The Wheatley Institution

Ready or Not? The Rise of Paradoxical Preparation for Marriage

Jason S. Carroll
March 20, 2015

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Well, just quickly, as representing Wheatley—we have been so pleased with the roundtable yesterday and today, and we thank our speakers for the efforts they have made to be with us and to share insights and views. Hopefully you have caught the notion that this is the beginning of something for us at Wheatley, a spring Family Roundtable. And there are various ways that we would like to grow that and expand that, but we have been very pleased with this coming together in this first event.

Unlike some of our other speakers, I have the opportunity to have some current and former students in the audience and a few familiar faces. They are all trying to figure out a few things right now to see if it is really going to work. First off, they are trying to figure out, “Is it really going to be possible for Dr. Carroll to stand at that podium for his talk or will the kinetic energy just build to a point that he will finally explode?” My classes know that I am a pretty infamous walker and pacer, and I was just telling Troy as we were setting up that the lapel mic is right here. I could unwrap it. He reminds me of what a problem I cause for him in all of our conferences when I start to wander the stage. It doesn’t work too well for filming. The other thing that my students and others are trying to figure out is, “Does he really own a suit jacket? I didn’t know if he really owned a suit jacket, and there he is with one. I am not sure if he borrowed it or not for the morning, but he does have one.”

To get us started, I will get us back on schedule, so we will be mindful of our time here and for the commitments you have made with symposium today. I will hit with the most important things first and the most important thing is the joke that we need to get started with. A few of you have heard it. It does have relevance to the presentation. I have always used this because it ties back into my profession; I am a marriage researcher in my current life. I have some marriage therapy and counseling in my background and some good jokes back in that direction.

So a couple goes in to see a marriage therapist. He invites them in and they sit down. He asks them the common question, “Why is it you have come to my clinic today?” As is often the case, the wife speaks up first and starts to list a few of the things that aren’t going too well in the relationship. Then, as also is sometimes the case, she gets on a little bit of a roll and starts to list these things so the husband kind of settles back and the counselor settles back and they listen for a few minutes. And without saying anything the counselor stands up, walks around the desk, pulls the wife from her chair, gives her a passionate kiss and then sits her back down. He turns to the husband and says, “That is what your wife needs at least three times a week. Do you think you can handle that?” The husband thinks for a minute and says, “Well, I can bring her in on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I golf on Fridays.” Now what does that have to do with the presentation today? Not much, just that we have kind of been going at it for a while and it is always good to spend a little bit of time not just stretching our legs but stretching our minds a little bit. In some ways, it does have a lot to do with what I would like to talk about today.

We live in a culture, as we were just saying the last question-and-answer session, where we receive a lot of scripts, a lot of ideas, a lot of advice about relationships and ultimately about marriage. A lot of how-to’s for this to occur. And as our speakers have pointed out the last two days, many of the scripts of today are best seen in the lens of a myth: inadequate, insufficient, and in some cases just downright incongruent and inharmonious with the true nature of things, both of individuals but also of relationships as well. As you have heard us talk through the roundtable, we have been talking about the rapidly changing views of marriage and family and the patterns around that in our culture. If you have paid close attention to the speakers the last two days (and if you haven’t had a chance to be in all the sessions, I would really encourage you to, as we post those up on the Wheatley Institution website and make the efforts to record these so they can be seen by a broader audience and by those that we would like to have seen that). You will see that all of our speakers and all of our scholars that have been with us have emphasized key fragmentations that are occurring in our cultural understandings of marriage. Fragmentations that are changing how we view and, as I would like to focus on today, changing how we prepare for and believe that we should make ready for a successful, loving, lasting marriage relationship. In some ways we are setting ourselves up for the very things that we are trying to avoid rather than ultimately in a true process of preparation and a true process of readiness.

