What if the next wedding you were at closed the ceremony with the pastor performing a coin toss to decide whether the couple would stay married or divorce? As odd as that seems, the odds of a coin toss are not far from what many people believe about their likelyhood to have a lasting marriage.
You’ve probably heard the statistic quoted that 50% of all marriages end in divorce–and inside the church is no better. Evangelicals quote the 50% statistic like it’s Scripture–but is it true?
The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce, Shaunti Feldhahn seeks to put that myth–and several other myths about marriage and divorce–to death. Shaunti and her husband Jeff are the authors of the incredibly helpful For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women (which I reviewed) and bring their statistical approach to marriage and relationships to this book.
The thesis of the book is essentially that the 50% divorce statistic is false and that there are many reasons to be optimistic about the state of marriage; especially marriage in the church. Feldhahn’s careful research uncovered the weak foundation (or no foundation) many popular marriage statistics stand on and analyzes data from a variety of sources to provide a more hopeful outlook for couples that are married. This book doesn’t focus on the overall state of marriage which is weakened by the day due to changing definitions of marriage, more couples avoiding marriage, and the prolonged adolescence of many millennials; but rather focuses on the hope married couples in the church have to stay married.
Some strengths of the book include an easy format to read and reference (with convenient chapter summaries), practical application of statistics for those married and those who work with married couples, and hope. I say hope because many couples believe the 50% statistic and think that divorce is inevitable. When a couple is feeling hopeless, hearing a few simple words of hope could be all they need. Here are a few nuggets of hope Feldhahn shares:
- Most of those who are the least happy will be the most happy if they stay committed for five years.
- Most marriage problems are not caused by big-ticket issues, and simple changes can make a big difference.
- The rate of divorce in the church is not the same as the rate among those who don’t attend worship services.
While there is much to commend about this book, it has a few weaknesses. Feldhahn said early on that, “It is imperative to emphasize that this was an extremely complicated area of study, an inexact science, and a moving target…” This is excusable (but maybe not entirely) because the book is meant to encourage and not be the definitive book on marriage statistics. I thought that admission also weakened the power of statistics she cited later to prove her points.
One other weakness worth mentioning is something strangely absent in a Christian book about marriage with “good news” in the title–you may have guessed it: the gospel and much mention of how God sustains and empowers marriage. The purpose of her book was not to lay out the biblical truth regarding marriage, but build upon a biblical foundation and explain how statistics give us reason for hope as well. Yet at times, it seemed too focused on statistics in a way that diminishes the supernatural power God provides couples in marriage. That is the real hope married Christians have–not that 73% of people in a similar situation stayed married and were happy, but that God is actively working in your marriage to sanctify you and is one you can lean on for strength. While this book is valuable, it would be more valuable if it were a companion to a book like The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller or When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey.
Overall, I enjoyed The Good News About Marriage and would recommend it to anyone looking to hear some statistic-based good news about the state of marriage in the church. I think pastors, marriage counselors, and lay leaders could find this book very helpful in shaping their thinking about the important topic of marriage.
Book: The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce
Author: Shaunti Feldhahn
Publisher: Multnomah Publishers
Rating: 3 Stars
Watch an interview with Shaunti Feldhan about this book at the 01:23:00 mark: