Divorce is on the decrease in the UK, which might be cause for celebration. But behind these figures there appears to be a loss of confidence in marriage as a joyful covenant. This means that family life is increasingly unstable for children growing up. We need to pray for strong families and we must also live out the great story of family life, God’s way.
Official figures just published show that divorce rates have dropped by 34% in the twelve years to 2015. The heartache and hostility caused by the process of divorce is widely recognised – often there is disappointment and anger, leading to the complete breakdown of a relationship that is already fractured. So it might seem that fewer divorces is a good thing. Does this show that marriages are becoming stronger? Not really. The average length of a marriage has not increased in the same time period but the number of short-term and long-term relationship alternatives has certainly increased over recent years.
The main reasons for lower divorce rates is the fall in the total number of marriages each year and the fact that people are choosing to marry later in life – the so-called “sensible couples”. This means that many more people are cohabiting. This may be a step towards marriage (when the wedding can be afforded) but almost always it represents a lower level of commitment. Cohabiting couples now represent one fifth of all parents but account for more than half of relationship breakdowns.
This is not good news for relationships. We thrive when we follow the Maker’s instructions – which, for a man and a woman, is to live together in the lifelong covenant of marriage. Why wait years before marrying and so lose out on the great joy of growing up together as a couple? God did not design marriage as a restrictive cage to imprison us, but as a way to freedom – the freedom of a lifelong commitment to get out and live life to the full, together, and for the glory of God.
These divorce statistics are also not good news for children. Nearly half of all our teenagers do not live with both natural parents. Some might say flexible relationships are a good thing, but studies regularly show that our kids are often not happy; insecurity, loneliness and depression are rising amongst children – and part of the cause is the instability of home life.
Yes, sometimes, due to our own foolishness, marriages do fail. But we need to remember that there is always forgiveness and a new start with Christ. However, lifelong marriage is still God’s ideal for us, to make us happy and build a better world.
Yes, step- and single-parents often do a fantastic job to create a loving environment out of difficult circumstances and we need to respect, affirm, support and welcome them into our churches and recognise what we can learn from the sacrifices they make.
However, that doesn’t mean that we should consider any alternatives to lifelong marriage as equally valid. In the UK our culture and now also our laws have labelled marriage as a lifestyle choice, one which may be discarded as quickly as a pair of worn-out shoes. It would be far better for all of us to remember that marriage is a promise that we make before God and society – a promise that protects both husband and wife, our children and our world.
God knew what he was doing with Adam and Eve.
By Graham Nicholls