Three key fragmentations I would like to emphasize—although they are not comprehensive; there are others we could address. We clearly see in the marriage context, in the rising culture, a fragmentation of marriage from the sacred. We see this in increasing trends and patterns of secularism in the culture, the increasing number of couples today that approach marriage relationships with no connection of meaning of sacred, no connection to a religious community or affiliation, in ways where it is simply a relationship that is of the couple and by the couple and for the couple in its conceptions. So the notion of sacred and the notion, as we have had some mention already today, of covenant. A notion of something more transcendent, of deeper meaning has been lost for so many couples. As we have seen I our last presentations so well, marriage being separated from sex and sexuality, no longer connected to the ways that we express sexuality in our broader culture. And we see this fragmentation and ultimately a separation from children and the meaning of marriage as a child-centered part of our culture and an institution. These are rapid changes, dramatic changes. As the students in my marriage preparation class hear on a regular basis, you live in a weird time. A time that often—if it is the only part of the stream that you have known—it is easy to believe that this is just the way it is or the way it has been understood, when fundamentally things are changing rapidly to a way that even a generation or two ago would see this as very different notions or different ideas.

From this fragmentation, I believe one of the greatest evidences of and creators of this reciprocal approach to this marriage fragmentation is the growing patterns of what I would call marriage preparation paradoxes. Behaviors that young people are engaging in—and let’s be clear—often at the encouragement and insistence of the parents and those that are trying to help and guide them and make them ready for those later stages of life and marriage and family life. We see a culture growing where we are getting a so-called conventional wisdom of how to be prepared and how to be ready and how to assure a relationship and a marriage of success in ways that are at their core paradoxical. Now let’s make sure we are all using the terminology the same way thinking of this since this will be a key part of what I would like to emphasize. A paradox, we will use this definition: “a proposition that despite…apparently sound reasoning…leads to a conclusion that is senseless, logically unacceptable, and self-contradictory.”i Despite this apparent sound reasoning, which largely comes from buying into a script, you come to consequences that are the opposite of what you intend. A very, very simple everyday way to think about a paradox is a bit like turning the jar lid the wrong direction. While we intensify our efforts and are convinced that we are going to loosen that jar lid, we may in fact be tightening it and going in the complete opposite direction of what we intend or what we are trying to do. My primary message for you today is that our culture is becoming saturated in marriage preparation paradoxes. Behaviors that are believed to increase one’s chances of marital success, which actually on average diminish the chances of having a loving and lasting marriage.

One of the things we have done is we have designed the roundtable this year—we had some great questions about messaging and how do we talk to others and how do we share with others? I hope you have caught and thought a little bit about the layers or levels, if you will, that I believe are needed to have strong and convincing discussions and conversations in the more private and intimate dialogues or more in the public square around these types of issues. We saw yesterday, for example, what I would see as level one, some examples of level-one arguments that are critical here. This is looking at the facts, looking at the trends, looking at the direction that we see things headed, and as we see some of these demographic patterns of family decline, they are important pieces for us to be able to share and understand what is happening in our culture. In particular, when those trends get tied to diminished well-being and to outcomes that are problematic for children and adults, that type of evidence conversation becomes critical, becomes important.

If that is as far as we can go, we are describing many of the difficulties, but my experience is that many people set that aside quite easily because, as we all, know any statistic can say, “There are exceptions.” I think the rising generation—I think millennials are quite gifted, and you know who you are and are saying to yourselves, “Well, I must be the exception.” So it is easy for people to do that or just to see that description or pattern. I think together with those layers of that descriptive element, below that is a next layer that we need to understand the logic of the behavior or the pattern or the choice. I am not talking about your logic, I am talking about the logic of those that engage in the paradoxes. They don’t engage in paradoxes because they say, “Wow, this isn’t going to work. I think I will try this.” Look at our definition: ”despite apparently sound reasoning.” There is often a belief that there are very sound reasons to do what they are doing. If you don’t understand that logic, if you don’t know the reasons that are being given, it is very hard to then have the deeper, fuller conversation that gets at the root of why that isn’t leading to the consequences that they may have. So this is deeper. This is getting a bit more into their explanations and patterns. But as I hope you have witnessed today—and I have been so appreciative to our speakers that have been with us this morning and to Jay and Melissa’s comments that have been so perfect about what I would see as a layer that is even getting beneath that. That we need to step back and recognize where so much of what is happening in our culture and our society that would lead to these behaviors start at starting points that are fundamentally not headed in the right direction. When we don’t recognize the fundamental design of what it means to be human. What is the potential possibility for meaning that we have? Jay will chuckle because I quoted him once already, and my other favorite quote was, “We are not guppies.” But we often approach many of these issues as if—I don’t know, I think we would even be insulting the guppies if we would say sometimes what we pick up our patterns that way. Getting back to those core understandings becomes a critical part.

