Marriage is Undersold in America

Most high school seniors value “having a good marriage and family life”, but for many, this does not become their reality. The odds can be improved by making the benefits of marriage more widely known, and by making more of an effort to share knowledge about how quality intimate relationships work. David Popenoe writes for The National Marriage Project in “The Future of Marriage in America” (2007):

As a first step, the institution of marriage needs to be promoted by all levels of society, particularly the families, the schools, the churches, the non-profit sector, and the government. The great majority of American high school seniors still want to get married, with 82 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys recently saying that “having a good marriage and family life” is “extremely important” to them. These percentages, in fact, represent a slight increase from the late 1970s. [15] But as high schoolers reach young adulthood, when the attraction of cohabitation and careers gains strong currency, making the actual commitment to marriage is not easy. Young people need, therefore, to be made continually aware of the many benefits married life brings, both for themselves and for their children. The empirical evidence is now strong and persuasive that a good marriage enhances personal happiness, economic success, health and longevity. This evidence should become a regular part of our educational programs and our public discourse.

Yet successful marriage promotion requires more than empirical evidence. Marriage has fallen by the wayside, in part, because it receives less and less social recognition and approval. Any norm of behavior requires for its maintenance the continuing support of the community, including active social pressures to uphold it. When social approval and pressures wither, the norm weakens. Today’s young people have been taught through the schools and in their communities a strong message of tolerance for “alternative lifestyles.” “Thou shalt not make moral judgments about other people’s family behavior” seems to have become a dominant message in our times. The reason for this is completely understandable; children and young people come from ever more diverse family situations which are not of their own doing, and they should be fully accepted and not be penalized. The problem is that this moral message is carried on into adult life, where it is applied not to children and young people but to adults who do have choices about how they shape their lives. In an effort not to judge much less stigmatize any adult life style, we have all too often become virtually silent about the value and importance of marriage. This silence is extremely damaging to the promotion of a pro-marriage culture.

The widespread promotion of marriage is directed at only half of the problem, however. Getting people to marry is one thing, helping them to stay married is something else entirely. Helping people to stay married is the main focus of an important set of programs known as marriage education. Typically conducted in group settings rather than counseling situations, marriage education programs focus on developing the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed for making a wise marital choice and having a successful marriage. Although marriage education has been around for many decades, it recently has been thrust into the limelight thanks to widespread publicity and government financial assistance.

The importance of marriage education is magnified by the fact that the marital relationship today is so different from what it was in the past. Marriage is now based almost entirely on close friendship and romantic love, mostly stripped of the economic dependencies, legal and religious restrictions, and extended family pressures that have held marriages together for most of human history. Until fairly recent times marriages had little to do with romantic love, sexual passion, or even close friendship; they were functional partnerships in the intense struggle of life. Today, a successful marriage rests almost entirely on how well one gets along, intimately and for the long term, with someone of the opposite sex. The “relationship knowledge” this requires has never been part of formal education, but there is no reason to believe that it can not effectively be taught to married couples and those about to be married, as well as to younger people as part of the high school curriculum. Indeed, the initial empirical evaluations of marriage education programs conclude that they are both well-received and have generally positive outcomes.

Marriage promotion and marriage education are essential steps, but in order fully to rebuild the institution of marriage there would probably have to be a cultural shift of a more fundamental nature. Modern cultures would need to pull back from the now dominant thrust of secular individualism—the excessive pursuit of personal autonomy, immediate gratification, and short-term personal gain—and give greater emphasis to issues of community and social solidarity. This could come about through a growing realization, based on rational self-interest, that our personal happiness and sense of well-being over the long course of life are less affected by the amount of independence, choice, bodily pleasure and wealth we are able to obtain than by the number of stable, long-term and meaningful relationships we have with others. [16] And through a greater recognition of the fact that short-term adult interests can be in conflict with the long-term health and wellbeing of children, and that our children’s welfare has everything to do with the future of our nation.

