Divorce Rates Threaten Marriage More Than a DOMA Repeal

peAs the Supreme Court deliberates on whether the Defense of Marriage Act holds constitutionally, the nation focuses on the constitutional implications of gay marriages.  Yet even without the addition of same-gender marriage, the social institution of traditional marriage continues to change and evolve with culture and time.  As a result of the dramatic culture shifts of the past few decades, America continues to face a devaluation of traditional marriage not at the hands of the gay and lesbian community, but rather because of a phenomenally high divorce rate.

The American divorce rate continues to be above 50%. First marriages experience a success rate of 40-50% and subsequent marriage success rates offer diminishing returns.

Marriage offers individuals a high happiness quotient and provides a strong backbone for America's families.  As a social institution, it continues to provide strong infrastructure for those who are able to commit to and maintain their vows.  However, social mores change.  Increases in premarital cohabitation and sex, as well as the cultural acceptance of divorce, contribute to a growing marriage crisis in this country.

More couples cohabit premaritally than ever before.  This ongoing trend establishes cohabitation as a significant relationship milestone that often precedes more traditional commitment-based milestones like engagement.  While many young people accept cohabitation as a logical step in the progression of a relationship toward marriage, the living arrangement actually leads to unfavorable divorce rates.

The sequence in which couples practice cohabitation determines the success rate of their eventual marriages.  Those who enter the cohabitation arrangement on the basis of a commitment like an engagement enjoy lower divorce rates than those who stumble toward marital vows after a period of cohabitation.  Experts believe that this discrepancy is accounted for by relationship inertia -- those who cohabit together experience a de facto commitment because they find less exposure to other partner options and become increasingly financially and emotionally invested in their relationships.  These factors drive some cohabiting couples to marry even if the sense of commitment is not there, as marriage seems like an unavoidable next step.

Promiscuity and premarital sex also provided a staunch challenge to traditional marriage.  As young people engage in sexual activity with multiple partners, they often create a craving for this diversity of sexual partners throughout their lives.  The monogamous nature of most marriages proves stifling to those accustomed to a variety of partners.

However, while these changes in culture affect the divorce rate, it is the cultural acceptance of divorce itself as a remedy that keeps divorce rates high.  Those in successful marriages experience higher rates of financial stability and happiness; however, our culture continues to become more accepting of divorce versus providing support to make marriages work for the long haul.  Political figures like Newt Gingrich, pop culture personalities like Kim Kardashian, and others demonstrate divorce as a common approach to fixing imperfections within a marriage. 

Marriages offer stable family structures and tremendous support systems, and they help America stay wholesome and focused.  But keeping a marriage strong takes work.  Couples must communicate with each other openly, establish boundaries, and learn to compromise.  Divorce may provide an "easy way out," but the separation creates financial and emotional rifts that stall success and growth.  The well-being of America depends on strong marriages.

To maintain a strong marriage, couples should offer one another respect, loyalty, and honesty.  Successful marriages benefit from acceptance and laughter, which can help break the tension of the pressure of life's bigger challenges.  Remembering special occasions like anniversaries helps, too.  Couples should go out of their way to give thoughtful anniversary gifts that show thought and love.  Tokens such as these also offer reminders of past successes and perpetuate good behavior.

The country needs to refocus its attention on building strong families through successful traditional marriages.  While it is possible that same-gender marriages will become part of the structure of American society, the more overt threat to American strength and stability is the divorce rate that demonstrates that nearly one in two of all first marriages fail.  For America to remain stable and strong, we must rebuild the foundation of lasting marriages as the backbone of the country.  Our financial and emotional health depends on it.