So that is the key message that I wanted to highlight for you was to pay attention to these paradoxes, to think about the different levels and ways that you can engage in that dialogue with the evidentiary patterns—but also to get to understanding the reasons and explanations, the logic behind the paradoxes. Then also to point out and help others see. This gets beyond a description. This gets to an explanation. If we can help explain these paradoxes, there is far more power both in our own hearts and in the hearts of others for them to recognize that they are indeed paradoxes and that they can see the truth of this.

What I have put together now are some fundamental illustrations, some examples. There is not enough for here to be comprehensive, so I will focus more on marriage preparation, thinking of the audience and group that we might have. I will focus on the young adult culture, the relationship formation culture that we have. I think this could be expanded and looked at in broader parts and stages of life than in a marital context, but let’s use this as the key example. We had Scott Stanley with us yesterday, leading scholar in the world on cohabitation patterns, but we have seen for a very long time that this becomes the quintessential paradox that we have in our culture today around marriage preparation. We have moved in very quick form from a culture that has moved cohabitation from the fringe, right? Something that is ultimately living in sin, shacking up, something that has been among us but something that wasn’t accepted and definitely wasn’t deemed as something that was needed. And from that transgression mindset, we have moved to a notion that this is permissible, this is okay. Now it is the young person who is choosing not to cohabit who has to defend themselves. “What? You would marry someone without living together? Is that wise? Is that smart?” You start to see the logic that is in that. We have seen for a very long time one of the driving logics behind cohabitation is the notion that cohabitation acts like a test drive. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it would you? So why wouldn’t you do that with a relationship? Which is striking because look at what this logic reveals: it reveals a pro-marriage orientation in some way. “I want my marriage to work; I want my marriage to last. I am doing this in a way that I believe will ultimately help me.” Right? But as we have seen, and as we have known for some time, the association of cohabitation with later marital success for a generation now has proven to be at its core a paradox. Those who test drive the relationship don’t see better marital results—they see worse. Despite all of the statistical gymnastics that social science scholars are doing now, at best we see articles that come out trying to help us see that cohabitation won’t harm you. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, some of our best and brightest minds in the social sciences said, “We are going to see a huge reduction in divorce because we have a surge in cohabitation. It will act as a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest mechanism that will weed out the weak relationships from the herd and the strong ones will survive. Our marriages will be better and our divorce rate will go down.” We didn’t see that occur, so we started exploring this and have seen this cohabitation effect.

Ultimately we see this paradox emerge and the logic that is within it. How do we counter this? How do we point this out? The key false idea here is that cohabitation even remotely test drives marriage. As Professor Stanley showed us yesterday, commitment changes the process and the way we live. You know what is funny, this is academics fooling themselves when we even make these claims. Who knows better than anybody that cohabitation is not the same as marriage? Joe and Jane cohabiter. Go tell Joe, “Hey Joe, I understand cohabitation is just the same as marriage, so why don’t you marry Jane?” “What? Did she tell you to talk to me? Did her mom talk to you?” Joe knows full well that marriage is going to involve something different than cohabitation, thus the reason he is willing to cohabit but not to marry. So in its basic core, the idea that we are test driving a marital relationship is a false premise, and this is why a variety of studies and things we have looked at have never shown cohabitation able to replicate and produce the benefits, lifestyle patterns, wellbeing for children that we see in marriage because couples are not just couples. The commitment and that long term view that Professor Stanley talked about in cohabitation changes the very way that couples live.

So at its core, we can start to see that come apart, and we see that as something underneath. We understand the patterns. It is important to know the evidentiary pattern that cohabitation doesn’t lead to lower divorce, but go past the description. Make sure you can get to the explanation. Find those comparisons that people can resonate with. Comparing cohabiters to married couples is a bit like comparing renters to homeowners. I ask my students this all the time, “How many of you rent?” Most of the hands in the room go up. “How many of you would like new carpet in your apartment?” Now they hold up two hands in desperation, “Yes! I would love new carpet.” How many of you are willing to pay for new carpet in your apartment? All the hands go down. Why do they go down? Because they don’t have a long-term view with that apartment, do they? They are not even sure if it is going to be two weeks. When we get close to semester change, everything is up for grabs. I can’t even tell you where I will be in four days. If that is how far you commitment view is, you act and behave differently. Homeowners are different. They have a different lens; they have a different view. It causes them to live and act differently. If you want to test this you can head down to any of the home improvement stores that are around us. Just do a little survey. Tomorrow is a Saturday so it will be busy. The weather is getting warm. Just ask people as they come out, “Are you a homeowner or a renter?” What will you find? Except for the one person with one pack of light bulbs, you are going to find people coming out of there that are homeowners. Homeowners make investments in that they act differently: they plant trees, they put in carpet, and they do those things that have the long-term payoff. The process is different. This is a great example for us to think about the type of paradoxical thinking.

Another key one we have now that ties into the behavior problems and trends that we have gotten into during the discussions of the round table is what I have called the sexual chemistry paradox. The conventional wisdom—and it has reached that point in our society today—is that two people should test their sexual compatibility before they commit to each other. For many, this is something you must test before you become exclusive. For others, you definitely need to test it before you become engaged, and now the vast majority of our culture would endorse that this is something you need to test before you get married. Again, those who follow the purity pattern that Jay mentioned for us are now the ones on the defensive saying, “Really, you would do that? Don’t you want to have a good intimate relationship in marriage? Well then shouldn’t you test it? Shouldn’t you make sure you are compatible? Shouldn’t you make sure you have that chemistry?” The flip side of that, as I see on our culture and on our campus as we talk about marriage prep and in other places, many of those committed because of faith reasoning or other experiences to appear to the ethic now start to question if they are actually really ready for that part of marriage. There is a great concern. “Well, you know, I am actually quite nervous about that.” “Why?” “Because I am not experienced.” So you are living it, but you don’t really buy it, do you? Because now you are still buying into the cultural idea that you are lacking a needed form of preparation because you haven’t tested the physical, sexual relationship in the ways that culture is holding up as a needed element of this. So we see that this is a pattern, particularly in a relationship that could lead to marriage.

The central hypothesis here is that you need to test the sexual chemistry, and it has given rise to a couple of our most problematic marriage preparation paradoxes in our culture today. Again, we see the test drive hypothesis emerge. You need to test this. So in a particular relationship, you ought to test that sexual chemistry compatibility. It is interesting how much we talk about this even in our media. You can think about this in our TV shows, our movies, or other things you have seen where the idea is, “I am getting along with someone very, very well. Communication, emotional intimacy, sharing time together, the interactions of that, but I still don’t know if we have sexual chemistry.” It is something completely unique and distinct. That is why we use the term “chemistry.” I have actually had a few students, as we have kind of taken this on in marriage prep, say, “You are taking all the mystery out of it.” I said, “Well, if you like that kind of mystery, if you want this part of your life to be I am going to turn to the next page and find out what happens, I would prefer to have an understanding of that design and how we are designed. And how does that happen?” But it is seen as something separate and distinct, something that you could never test in conversation or relation ultimately it has to come down to simply physically testing that chemistry that you won’t know unless that happens or occurs.

Another variation of this is the pattern that we see that I would call the “sow your wild oats” hypothesis. Pay attention to how much you hear language saying how much people need to get this out of their system before they are ready to settle down. We use the term “settle down” all the time when it comes to marriage preparation and readiness. Part of this with sexual chemistry testing is the idea that you not only need to test it within your specific relationship, you need to test it in a variety of relationships. How do you know what you will prefer? How do you know what you will choose? How do you know what really is good sexual chemistry unless you have tested it? The basic idea, you need to go to five stores in the mall before you pick an outfit. You can’t just go to one. You are much more likely to be happier with your outfit choice if you have gone to multiple stores and seen what is out there. Somehow we never stop to think for a minute that people are not clothing and we don’t just put these inanimate objects back on the rack, but we kind of do that with our relationship testing.

