Q: Every year at this time, I think about the 9/11 attacks. None of my three kids were born yet then, so they've never known a world without that history. My son has been reading about 9/11 and various natural disasters. Yesterday he asked me how people respond to these tragedies. What's your take?
Jim: One of the biggest challenges any of us face might be to live every moment focused on what truly matters. For example, whenever a natural disaster occurs, I'm struck by interviews with those who survive. Almost without exception, these individuals stand in the rubble of their lives and wisely share the same perspective about what's really important. They may have lost everything from a material standpoint, but they express deep gratitude that their loved ones are safe.
That reaction makes sense -- after all, tragedy has a unique way of bringing clarity into our lives. But I'm concerned that it sometimes takes a crisis for us to see clearly. We get distracted, and family priorities soon begin to erode. For example, studies have shown that on average, fathers spend less than 60 seconds in daily conversation with each of their children!
Our society bombards us with a skewed idea of what's valuable, and we buy into that hype far too easily. Parents work longer and harder in a never-ending quest for newer cars, bigger houses and the latest tech. Eventually, the stuff of life overshadows what really matters, while connection with our family dwindles away.
When disaster rocks the very foundation of our lives, we need something even deeper to comfort us. There are only two things in life that we can count on for that -- the love and support of family and friends, and, most importantly, the bedrock of faith. Nothing besides love and an eternal perspective can reach into our suffering in those moments and bring us true comfort.
Q: My girlfriend and I are both divorced. We want to be together long-term but dread the thought of going through divorce again if things go sour. It seems safer to just live together. What do you think?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: I'm always saddened to hear people claim that the way to avoid the pain of divorce is to skip marriage entirely. The argument goes: "We don't need a wedding ring or a piece of paper to prove we're in love." I'm sorry to be blunt, but that's backward thinking.
Since living together outside of marriage is nothing new, there's plenty of research available to help determine if skipping the wedding really helps couples stay together. As a Christian, I think there are solid moral arguments against cohabitating. But even for those who don't believe that, the overwhelming weight of research evidence shows that the odds are against couples who don't make a formal commitment to one another. Studies also indicate that cohabitating undermines the chances of future marital success.
Feelings of love aren't what make a marriage endure -- it's commitment. Every relationship will encounter struggles; there will likely even be times when the two of you don't like each other very much. But one study showed that married couples are 10 times more likely to stay together through difficult stretches than those who cohabit.
On average, married couples are also happier. That's because a thriving commitment helps both husband and wife feel safe with each other, which enables them to build deeper love and intimacy. As the song says: "Put a ring on it."
So, if you really want to avoid the pain of divorce, the answer isn't to skip marriage altogether. It's to commit to marriage wholeheartedly. For tips and tools to do that, see ReadyToWed.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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