- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2011

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Culture challenge of the week: lonely, hurting marriages

“I just cant do this for 20 more years!” Stacys lonely marriage was worse than it had ever been. Now she wanted out.

National Marriage Week, which kicked off Feb. 7, crescendos on Valentines Day. Across the country, millions of married couples exchange cards, send flowers and have romantic dinners as they celebrate their commitment to each other. It is a beautiful reminder that in spite of the naysayers, marriage is not dead.

But for hurting couples like Stacy and her husband, Brandon, Valentines Day or their own wedding anniversaries only emphasizes what they dont have. Many couples quit, propelled by the desire to find something better.

Its a tragedy thats become routine. Our culture makes it easy to undo a marriage - from no-fault divorce laws that allow one spouse to end a marriage unilaterally to “marriage” counselors predisposed to see divorce as the best solution to a persons unhappiness.

And when divorce occurs with a persons family or social circle, it has a destabilizing effect on others marriages. One 2010 study found that when a couples close friends divorce, their own risk for divorce spikes by 75 percent. And a siblings divorce increases a persons own likelihood of divorce by 22 percent. These events move divorce from the “unthinkable” to the “thinkable” category - and weaken a couples commitment to their own marriage.

Marriages plagued by abuse, serial infidelity or substance use may indeed require dissolution - but the majority of marriages fail not because of serious pathology, but because of interpersonal issues.

How to save your family: Get help for your hurting marriage

Whats the solution for a couple like Stacy and Brandon? Dont give up. Work on your marriage - because your odds of finding happiness are amazingly good if you stick it out.

According to one University of Chicago study, 77 percent of couples who described themselves as “very unhappy” in their marriages - but who stayed together - five years later described their marriages as either “very happy” or “quite happy.” Interestingly, unhappy couples who did divorce remained unhappy even apart.

Its natural, in the midst of pain, loneliness or when we are carrying overwhelming burdens, to feel like escape is the only option. But circumstances change: financial pressures come and go, teens become young adults (marital stress often peaks when teens are in the house), and job and health issues wax and wane.

And relationships can change, too. Finding help is the key.

One vital source for marriage help is FamilyLife.com, headed by marriage experts Dennis and Barbara Rainey. The website shares stories of couples wounded by infidelity, financial irresponsibility, painful loneliness and even hatred - but who discovered life-changing help to change those situations. In the process, they rediscovered Gods plan for their marriage and found happiness.

Retrouvaille, a “lifeline” for marriages, is a highly effective program for couples with serious marriage problems. And check out the websites of Smart Marriages and National Marriage Week for outstanding, targeted resources to help any marriage problem. James Dobson, who has been helping families stay together for years, has a new, powerful national radio show and website to help couples in need: www.MyFamilyTalk.com.

Reach out. Ask for help. Your marriage is worth saving!

- Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.