So what do we see from this? I will move through this fairly quickly. We see patterns of very early sexual timing occurring in young adult relationships today in the United States. The data coming out of the Add Health data set are a large 90,000 sample study that has followed people from the time they were 13 and now into their mid-30s. It has identified that in the young adult years—this comes from Sharon Sassler’s work at Cornell—about 50% of couples now report becoming sexually active within the first few weeks of starting to have some sort of a relationship with each other. Early sex relationships are becoming very, very common. We talk about a hook-up phenomenon but many couples are now finding their origins in hookups. It is the hookup that lingers, the hookup that keeps going. Now, the question inside the sexual chemistry testing would be, “Well, that is a pretty smart thing to do.” If you don’t start early, at least have a little bit of later pattern. Maybe you are going to wait until you are exclusive. Maybe you are going to have a bit of a later pattern. Once you are exclusive with each other, once you are boyfriend or girlfriend, clearly once you are fiancés, this needs to occur, or this needs to happen. It is only smart. It is the test drive that needs to occur. Married sex couples, those who reserve this purity ethic that Jay was talking about to us—they are the ones clearly at risk because they are going to have some buyer’s remorse because they didn’t test this part of the relationship.

What I am showing you in the slide that I put up is a slide that my colleagues Dean Busby and Brian Willoughby published in the Journal of Family Psychology a few years back where we took a national sample of married couples and we evaluated their sexual histories and the patterns they have moving toward their marriage. We find these three groups emerge quite readily and quite easily, and we evaluate their current marriage relationships and control for a wide variety of factors and try to isolate the sexual timing influence in their relationship. As you will see here from this slide, looking at their satisfaction, looking at their stability, meaning how much they are talking about or thinking about divorce (so a stable relationship is one where they are not talking about or thinking about divorce), their level or sexual quality measured in this study by the reported frequency of sexual intimacy, their satisfaction with that intimacy and a reverse coded pattern with how many problems they have in this aspect of life together with the quality of communication we see a striking statistically significant pattern emerge. Rather than this idea that couples who abstain are harmed by this, we actually see them better off on all accounts including the sexual quality reported in the relationship. Hm. Maybe they were preparing after all. Maybe the types of preparation we are saying are needed aren’t really the types of preparation that are needed. Maybe if our hearts and our bodies are meant to work together, the preparation of the heart is far more critical to the quality of the relationship, even the sexual union, than simply the body itself.

We have talked this pretended fragmentation about that the culture tries to tell us can occur. We see this happening in areas around the patterns of pornography in our culture as well. Perhaps nothing is a greater indicator of sexual fragmentation and pulling sexuality from relationships, let alone for marriage. In another study that our team did (and I will move through this and send you the references), much of the concern—and we hear people talk about and I know on this campus there is quite a bit of talk about the notion that, “The problem with pornography is that it can become an addiction. Where there is an addiction pattern, that is what ruins marriages.” Now we could talk at another time about the reality and prevalence of addiction. I think it can occur and it can be a problem, but I think there is a much bigger issue here than the addiction issue of pornography, which will always be a much smaller group, than for us to look at the socialization and understanding pattern of pornography that it is there regardless of whether or not a compulsion or addiction type pattern emerges. At its core, I want you to pay attention to something we have been highlighting, which is the fundamental gender gap we see in use and participation with pornography. If there is one conclusive finding of the early pornography research to date (and make no mistake, it is early), there is still not large funding and large well-done research out there, but if you look at the series of studies that have been done, the most overwhelming and conclusive finding is that there is a massive gender gap. So we have a pattern here. When you think about this as a coupling researcher, as a marriage researcher, and you look at it in that context, it gives us something that also exposes this paradox connected to sexual chemistry testing. As you look at this simple young adult sample that we have had, you look at the regular pattern. As I have highlighted in the boxes there, look at the differences between the young adult men and the young adult women in the frequency of use. You use a gap if you look at just, “Do you use or not” but you really see the gap emerge when we start to pay attention to that pattern in frequency of use. Now, if you start to look at this in couples—and in our data sets we have the ability to look at dating couples, cohabitating couples, married couples—notice in these frequency patterns too, we are seeing often times four, five, six, as much as eight times more frequent use among men as we see among women. We see a coupling issue here, then. What does this mean to that fundamental meaning and symbolism of the relationship? How does it tie to that sense of exclusivity, that sense of monogamy that was talked about? Not just the monogamy of the body, but the monogamy of the mind, the monogamy of the eyes in this context, is that simply challenged in that type of pattern.

