Marriage matters, to couples, community: Couples have of matrimony big part to play in making their relationship work

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Marriage matters. It matters to the couples involved, to their children and to the wider community.

That’s the message that the Family Ministries Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago is trying to spread, in order to help couples keep their marriages healthy and strong, said Elsie Radtke, associate director of the office.

Efforts go back to 2005, when the office rewrote its marriage preparation guidelines and made them “marriage ministry guidelines.” Couples who register for marriage preparation in the archdiocese receive two post-wedding sessions at no additional charge.

“One of the things couples think is that it’s just about them and it’s a personal and private matter,” Radtke said. “It’s for the community.”

But marriage is being challenged like never before, with fewer people tying the knot — in church or elsewhere — more people cohabiting and most saying that sex without marriage is not wrong.

Overall, just over half of U.S. adults were married, according to a 2010 Pew study.

The causes are myriad, Radtke said.

“Is it that, after two and a half generations of divorce, people lost the ability to be married? Is it that the feminist revolution allowed people to believe they can have all the steps of intimacy without responsibility?” she said.

If that’s so, they need to look at the track record, Radtke said.

It’s ‘good for them’

According to “Why Marriage Matters,” marriage connects people in more solid ways that are good for them and for the people around them.

“They are healthier, wealthier and their children are more successful,” she said.

Unfortunately, that message is not making it to people who live in poverty or who are not well-educated.

The Pew study found that 64 percent of adults with a college degree were married, while 48 percent of adults with a high school diploma or less were.

Radtke said that most people, even in the groups who are most unlikely to marry according to the statistics, want to be married. But many of them conflate the trappings of an engagement and wedding with the matrimonial bond itself.

“People want marriage. People believe marriage is a goal they can attain. But they don’t want to get married unless they can have this whoop-de-doo wedding and the engagement ring,” she said.

“They come together and before they have that, they’re pregnant. Then they keep postponing and postponing and postponing, because diapers and day care are expensive and they can’t save money for a wedding.”

Then when people who are married get into trouble, relatively few get help until too late — even though most couples who struggle in their marriages and stay together are generally happier five years later than those who break up.

That’s not to say everyone should stay married, Radtke noted. No one is obligated to stay in marriages in which someone is struggling with substance abuse or there is domestic violence. But in the majority of breakups, “people are talking to other people about the marriage, but not their spouse.”

Support for marriages

Radkte recommends Marriage Encounter for couples who are doing all right and Retrouvaille for those whose marriages are foundering. But even without those programs, parishes can do a lot more to support marriage, and married couples.

They might want to check out the work of John Bosio, author and family life educator, and follow his suggestion to offer a program of “Six Dates for Catholic Couples.” Or the work of David and Claudia Arp, whose “Marriage Alive!” website offers “10 Great Dates.”

There’s a theme there, Radtke acknowledged, noting that men need to date their wives because it helps them remember what brought them together in the first place.

For couples who need to get on — or stay on — the same page, the “Catholic Couple Checkup” inventory can help them figure out what their areas of conflict are so they can move on to fixing them.

Next February, Family Ministries will get behind National Marriage Week, which wraps around Valentine’s Day, and Date Night Challenge Chicago, an effort that can be supported by businesses, civic and faith-based organizations.

Couples themselves have a big part to play, Radtke said. They must remember to put one another first instead of making everything all about their children, they should forgive one another daily for their humanness and they should pray together, she said.

“Couples who do that, the divorce rate plummets, because God is at the center,” Radtke said.

They also must remember to look out for other couples, especially the newly married.

“Those of us who are married 10 years or more, we have a responsibility to the newlyweds,” she said. “Ask them, ‘How’s the marriage?’”

The Family Ministries office will hold Catholic Couple Checkup and Mentoring Newly Married Couples workshops June 23 at 9:30 a.m. at St. John of the Cross Church in Western Springs.

Peter Larson from Life Innovations will lead the workshop. Reservations are required. Lunch is available for $10.

Benefits of matrimony

  • Marriage increases the likelihood that fathers and mothers have good relationships with their children.
  • Marriage and a normative commitment to marriage foster highquality relationships between adults as well as between parents and children.
  • Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers, and cohabitation is less likely to alleviate poverty than is marriage.
  • Parental divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college and achieve high-status jobs.
  • Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teens.

For more, see "Why Marriage Matters" at