Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Robin Thicke, and Miley Cyrus. Our culture is drenched in infidelity and miserable images, destroying and discouraging marriage. Hilary Towers is a developmental psychologist and a mother of five whose work focuses on marriage and parenting. She recently co-authored a series for the National Catholic Register on how we can better support and protect marriage as a culture and in communities (see here and here). She talks about these things with National Review Online.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Do you see the Supreme Court’s spring rulings on marriage as an opportunity for traditional marriage?
HILARY TOWERS: You know, it has been heartening to read conservatives’ responses to these decisions for one reason: They are honing in on the underlying issue, which is the state of heterosexual marriage. The struggles married couples are facing today are many and great. The Court’s rulings are merely a reflection of our culture’s opinion of monogamous, lifelong marriage: It’s something we seem to aspire to in polls, but too often either avoid or abandon when real sacrifice is demanded. Anyone paying attention to the social-science data on heterosexual marriage over the past five decades could have predicted the nation would become more and more accepting of nontraditional relationships in general (cohabiting, serial marriages, same-sex marriages).
So the Court’s rulings are a wake-up call — let’s start placing the very highest value not only on our own marriages, but on those in our families and among our friends, in our churches and our schools. Let’s reach out to those in marriages in need of help, instead of turning a blind eye in the name of privacy. When traditional marriage is strong, the forces at work to weaken and destroy it will wither. Obviously this will take time. The pro-life movement provides an encouraging example of the power of this kind of community-based, grassroots effort to change hearts and minds.
LOPEZ: If you’re so worried about marriage itself, why not welcome its expansion to same-sex couples?
TOWERS: The moral and societal implications of “same-sex marriage” have been laid out convincingly. This debate isn’t about whether gay people deserve to be married. It’s about what marriage is. As Ryan Anderson says, one can’t really be in favor of a “square circle.” Historically, marriage has provided both adults and children with a safe, predictable environment in which to learn and love, to make mistakes without fear of rejection. On the whole, children who grow up with a biological mother and father who are committed to each other (and particularly when the family practices a religious faith together) turn out to be incredibly resilient, well-adjusted adults with successful marriages compared with those who don’t — and that is not because their parents were perfect or never fought with each other. It’s because they saw with their own eyes that marriage requires work, just like every other worthwhile endeavor in life. And they saw it was both desirable and possible.
LOPEZ: “Forty percent to 50 percent of all first marriages are still projected to end in divorce.” Isn’t that a case for living together longer?
TOWERS: This is already happening despite evidence that cohabitation before marriage is associated with higher divorce rates, a greater proneness to infidelity, and other risk factors. Cohabitation is the common thread of instability that runs through each of the alternatives to a lifelong, monogamous married life: It keeps sexually active couples who are uninterested in marriage in a holding pattern of narcissistic, self-defeating behavior. It compromises an engaged couple’s ability to remain married in the future. And it turns children of divorce into casualties of their parents’ emotional and sexual desires: Nearly 50 percent of American children experience entry of a new “sexual partner” of a parent into their household within three years of their parents’ divorce (this is higher than in any other Western nation). This particular form of cohabitation — to have to compete with a sexual partner for the attention of a parent — is like pouring salt in the wound of a child who has experienced the destruction of his or her family.