One last slide, and this one is striking. Even as we get into relationships, another place we see the gap is in what is known and what is really understood. This slide shows you the reports of husbands’ actual use of pornography levels, and then what you see with the tan lines is the wife’s perceptions of that use. We see that only about half of marriages are situations where the wife is reporting the same level that the husband is reporting. There tends to be a large gap in many cases, as much as 30%–40% of relationships, that is more use than he is aware of. If you notice the main gap on the bar graphs, it is a sizable portion of married women reporting that he doesn’t use at all when he actually does. Again, think about the logic that is here and the logic we hear about pornography, right? The most common word we hear with pornography in our culture today is, “It is harmless. It is harmless. What is what big deal?” That is part of the big reason we struggled in the academy to even get serious, well-done research because why would we put serious money into testing or looking at or examining something so harmless? Now the sexual ethics within pornography, the way they influence the conceptions and the view of that are of deep exploration and even at its basic prevalence patterns, we see this as something that goes in quite a different direction. As we should not be surprised, we are seeing growing trends and patterns of couples reporting levels of conflict in their relationships related to this. Somehow this harmless preparation, this part of young adulthood, this part of sexual chemistry testing, this wonderful form of sexual education that we have created—the paradox starts to emerge in relationships as we see the conflict not fitting in the harmony and pattern of those things.

Ultimately, what we have to be able to articulate is that all of the data trends move in this direction. The evidentiary level shows this, but what we are missing is much of the explanation beneath the description, that fundamental understanding that sex is never just sex. Very much so. If you cannot test drive a relationship prior to marriage, you cannot test drive sexual chemistry or whatever term we want to give it. Commitment and the level of commitment and the investment and the lens influences the very experience itself—the meaning, the symbolism, the entire experience. Any type of sexual experience that comes prior to commitment is at its very nature different than an experience that comes after and within the commitment. Nothing is being tested. In fact, if anything, we are creating some of our greatest problems and some of our greatest struggles, as the data shows that the early sexual timing couples have risk factors for later marital success.

Our other study that I didn’t include and others are finding this too. People transitioning to marriage with multiple sexual partners are at increased risk for divorce probability in these types of patterns. So we need to help realize that there are key reasons why this is happening and why this is occurring. The key here is that it may be that it is disrupting its intentional partner selection. When couples move quickly into the physical intimacy of the relationship—Scott Stanley joked with us yesterday as he sprayed his oxytocin spray and we talked about brain responses that are a part of a romantic and physical attraction. I hope you will always recognize and realize that this is what they are. They are brain responses. The brain by itself originates nothing. The interpretation and meaning making always has to be there first for the brain to respond and to trigger. So while we might see it in part of the process, we are careful to stay away from labeling as the origin or the creator or the driver of what is happening. As we have that intensity of excitement, and we label it in these terms and in these ways, we see a real loss in the possibility in intentional partner selection. To truly choose a partner—it is what was talked about yesterday as premature entanglement, talked about as an inertia theory. For those in the room who would understand and recognize the language of a religious leader like Elder Holland, it is what he would fundamentally call a pattern of counterfeit intimacy. We start to believe a relationship is stronger than it actually is because of those powerful physiological rewards that we may experience that cause us to minimize and overlook social, emotional, spiritual incompatibilities that may lie in the relationship. In many ways we set ourselves up for that poor partner selection. And we lose the ability to deeply endow a relationship with deep meaning and symbolism. We lose that fundamental essence of what sexuality is supposed to be in human context, and at best we share sex like a guppy. Not with the deep ability of meaning and transcendent experience that we have as humans. This is why these paradoxes emerge. This is why they are fundamentally problematic.