See also:

Steve and Cokie Roberts Report on Marriage: A Good Idea that Refuses to Die
Steve, who’s been the Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs at
George Washington University since 1997, says that time and again his
students come into his office and ask, “How do you do it?” The students
aren’t asking how to write a snappy lead or tips on getting an
interview with Al Gore. “Popular culture tells them it’s naive and
foolish to think of having a lifelong devotion to someone. But they
have the impulse. I’m not saying marriage is right for all people all
the time, but I think it’s right for most people, most of the time. To
have a partner to go through life with is one of the most elemental
human desires, and these kids want to hear it’s not a pipe dream, a

A Response to “marriage is an outdated practice”

We recently had an exchange
with “NOHO Resident” that we would like to highlight. NOHO Resident
asserts that marriage “is becoming an outdated practice more and more
day by day.”

We replied:

I’m so glad you raised the issue of marriage being obsolete. This would
certainly be news to many children of divorce. Barbara Whitehead
presents excellent analyses of this issue in The Atlantic:

The Love Family ideology has no theory of permanence or binding
obligation. It is oriented to adults’ interests and satisfactions
because it emphasizes freedom of individual choice. You can pick the
one you love and ditch the one you no longer love without a backward
glance. That’s great for adults, but children don’t have the same
freedom of choice or the same enthusiasm about moving on. From a
child’s standpoint the Love Family ideology is inadequate because it
offers no basis for permanence in family bonds and commitments. When
these bonds are lost, children suffer emotionally, especially in their
ability to trust. We’ve set up a failure-to-commit factor for the next

–Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “What We Owe”, The Atlantic, February 1997 (may require a paid subscription)

According to a growing body of social-scientific evidence, children in
families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than
children in intact families on several measures of well-being. Children
in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor. They are
also likely to stay poor longer. Twenty-two percent of children in
one-parent families will experience poverty during childhood for seven
years or more, as compared with only two percent of children in two
parent families. A 1988 survey by the National Center for Health
Statistics found that children in single-parent families are two to
three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have
emotional and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to drop
out of high school, to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and
to be in trouble with the law. Compared with children in intact
families, children from disrupted families are at a much higher risk
for physical or sexual abuse.

Contrary to popular belief, many children do not “bounce back” after
divorce or remarriage. Difficulties that are associated with family
breakup often persist into adulthood. Children who grow up in
single-parent or stepparent families are less successful as adults,
particularly in the two domains of life–love and work–that are most
essential to happiness. Needless to say, not all children experience
such negative effects. However, research shows that many children from
disrupted families have a harder time achieving intimacy in a
relationship, forming a stable marriage, or even holding a steady job.

–Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right”, The Atlantic, April 1993 (may require a paid subscription)

The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research
In North American culture, it is most common for people to select a marriage partner
according to romantic love as opposed to family arrangement or economic necessity. Research by
Roberts (1982), Davis and Todd (1982), Davis (1985), and Bergner (2000) is useful in
clarifying what romantic love entails from a social science perspective. They found that romantic
love embodies the following characteristics: (a) investment in the well-being of the beloved, (b)
respect, (c) admiration, (d) sexual desire, (e) intimacy, (f) commitment, (g) exclusivity, and (h)

…when there are violations to these
characteristics and the violations are sufficient in magnitude, partners will commonly conclude
that they are no longer loved as they once were and re-evaluates their place in their partners’
world. As Bergner and Bridges (2002) point out, many women who discover a partner’s intense
involvement with pornography engage in just such a reappraisal of their relationship…

Maurer found
three common traits that distinguish sexually satisfied couples from unsatisfied couples: (1)
acceptance of one’s own sexuality, (2) listening to one’s partner and being aware of a partner’s
likes and dislikes, and (3) open and honest communication.

Moreover, according to data from the General Social Survey in 2000 (N = 531), people
who report being happily married are 61 percent less likely to report using Internet pornography
compared to those who also used the Internet and who had completed the General Social Survey
in 2000…

following observations were made by [the 350 attendees of the November 2002
meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers] polled with regard to why the Internet had
played a role in divorces that year…56 percent of the divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in
pornographic websites…

(2003) also found that both men and women perceive online sexual activity as an act of betrayal
that is as authentic and real as offline acts and that Internet pornography use correlated
significantly with emotional infidelity (N = 1,117; 468 males and 649 females)…

A Review of Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families
Many of Paul’s interview subjects said porn use made them more
judgmental of their real-life sex partners. One thrice-divorced
34-year-old subject, who had been watching porn since age 10, said that
he would break up with any woman who wouldn’t give him the kind of
pleasure he saw men getting in porn films. If the woman takes too long
to reach orgasm, or doesn’t enjoy swallowing semen, she’s history.
(pp.92-93) Other young men said they wanted their girlfriends to be
“slutty” and submissive (p.94).

