years. Then research revealed that smoking, and even second-hand smoke, causes lung cancer. While not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer, the risk was great enough to make people think twice.

If a lifelong, healthy marriage is your goal, consider the evidence. There is more than enough of it to support that living together before marriage may put your relationship at risk.

Chattanooga Times Free Press originally published this article on May 6, 2012.

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Distinguished professor and author Dr. Pat Love challenges each of us to consider our beliefs about the permanence of marriage.

“According to research, 95 percent of young people still want marriage and children as an ideal, but more people are living single than ever before,” says Love. “The median length of marriage today is eight years.

“Three out of four people say that marriage isn’t about family, it’s about me. Twenty-nine percent of married people say they are lonely. Just listening to these statistics can be extremely discouraging. Perhaps we need to change the way we think about marriage. Maybe marriage isn’t for everybody.”

For just a moment, think about the day you said, “I do.” When you were ready to make a commitment, what did you believe about your fiancé, yourself and marriage?

While looking at this research, Love found that there are four beliefs that couples must have that significantly impact the chances of having a long-lasting marriage.

  • You have to believe in the permanence and purpose of your marriage. “One study showed an increasing number of people no longer believed in the permanence of marriage as an ideal,” Love says. “This shocked me. Participants didn’t believe it could or would happen, and didn’t feel a commitment or obligation to make it happen. Another study showed that in 45-plus year marriages, the happiness level is like a U-curve. It bottoms out around the 20th year. If you hang in there, believe, hold the image that it will happen and are committed to making it happen, your happiness quotient then starts going up and keeps going up.” Additionally, Love asserts that you need to have purpose for your marriage. “We make goals for our weight, grades, work, etc. We need goals for marriage too.”
  • You must have romance AND realism in your marriage. “The criteria for dating is different than mating,” Love says. “When you focus more on romance, you miss an important part of marriage. If you focus on the ‘Hollywood love’ you will miss the challenges. Marriage is harder to maintain than ever before due to greater expectations and stressors. Part of the realism is believing in the romance, and the reality that investing in home improvement may not be a new bathroom; it might mean a trip somewhere fun. If the couple isn’t happy, it is unlikely the family will stay together.”
  • You have to believe in health and wealth. “Healthily married people live longer – it doesn’t just feel like it, they do,” Love says. “Married people recover from illness and diseases quicker. You have to believe that a good marriage is part of good mental health and physical healthcare.” And, research shows that money habits predict stability in marriage. How you manage budgets and work together is vital to the health of a marriage.
  • You have to believe in sacrifice and sanctity. When you are selfless and willing to sacrifice at your own cost, you become happier and more committed to your marriage. It’s not enough to have the wealth. There must be generosity also, and a belief that sacrifice is sacred, never to be dishonored.

So, marriage may not be for everybody. Perhaps it is just for those who believe.

For more information on becoming a Newlywed get our E-Book “10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know” Download Here

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***