‘The nonpartisan Pew Research Center yesterday released an 88-page demographic recap of surveys and interviews of 2,020 adults on the subject of marital satisfaction, including nine factors that make up a happy marriage. In what the report described as “the single most striking finding,” only 41 percent of Americans said children were very important to a successful marriage, a 24 percentage-point drop versus 1990, when 65 percent of Americans described children as very important to a successful marriage. Children still matter – 85 percent of parents with children under 18 described them as a top source of personal fulfillment – but kids are not as integral to a happy marriage’.
Read the entire article here.
The article’s author, Leslie Morgan Steiner, ends her piece by asking her readers, ‘Do your children contribute to the happiness (or unhappiness) of your marriage? Or are the two completely separate as you go about finding “balance” in your life?’
Whatever we make of these findings, one thing remains true. As rich a contribution kids make to our marriages, they ought never be the foundation or the glue of the relationship. One day, I hope, Sinead will leave home. That’s one reason (though not the main one) why we can’t allow Sinead to be the centre and be all and end all of our marriage. To be sure, she is a part of our marriage, and always will be. But she is neither its ground nor its goal. And while she contributes significantly to our joy, our joy is not dependent on her. My deepest joy comes from knowing who I am in God. And from that place, I remain convinced that one of the most loving things I can do for Sinead is to love her mother.
I remember once hearing a paper by Prof. Ellen Charry from Princeton on God and the Art of Happiness in which she engaged with Augustine and Aquinas to offer a voice into a much-neglected theme in the Christian tradition concerning the nature and source of happiness (which she distinguished from joy). Her basic thesis is that true happiness requires a certain level of material comfort in order to truly flow, citing Jesus’ concern for one’s physical needs before attending to their spiritual and emotional needs. I suspect she needs to do a lot more (theological) work if her argument is to stick, but it did raise a number of questions for me. Primarily, what is the relationship between happiness and security, whether physical, political, social, material or spiritual? Is a certain level of safety/security a pre-requisite for human happiness? Can one be both anxious and happy? Frightened and happy? What is the relationship between happiness and forgiveness? And happiness and service? And how does a doctrine of eschatological hope relate to the now-and-not-yet of happiness? What is the relationship between communal and individual happiness?
Against much current thinking that assumes that God’s job in life (if one can put it so crudely) is to make us happy, both P T Forsyth and C S Lewis have written eloquently concerning the fact that God does not save us in order to make us happy. He saves us that we might serve and worship and commune with him. Happiness is what happens in the overflow of that loving relationship. It is never the goal itself.