In 2002, a professor at Texas Christian University conducted a
survey of straight men who spent an average of five hours a week
looking at online porn. The study found that the more porn they
watched, the more likely they were to describe women in sexualized and
stereotypical ways, and to want women to be subordinate to men…(p.92)

The women Paul interviewed, even those who considered themselves
sexually experienced and adventurous, frequently reported problems with
their partners’ porn use. One woman in her 30s told Paul that she felt
cheapened and alienated from her lovers when she noticed them using
porn-film moves on her. She could tell when a man was a heavy porn user
because he treated her as an object to be viewed, keeping her at an
emotional distance. (pp.128-29) Other women said their partners
constantly deceived them about how much porn they were watching. Women
who made the concession to watch “couples” erotica with their partners
felt betrayed and second-rate when they discovered the men were still
secretly indulging in hardcore porn. They felt anxious that their men
were not sufficiently fulfilled by a relationship with them.
(pp.146-47) Just as when a wife discovers her husband’s adultery, these
women wondered if it was their fault that the men looked elsewhere for
sexual satisfaction. (pp. 170-71) Meanwhile, acceptance of porn was a
romantic deal-breaker for many of Paul’s male subjects; they would
rather sacrifice a relationship than kick the habit. (pp.134-35) This
is a common symptom of addiction…

Porn also undermines respect for marriage vows. The Zillmann-Bryant
study [link] found that only 39% of the massive porn exposure group thought
marriage was an important institution, compared with 60% of the control
group. “This shouldn’t be a surprise: loving wives and faithful
husbands rarely feature in a porno. Pornography is the fantasy of
permanent and unfettered bachelorhood; married characters who do appear
are pursuing sexual adventures on the side. In pornography, partnered
life hampers sexual pleasure.” (p.141)

Porn use takes away time and energy that a man could be
spending on his real partner and family. In psychologist Jennifer P.
Schneider’s 2000 study of women whose partners were involved in
cybersex, 37% of respondents reported that their partners spent less
time with the children because of online porn use. (p.155) Other
researchers found that watching porn made men less enthusiastic about
starting a family at all.

“Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women”
Many female participants in the study by Bridges et al. (2003) noted a
diminution in their partner’s sexual desire for them and believed that
their partners had come to prefer the pornographic models to them…
They reported a decline in the intimacy of their relationship, a
diminished sense of their partner’s commitment to them, strong feelings
that their partners failed utterly to respect them or understand their
emotional distress concerning the pornography, and lastly, a sense that
they were living a shameful lie by presenting themselves to others as a
loving and committed couple… More often than not, the woman blames
herself for losing her partner to his pornographic interest. She
believes that if she were a ‘good’ enough woman, she would have been
able to keep her husband’s attentions and affections and her loss would
never have occurred…

Video Presentation: A Content Analysis of 50 of Today’s Top Selling Porn Films (explicit language)
Ana Bridges: “…I’m going to begin to talk about what it is that we
found after looking at these 304 scenes in these 50 top selling
pornographic films. In total in the 304 scenes we coded a total of
3,376 acts of aggression. That ends up averaging…to an aggressive act
every minute and a half. The scenes on average contained eleven and a
half acts of verbal or physical aggression…”

Bridges: “So how many scenes didn’t contain aggression? About 10%…”

Bridges: “…in couples research we know that couples, even couples who
fight a lot, as long as there’s a lot of good in the relationship,
about five times more good than bad, they actually do pretty well.

than 10% of the videos showed any kind of a positive act, and that
included kissing… caressing happened maybe twice. Something like a
verbal compliment, ‘Gosh, you look pretty’, not, ‘Slut bitch, come over
here,’ that happened maybe five times in the 304 scenes. So we have a
ratio of positive to negative behaviors of 1 to 9, which is not a
sustainable, happy relationship.”

