Fight the divorce epidemic

Our politics ignores the most critical 'family values' issue of our time.

love marriage wedding (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
love marriage wedding
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In the presidential campaign currently under way, we hear a lot about Iraq, fighting terror, abortion, and even how many of the candidates believe in evolution. What we don't hear is anything about America's foremost national tragedy and greatest challenge: divorce. Divorce is epidemic in America. The often-cited 50 percent divorce rate is one of those statistics which can be easily and empirically verified. About half the people I know are divorced and the same would be true of the acquaintances of most other Americans. This is becoming a country of broken homes, broken families and broken children. It is a nation where kids are pawns in ugly divorce disputes and where marital passion is expressed in the divorce courts rather than in the bedroom. No child should have to grow up witnessing hatred rather than love expressed between parents. Divorce leaves incalculable destruction in its wake, from children raised without stability to men and women who often spend the remainder of their lives alone. Even more tragic is the subterfuge by which family values in America has come to mean opposing gay marriage and abortion. Even if gays never married, that would not lessen the heterosexual divorce rate, which sky-rocketed well before the advent of gay rights. And divorce rates in America are unconnected to a woman's choice to have an abortion, since the vast majority of people divorcing in America are couples with children. WHAT IS needed is a national consensus on the principal family values issue of our time, namely, reducing the astronomical American divorce rate. Also needed is a bold presidential candidate who will commit, as a central plank of his or her platform, to halving the American divorce rate over the next 10 years. It is absolutely in our power to bring the divorce rate dramatically down; not by restigmatizing divorce - it is pointless to humiliate people - but in giving troubled couples the tools they need to make their marriages work and overcome crises. One of the most straightforward ways of doing so would be to grant a tax break for any money spent on marital counseling, so couples can afford the marital counseling they need. This tax break would be offered with a national registry of professional marital therapists to whom couples can turn. IT WOULD be even better if we could get marital counseling covered by insurance companies. But I recognize that the resistance to such an idea would be ferocious, mostly from the insurance companies, whereas making marital counseling a tax deduction merely requires sufficient political will. I am often asked why families agree to appear on Shalom in the Home. After all, who would want to air their dirty laundry in public? It must be that they want to be on TV, right? I explain that this is rarely the case. The vast majority of families apply to be on our show because they are desperate for help and they don't know where to turn. If it is a troubled marriage, sometimes they cannot afford proper counseling or, if they can, they don't know which counselor they can trust. Enter a guy on TV whom they watch and whose philosophy they embrace. Every week I receive hundreds of emails from couples whose marriage is in crisis. They want me to counsel them in person, by phone or by email. They have few places to turn. For many of these families the availability of a trusted counselor at an affordable rate would make the difference between marriage and divorce. I have personally witnessed how just a few counseling sessions can help a couple identify the real issues destroying their relationship and, more importantly, give them the inspiration to implement a cure. BUT THE COST of marital counseling is outside the reach of many couples, especially if they need to go twice weekly for several months. Added to this is a reluctance on the part of couples - especially husbands - who don't believe that counseling will bring any major improvements. Hence the incentive of making the cost of counseling tax deductible could be the difference between pursuing it and not. Charitable contributions in nearly every country are tax deductible, as they should be, since they create benevolent nations with healthy non-profits who look after the most vulnerable elements of society, often doing a far better job than governments can do. But doesn't charity begin at home? Can we really create nations who believe in love, compassion and giving when most Western countries today are comprised of children half of whom have rarely witnessed that love and compassion at home? Can we not agree that rescuing the American family from terminal decline is the foremost national emergency of our time? MY PARENTS divorced when I was a boy of eight, and it scarred me for life. And today, as I sit with so many married couples whose marriage is on the brink, my mind often wanders to that fateful time, more than 30 years ago, when my parents' marriage was unraveling. I ask myself whether something as straightforward as a sympathetic and wise counselor could have prevented the split that snuffed out so much of the happiness of my youth. The answer to that question will never be known. But what is certain is that couples talking out their problems leads to real and genuine healing. And it's time the leaders of our country and the politicians who claim to represent family values addressed how much of a cancer divorce is in the life of a nation, and started taking active remedies to cure it. The writer's latest book is Shalom in the Home. His TV show by the same name airs Wednesday evenings on TLC.