In honor of National Marriage Week, the CatholicMatch Institute will be highlighting the exciting things that marriage and family life offices are doing all around the country in order to promote happier and holier Catholic marriages. The CatholicMatch Institute spoke with Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week about the goals of National Marriage Week and the new things they have planned for 2014.
What is National Marriage Week?
National Marriage Week runs from February 7th to the 14th. It is an annual campaign to promote the benefits of marriage and it’s happening in more than twenty countries around the world. National Marriage Week started in the UK and has spread to other countries. Just like you have fireworks happening in every town on Fourth of July, our vision is that someday, every town will have a National Marriage Week celebration.
Why was it started?
It was watching the alarming decline of marriage that prompted the founder, Richard Kane, to start National Marriage Week. In the UK and particularly in Northern Europe, marriage has almost gone by the wayside and cohabitation is actually the norm. Kane wanted to remind people how valuable marriage is; research shows that married adults live longer lives and they have far better health. Children raised by both of their parents at home also perform better in school, have less addictions, less teen pregnancy, and less trouble with the law.
What have been the negative effects of the dropping marriage rate?
We have a very shocking decline in the practice of marriage. For example, in 1970, 79% of all adults in this country were married and that’s dropped down to 52% today. Back in 1960, less than 5% of mothers were unwed and today 41% of all U.S. babies are born outside of wedlock. We want to help change the thinking of the American public and therefore their behavior.
Single motherhood is the single greatest cause for poverty among women and children. Married adults have more wealth and financial stability. Unfortunately, divorce and unwed childbearing costs the U.S. tax payers at least 112 billion dollars a year, so there’s a very heavy cost to the public.
What do you hope to achieve with National Marriage Week?
National marriage week seeks to puts forth a positive message as to why marriage is so beneficial. In this day in age, the younger generation is choosing cohabitation or they are intentionally choosing to have children outside of marriage.
So we want to sound the alarm bells. A lot of people don’t understand what’s happening. Because of this decline, we want to strengthen marriage and we want to have a campaign to mobilize people and inspire people. For example, only 28% of churches offer any sort of marriage class. That’s a very low percentage. We want to see 75-80% of churches offering marriage classes.
What are the goals of your website, www.nationalmarriageweekusa.org?
The goals are three-fold:
1. To elevate marriage as a national issue in the media and with policy leaders.
2. To promote the benefits of marriage: that stronger marriages bring economic stability to individuals and to the nation, and provides the best environment for thriving children.
3. To create a national calendar for existing, trusted marriage classes, conferences and events where people can find the help they need, or reach out to help others.
What we want to do is to become known as a valuable resource where people can find marriage help. At www.nationalmarriageweekusa.org, couples can look on the calendar and find places where they can get help for their marriages. We are also trying to meld this growing movement of marriage education. We want to increase the amount of marriage education across the United States.
Do you have something special planned for National Marriage Week 2014?
We’re in conversation with about 24 cities, so this year we will be focused on developing grass roots teams, which will organize the effort. For example, National Marriage Week Phoenix, Pittsburgh, or Chicago, so that it can start to become locally based.
We have a couple of new messages that we’re going to try to reach out to the media. One of them is going to be some new research on how powerfully friends can help friends. They’re finding that friends are often the most important factors in helping each others marriages.
Secondly, I am working on some creative ideas for how to help people get married when finances are holding them back—they think they can’t afford the expensive wedding. I’m going to try to do a little bit of storytelling about affordable weddings. Rev. Leith Anderson, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, talks about how he saw young couples choosing not to get married because they haven’t saved up for the wedding party. This is something we want to address this year, as a theme for National Marriage Week.
How can individuals get their community and church’s involved?
First, go to your local priest or clergyman and ask them to preach about marriage on the sunday closest to Valentines Day. It’s happening more and more in the Catholic Church because that has been designated as Marriage Sunday. Also, go to your church leaders and ask if they could make marriage ministry a priority.
We would also encourage individuals to launch a celebration in their own town, no matter how small; there’s plenty of things that they can do themselves to help marriages in their own community. It doesn’t have to happen that week. That week is simply a way to get the word out and to be a catalyst.
Last year, one a group from Illinois came up with their own plan that was phenomenal. They had eight churches that decided to work together. They put up a big booth at the largest shopping mall and the booth said “National Marriage Week: Free Marriage Counseling All Week.” They found six professional counselors that were all faith-based, and those six counselors offered their services for free that week. It was sort of a win-win. They probably got some business out of it. On the other hand, couples walking through the mall got some help. The eight churches each took a turn; one day each a different church would man the booth and direct couples to the counselors. It was a way to reach out to the community and to meet people walking through the mall that might never darken the doors of any church. That’s the kind of thing that we would like to see happening organically.
There are many people who want to get married, but are struggling to get married. Why is that happening?
I think it is multi-faceted. For one thing, couples think they will avoid divorce if they cohabitate, or engage in sexual intimacy, and sort of “try it out.” But this doesn’t work out. Seventy percent of those who cohabitate break up; of the remainder only 10 percent ends in lasting marriage, 20% marry but end in divorce.
What are some of the things during National Marriage Week that can help the people that want to get married, but aren’t getting married?
For those who have backgrounds in a faith community, I think couples who meet each other in the context of a faith environment often find new levels of spiritual and emotional resources for the kind of commitment they need to build a happy marriage. So finding a church where there are attractive young people and vibrant and relevant teaching can be a good way to start working on making yourself a marriageable person.
I couldn’t quote statistics nor have I ever done anything like this myself, but evidently the reason some couples may have found compatible matches from the more trusted online dating services is that they are looking for compatibility and shared values.
For this reason, I think families need to befriend each other more and introduce like-minded young adults in trusted social settings. My husband and I had a party and invited a large number of our single friends and there were four marriages—still lasting—that resulted from that effort!