Porn Use Correlates with Infidelity, Prostitution, Aggression, Rape-Supportive Beliefs
In 2004, researchers also reported in Social Science Quarterly that “Individuals who have had an extramarital affair are 3.18 times more likely to have used Internet pornography than individuals who did not have affairs.”

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This DVD features a story-driven title
that mixes drama with hardcore sex. Wonderland tells the story of a man
obsessed with his stepdaughter’s friend when she visits during
Christmas break. Gary sacrifices everything in his traditional suburban
existence for a single moment of ecstasy with a femme fatale.

Deviant Housewives
In this world nothing lasts
forever and it looks like Kelly Erikson’s husband Van needs some space.
Kelly decides to invite all her friends going thru the same problems to
stay and support each other. But all of Kelly’s friends have an empty
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Use Em’ Abuse Em’ and Lose Em’ #9
Ride along as we pick up ordinary young women fuck’em senseless and dump’em! It’s all good clean fun!

Housewives Unleashed #16
These fine ladies have
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away on business our housewives need crave and demand satisfaction. The
action gets hot and horny the moment their desires are finally

David and Jennifer have a marriage on the
rocks. In desperation they seek out a marriage counselor who proposes a
revolutionary new method of therapy. David and Jennifer have free reign
to cheat on each other for the next 24 hours. Their sexual inhibitions
are set free and their fantasies fulfilled as they visit The Dark Side.

Male Attitudes about Rape Can Be Learned…and Unlearned
The subjects’ evaluations of a rape victim after viewing a reenacted
rape trial were also affected by the constant exposure to brutality
against women. The victim of rape was rated as more worthless and her
injury as significantly less severe by those exposed to filmed violence
when compared to a control group of men who saw only the rape trial and
did not view films. Desensitization to filmed violence on the last day
was also significantly correlated with assignment of greater blame to
the victim for her own rape…

There is now, however, some evidence that these negative changes in
attitudes and perceptions regarding rape and violence against women not
only can be eliminated but can be positively changed. Malamuth and
Check (1983) found that if male subjects who had participated in such
an experiment were later administered a carefully constructed
debriefing, they actually would be less accepting of certain rape myths
than were control subjects exposed to depictions of intercourse
(without a debriefing)… These debriefings consisted of (1) cautioning
subjects that the portrayal of the rape they had been exposed to is
completely fictitious in nature, (2) educating subjects about the
violent nature of rape, (3) pointing out to subjects that rape is
illegal and punishable by imprisonment, and (4) dispelling the many
rape myths that are perpetrated in the portrayal (e.g., in the majority
of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation, or that
many women have an unconscious desire to be raped).

effectiveness of the debriefing…indicated that even after seven
months, subjects’ attitudes about sexual violence showed significant
positive change compared to the preparticipation levels.

D.A. Clarke: Women Adopting Men’s Bad Habits Is Not the Answer
The conflict of values can be represented as a struggle between ethics of excess and moderation…

 To accept that the costs borne by strangers in far-off lands make our
way of life unaffordable implies that we learn to respect those people
and that we become ashamed of living at their expense; to accept that
we are responsible for the damage that we do to our soil, water, and
air means that we learn to clean up after ourselves; to accept that
resources are precious and should not be wasted is to learn that the
world is not a consumable, an expendable – and neither are its people.
To accept that our way of life is costing too much means accepting
less: giving up excess, resolving to live within our means. Shoving off
the costs of your behaviour onto others, expecting someone else to
clean up your mess, blowing away the household economy with
irresponsible spending, treating other people as objects to be used and
discarded: are these not some of the traits for which feminists have
persistently criticised and confronted men, the habits of privilege and

Grabbing all you can while you can get it is an expensive way to live.
It may turn out to be an expensive way to die. A generation which took
this lesson to heart would be less likely to use up, despise, abuse and
discard women and children as sexual toys…

A New Category Debuts: Love and Beauty
Our new category, Love and Beauty, will show how sex, love, relationships and people can be so much more than the narrow, blinkered version
that porn offers. Watching porn instead of seeking a loving
relationship with a real person is like being given a gorgeous race car
that can go 200 miles per hour, only to drive it backwards down the
highway at a crawl and scrape it against railings and bridge abutments.