Marriage rates are steadily decreasing, divorce rates are steadily increasing and, although experts recognize that failed marriages threaten society, they don't agree on a solution.
According to a report published by the National Marriage Project, "More than 40 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages are ending in divorce, with lower income and less educated couples especially at risk."
The report quotes writer Michael Potemra, who explored the issue of poverty in the United States while crisscrossing the country in a Greyhound bus. He saw firsthand the effects of frequent divorce and failed relationships among the poor. He drew the conclusion the negative effects were too powerful to overcome through marriage therapy.
Many experts, including those with the National Marriage Project, disagree. They believe that strong marriages and families are essential for creating a safe and happy society, and that strengthening marriage should be the first step for stimulating social change.
The solutions for fixing modern marriages range from traditional to radical.
Clinical psychologist Sue Johnson maintains that only strict adherence to a traditional, monogamous marriage will solve the problem. She believes that monogamy is natural and necessary for an individual's health and well-being.
"We are supposed to live in a rich social environment, and part of it is long-term bonds with special people. It sometimes feels like modern society is just determined to forget this,” Johnson said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We don’t live in little villages any more. People now often depend on romantic love as their main source of social support.”
But others don't buy Johnson's orthodox solution.
In a recent article on The Huffington Post, life coach Lisa Haisha suggested that the way American society views marriage as a monogamous, long-term relationship is contributing to the problems of rampant divorce and adultery.
"Maybe the tenets of a successful marriage should not be whether the couple stays monogamous for decades, but rather whether the couple openly communicates about what their unique marriage will look like, what will be deemed acceptable and what will not, and then honoring that joint decision," she writes.
While their solutions might differ, both Haisha and Johnson believe that marriages need to be strengthened. The National Marriage Project is promoting government programs that are designed to increase the "relationship literacy" of individuals at various stages of relationships. Teenagers, young adults, unmarried couples and married couples who are struggling receive instruction on how to build and maintain a healthy relationship.
The programs, part of the Healthy Marriages and Relationship Initiative, are funded through federal grants and are taught by experienced relationship counselors. The available data show that while the programs have room for improvement, they are making a difference.
"While Healthy Marriages and Relationships Initiatives cannot mend all the broken hearts and make up for all the unfortunate choices (Potemra) encountered on his journey across America, they can improve many at-risk Americans’ prospects for healthier family formation," the report stated. "The progress is slow, plodding and prosaic, but state-based relationship literacy education can help sustain one of the most fundamental institutions in our society."
The failure of modern marriage is destructive to society, but it is possible to overcome the crisis, according to the report. Through open and honest communication and a better understanding of why marriage matters, individuals can bring stability to their families and to society in general.
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.