In a shocking turn of events, the New York Times published an article confirming that religious conservative women are happier in their marriages than non-religious women. The shocking thing about these findings is that the Times published them. The findings themselves — which, judging by Twitter comments, seem to have scandalized the publication’s readership — are no surprise to many of us.
The article mentions community and male involvement in the home as key reasons why religious marriages are often the happiest and strongest. There’s a lot of truth to that, of course, but I think there are three other factors as well:
(1) The secular vision of marriage is egalitarian. Egalitarianism in a marriage is fine if it simply means that everyone is contributing to the household. I cook and clean and do most of the same sorts of things my wife does in the home, but not because I’m striving for an “equal marriage.” I do it because I’m an adult, not a baby, and this is how adults behave.
But the “equal marriage” idea turns malignant when it insists that husband and wife are exactly the same and so they must be doing the same things, the same amount, to the same degree, and everything must be exactly even. Husband and wife, as it turns out, are not the same. And so they are not equal. One is not superior to the other, but they are different.
This means that in a functional marriage, every duty and responsibility will not always be split down the middle, 50/50. Sometimes the wife will do 80 to 90 percent of a certain thing. Sometimes the husband will carry the lion’s share. The modern obsession with equality in all things has turned us all into bean counters constantly making sure that nobody is getting more than us or being required to do less than us. This is a harmful attitude in general; in marriage it is fatal.
I think religion offers a remedy by focusing the spouses on service and sacrifice rather than equality and sameness. Scripture tells both partners to serve each other without regard to their contribution. It is a difficult ideal to achieve all the time, but at least it puts a married couple on the right path.
(2) Speaking of which, it’s important to have a path, a purpose, in marriage. The secular understanding of marriage is that it’s a union between two people who love each other. But this conception of the marital covenant lacks the depth and coherence to sustain a marriage. If the point of marriage is just to love each other, then what happens when you no longer have those loving feelings for each other? And why do you need marriage for love anyway? What’s the point of all the pageantry of a wedding celebration if all you want to do is love someone? Can’t you love them regardless?
Religion grants a higher purpose to marriage. Religious people know that their vows have been consecrated by God; that they are now taking part in something bigger than themselves. This not only gives them an incentive to stick it out through the rough patches, but it lends a sense of security and purpose, which contributes to happiness.
3) Here’s an incredible statistic that doesn’t get much publicity: 66 percent of divorced couples are childless. Meanwhile, religious people tend to have more kids than non-religious people. It’s not difficult to see the connection. Secular married couples are less likely to have kids and childless couples are more likely to divorce.
Why do childless couples struggle? There are probably many reasons. Some of it is the lack of purpose I’ve already mentioned. Some of it is the lack of incentive to stay together during hard times. Some of it is just plain loneliness. Children can be difficult but they also liven up a home and ensure that there will be very little opportunity for boredom. I’ve been bored once in the last 6 years. It was great, but I’m glad it didn’t last long.
All in all, it’s clear that religion is good for marriage and good for your emotional health. I’m pleased to see the New York Times acknowledge the fact.