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In a Bad Economy Couples Love the One They're With -- And That's a Good Thing

Thirty eight percent of couples who were considering divorce or separation have now put off those plans due to the recession. That surprising news comes from a new report out this week from the National Marriage Project at University of Virginia, aptly called “The Great Recession and Marriage.” The report was released to coincide with National Marriage Week USA (February 7 - 14), the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. (To read the full report visit www.NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org/news) Researchers also found that many couples claimed the recession has deepened their commitment to marriage.

Maybe this is not such a bad thing. Throughout history, marriages were economic units in which husbands and wives joined forces in order to keep life and limb together. Generally, the result was the creation of a culture where children grew up with both a mother and a father in the home. In hindsight, we may have taken for granted the stabilizing impact this brought to children and our nation as a whole.

Yes, some marriages really cannot survive the destruction of addiction or abuse, no matter what the economic hardships. But the fact is that research overwhelming shows that married individuals have greater personal wealth, better health, live longer lives and have greater personal happiness than those who are not married. And most importantly, research also shows that children raised by both parents perform far better in school, have less trouble with the law, less teen pregnancy, and fewer issues with addiction.

So is it really such a bad thing if more couples in marriages now have to work it out and stick together? Currently it costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion a year for divorce and unwed childbearing (some estimates are even higher -- above $200 billion). Then there are the forty percent of all American babies born today outside of marriage. We should also be concerned that our prisons are overflowing and that the vast majority of prisoners come from fatherless homes. And finally there’s this sobering statistic: when a girl’s father leaves before the age of six, the daughter’s chance of teen pregnancy jump from 5 percent to 35 percent.

With statistics like these, in this age of economic hardship and burgeoning deficits, do we have any other choice but to encourage men and women to work harder at staying in their marriages?

Prior to the 1970s and the advent of no-fault divorce, there were simply far fewer divorces. If you make a decision that marriage is a covenant and a commitment (divorce in not in our vocabulary) rather than a consumer relationship (if you don’t meet my needs, I’m outta here), then doesn’t it make sense that you have more a stake and are more motivated to work at making your marriage a happier one? Shouldn’t we invest more effort in making marriage as satisfying as it can be? Most folks either don’t know where to get the help they need, or they’ve gotten swept away in the racing currents of modern thought that somehow marriage is disposable.

My husband and I get involved with helping many marriages, and we have observed that marital stress is often seasonal (raising teenagers can cause parents to turn on each other), or circumstantial (if financially you go in the tank), or that emotions are simply over taxed (young mothers live in perpetual exhaustion). But we’ve observed that if you wade through the conflict, learn how to become a better spouse (meaning both people have to work on themselves…not just complain about the other person), then often couples discover that they've jumped the hurdle of conflict and landed on the happier side of companionship. They are rewarded with the comfort that comes from being with someone who has been a witness to their life. And isn’t that what we all really want? Aren't most of us seeking lifelong love and a safe haven in which to raise our children?

The answer is yes. And it comes from the public, private and religious purpose of marriage. And no, the research also shows that living together, without being married, does not ultimately provide the same benefits. The bottom line is that, both personally and nationally, marriage pays.

Sheila Weber, is executive director of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14), based in New York City. 

For National Marriage Week USA—February 7-14— there are hundreds of classes and events posted state by state at www.NationalMarriageWeekUSA.Org. As part of an international marriage week movement in 12 major countries, National Marriage Week USA provides a clearinghouse of resources to help couples work on their own marriages, or reach out and help someone else. Get additional information  including fun tips to strengthen your marriage, discover a Valentine’s "Great Date" idea, a discounted Couples Check Up test, Five Love Language Quiz, Love Letter Kits, research, and more.

Sheila Weber is the executive director of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14).