Let me move us forward here. I would just highlight a couple of the other areas I point out. The paradoxes are the same, so we won’t climb through the evidence and the data with things. Another key one that we see is the older is better paradox. We have a generation that has largely heard and understood that teenage marriages have higher risks and don’t do as well. Evidence continues to show that. We have assumed that since that is the case, older is always better. Every added year will give you the same amount of benefit in return—when the evidence showed us quite the contrary. The evidence is now pointing in directions of curvilinear pattern, particularly when we look at full marital quality. So we are at the beginning of a conversation of not just talking about the risks of early marriage in the teenage years but also the increasingly identified risks of later marriages, which at their core are more demographically relevant for us to pay attention to because the diminishing part of our population are the ones marrying in the teens. While we are quickly approaching a pattern where over 50% of the population will be marrying over the age of 30. So those risks may be the ones that are fundamentally much more at their core.

Underneath the evidentiary view here is the explanation of why we have bought into the idea that chronological or biological development is the same as maturational development. At its core, we have lost the ability to recognize that it is those things that we embrace, those ideas that we give ourselves over to that fundamentally define maturity and readiness and preparation. Not just simply the ticking by of another year or hitting some sort of arbitrary, biologically defined notion of age will make someone more prepared or more ready. So there is much more we could talk about there or we could highlight and get to that point. We see this happening also with the impacts of marriage in the 20-something years, the fundamental idea that this is something that this is a transition of loss. Predominant language in our culture today for people, particularly in their early- and mid-twenties, is that marriage will be a transition of loss in their lives.

What I mean by that is that the dialogue is about what we give up, what we will have to stop doing, what won’t be able to be accomplished. In many ways, that is the dominant idea here, and that is causing us to reframe the twenties and thirties in life in a predominant way of what it is intended for, what its purposes are that will really make us prepared. One of the key mantras of this is that the twenties are the time to find yourself. Go in the corner and find yourself, and when you have found yourself you will then be ready for this relational marriage and family reality that awaits you. If you go back to the human design and who we are, we indeed find ourselves in those relational bonds starting with the spiritual bonds and then extending those to the familial. We indeed find ourselves when we lose ourselves. As we strive to simply find ourselves, that is quite often when we are ultimately lost because we have turned away from the nature of who we truly are. Whether that be expressed in the language of the New Testament and the fundamental teachings of Christ, whether that be talked about in attachment research—and those attachment needs are real and profound and ultimately are denied and we cannot give them to ourselves—this idea of a gift that we ultimately must give to each other because it is critical and it is true to our nature and who we are.

So this would be my central thought and idea that this is the task before us. As some of our questioners have said through the days, at times it feels a bit daunting. At times it feels a bit overwhelming, but I think we start with understanding those evidentiary patterns and move toward the explanations beneath them and get to the logic, the false logic, the counter logic that is there, but then also share that and help point out where that is missing and why that doesn’t match up. I love this idea that was shared too. Much of this will be informational, but at its core it will also be inspirational. You always have to hold to the idea that this inspiration is always possible because you don’t have to create anything within others. It is already there. For them to be touched by that and to see that and to realize that is powerful. So it does in some ways start with you committing within your own heart and your own mind to avoid these paradoxes. Even in the small degrees. “Oh, well I would never be sexually involved before marriage.” Yeah, but will you physically be counterfeit in a relationship? Will you push it to a line to say, “Well, that is the line that won’t get me in trouble with my ecclesiastical leader,” but any way that you start to physically disconnect and not have the symbols connected to the emotion. The same type of pattern occurs.

As we share that, as we model that, and as we have opportunity to get into these deeper dialogues, we have great opportunity and great possibility to help others see that there can be new and different patterns, that there can be cultural trends that can restore the fragmented marriage and family culture that we have. They can reconnect the sacred, bring back the sexual meaning and power that is in chastity and purity both before and after marriage. At its core, reconnecting the two at its foundations is needed, and marriage desperately has to be a child centered relationship, institution, and part of our culture and part of our society. Thank you.

i “Paradox,” Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved at:

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