We offer these concrete suggestions as starting points. Not all of us agree with every single suggestion, but we are united in agreeing that it is time to engage in substantive deliberation about what can be done to strengthen marriage: To married couples:
Deepen your commitment to your marriage promise. Seek clergy, marriage mentors, or professional counselors who are not "marriage neutral," but committed to helping you and your marriage succeed. If your marriage has recovered from serious troubles, consider volunteering at (or starting) a marriage mentoring program at your local church, synagogue, temple, or other community forum to help turn around other marriages. To parents:
Make raising children who succeed in marriage at least as important a goal as raising children who succeed in careers. Ideally, parents should view this goal as part of a larger effort to resist the intrusion of market mores into family life, the beginning of a larger fight for "a new bottom line" in which institutions and social practices are seen as "productive" not only to the extent that they maximize money and power but also to the extent that they maximize people's capacity to value love, sustain their marriages, and raise emotionally and physically healthy children. Parents who want their children to marry before having children, and who prefer marriage to cohabitation, should explicitly communicate this message to their children. If, as a parent, you want to tell your children that sex is best reserved for marriage, do not let unmarried couples sleep together in your own home. Take advantage of the resources of your spiritual tradition; faith can place skills within the context of deep religious meaning and of commitment to the divine purposes of marriage. To friends and family members:
When people you care about are facing divorce or marital problems, offer them your help and your hope. Refer them to mentor couples or marriage intervention, counseling, or education programs. Remind them--despite how they may feel today--that staying unhappily married may not be the only option: In one study of a nationally representative sample, three out of four very unhappily married couples that did not divorce were able to turn their marriages around. To clergy and faith communities:
Recover your historic role as custodians of the marriage covenant or sacrament. Deepen your own and your congregation's understanding of the importance of marriage as a sign and symbol of divine love. Create or improve faith-based marriage preparation programs, incorporating the latest skills research without subordinating the religious dimension of marriage. New research is showing that trained clergy and lay leaders can be even more effective marriage educators than the best-trained professional counselors and therapists. Marriage skills help committed couples negotiate their way to more satisfying relationships. But they cannot tell couples as persuasively why marriage matters. Clergy are thus often in a unique position to offer struggling couples new hope and new reasons to resolve their marital problems. Develop lay marriage mentoring ministries to help engaged, newlywed, and troubled couples. Lay mentor couples can play a role that no professional can. Alcoholics Anonymous is as successful, or more successful, than the most highly trained professional in getting alcoholics sober, because people who have been there can provide daily support, skills, tips, and, above all, inspiration: the difficult faith that success is possible. Embrace the goal of lowering divorce in your faith community and your denomination. Maintain the integrity of marriage vows exchanged in your church, requiring all couples who marry to participate in a serious, theologically informed program of church-sponsored premarital education. Create a marriage culture within your religious community that is distinct. Educate your faith community about the value and importance of marriage. Be aware of research on the benefits of marriage and the consequences of divorce as well as the existence of effective marriage preparation mentoring and interventions. Convey a clear message that marriage is not just a private matter but an accountable promise before God and the faith community. To youth pastors, abstinence educators, and other community youth workers:
Today's young people need positive, moving portraits of the good marriage, and of the value and importance of marriage for adults and children. They also need new hope that they too can, through marriage, achieve a loving, lasting family bond. Do not wait until children are grown, or couples are engaged, to begin the process of marriage preparation and education in your congregation or community. Reconnect marriage and childbearing in the minds of young people; point out the limits of cohabitation for adults and children alike. To marriage counselors, therapists, and educators:
Take advantage of new marriage therapy and education research, especially new models of healthy marriage and marriage intervention that are on a far sounder scientific footing. Treat your clients as spouses and parents, and not just as individuals. While recognizing that not all marriages should be supported, we believe that marriage counselors should embrace the obligation to consider the interests of the family as a whole, including dependent children, and not just the desires of adult clients, in counseling those with marital problems. We seek nothing less than to rebuild the shattered dream of lasting love and to pass on a healthier, happier, and more successful marriage culture to the next generation. Toward this end, we pledge our time, our resources, and our intellectual and moral energy.