Sociologist Phillip Cohen, who writes the excellent blog Family Inequality, appeared on Talk of the Nation recently as a guest alongside the head-desk worthy economist Isabel Sawhill who recently brought single-mom bashing into the 21st Century.
He points out that many of the tangible benefits of two-parent families are things like stable housing, greater economic security, and health insurance, slyly implying, I think, that if government really wanted to support children and families, they could go “direct to the source” and just work on equalizing access to these resources instead of focusing on marriage as their proxy. Why go through a middle man, especially such a fraught and unreliable one as millions of individual couple relationships?
I have to note that, for all the interest in “promoting marriage” that has been spouted about in the past decade or two, rarely has anyone ever asked Marriage and Family Therapists (the marriage experts?) about how to sustain and support existing marriages. I’ve got a two-part plan for you:
1) National health care
2) Stop excluding couple therapy from health care coverage under the false belief that health care coverage should only treat individual DSM diagnoses using individual therapy methods*
*(There is more than adequate evidence that many “individual” diagnoses are effectively treated with conjoint or family therapy. And there is more than adequate evidence that couple conflict, parenting problems, etc. are not just “problems in living” germane to the “worried well” but are in fact major stressors that impact both physical and mental health.)
In a nutshell: make couple/marital therapy affordable so people can have the benefit of relationship counseling before and during marriage. Evidence based treatments like Emotionally Focused Therapy find that 73% of distressed couples recover (become non-distressed) over the course of therapy, and over 80% improve (the gap between the two numbers is largely accounted for by couples where one or both partners have trauma histories; longer courses of EFT are proving helpful in closing that gap).
Weirdly though, I’ve never seen anyone interested in promoting and preserving marriage actually talk seriously about making it affordable and accessible for married people to get help in sustaining their relationship through difficult times. Go figure. Let’s urge people into marriage and then… leave them to flail at it.
(Echoes of the pro-life stance here I feel, where it’s Incredibly Urgent that every pregnancy be carried to term, but Incredibly Unimportant to care for the children who are born as a result.)
And meanwhile in other “What’s really good for children?” news, when anti-same-sex-marriage folks can’t keep claiming that gay and lesbian households are bad for children based on the research (because it doesn’t exist), they lie. What is this, a day with a “Y” in it?