By Phil Sanders
Just days before my wedding, my grandpa called to me. He said, “Son, I got something to tell you.”  So I listened patiently. Now grandpa loved my grandma for fifty years and more.  They had the kind of marriage that I was looking for. Grandpa didn’t say much, but he meant just what he said.  So I really paid attention for what was up ahead.  “Tend the garden of your home son; make it the best that it can be.  Ev’ryday make her feel special; treat her kind and tenderly.  Don’t let the weeds of bitterness grow up wild within your heart. Tend the garden of your home, son; and you’ll never grow apart.” I tried to do what grandpa said, and it worked so well for me That when my boys get married, I hope they listen patiently.  My grandpa’s words ring loud and clear, I hope they won’t forget.  Their home is what they make it, and the future isn’t set.  I won’t say much to my boys, but I mean just what I say.  I hope they’ll pay attention, like I did on grandpa’s day.  “Tend the garden of your home son; make it the best that it can be.  Ev’ryday make her feel special; treat her kind and tenderly. Don’t let the weeds of bitterness grow up wild within your heart. Tend the garden of your home, son; and you’ll never grow apart.”
Sam McAlley (a.k.a. Phil Sanders) gives us this advice about marriage:   “Tend Your Garden, Son” (Copyright 2004 Phil Sanders) This poem was published in  the International Who’s Who in Poetry, 2004. If you publish this, give credit to Sam McAlley,
The desire for marriage isn’t what it used to be.
In the 1970s most boys and girls grew up looking forward to the “happiest day of their lives,” when they entered into holy matrimony with the spouse of their dreams. Today fewer people are getting married at all. In the 1970s, 94 percent of women would marry at least once in life. It is estimated now that of females above age 15, only 84 percent will ever marry.
Marriage trends for ages 35 to 44 suggest a lifetime of being single for more people in this generation than in any since the United States started keeping records. U.S. Census figures reveal that the percentage of married persons between the ages of 35 and 44 has dramatically declined over the last thirty-five years. In 1970, 89.3 percent of males and 86.9 percent of females age 35 44 were married. In 2004, only 67.3 of  males and 65.7 percent of females of the same age are married (Popenoe and Whitehead 2005, 18).
For most generations, virtually all persons who were going to marry during their lifetimes had married by age 45. More than 90 percent of women have married eventually in every generation for which records exist, going back to the mid-1800s. “By 1960, 94 percent of women then alive had been married at least once by age 45—probably an historical high point. For the generation of 1995, assuming a continuation of then current marriage rates, several demographers projected that 88 percent of women and 82 percent of men would ever marry” (Schoen and Standish  553-563).
Just because there is a decline in marriage does not mean that people are giving up on living together with a sexual partner. Instead, the United States has seen a clear increase in unmarried cohabitation. Holy wedlock is giving ground to unwed unions. Most couples (about 2 in 3) now live together before they marry for the first time. For many, cohabitation is a prelude to marriage; for others, it is simply an alternative to living alone; and for a small but growing number, it is considered an alternative to marriage. About eight percent of all couples in America are living together without marriage. An even higher percentage of those divorced who subsequently remarry live together first. And a growing number of persons, both young and old, are living together with no plans for eventual marriage.
Cohabitation is more common among those of lower educational and income levels. Recent data show that among women in the 19 to 44 age range, 60 percent of high school dropouts have cohabited compared to 37 percent of college graduates (Bumpass and Lu 29-41). Cohabitation is also more common among those who are less religious than their peers, those who have been divorced, and those who have experienced parental divorce, fatherlessness, or high levels of marital discord during childhood. A growing percentage of cohabiting couple households, now over 40 percent, contain children (Teachman 444-455).
Today, marriage has lost much of its role and significance as a rite of passage. For earlier generations of women, first sexual intercourse and marriage were closely linked and timed. Ninety percent of women born between 1933 and 1942 were either virgins when they married or had premarital intercourse with the man they wed (Michael 97). For today’s generation of young women, the timing of first sexual intercourse is increasingly distant from the timing of first marriage. Just over half of teenage girls have experienced first sexual intercourse by age 17 (Moore 3). Teenage girls are sexually active for seven or eight years on aver- age before marriage. Indeed, premarital sex has become something of a misnomer. Sex is increasingly detached from the promise or expectation of marriage.  While conventional wisdom says, “marry first and then have children,” there is a growing number of women having children outside of marriage. Nearly 36 percent of all births in 2004 were to single women, a total of 1,470,152
babies. Since 1960, the percentage of babies born to unwed mothers has increased more than 600 percent. The greatest increase in births to unwed mothers came in women ages 25-29, who were cohabiting with a partner but still considered unmarried. Only 24 percent of non-marital births were to teens, a drop from 50 percent in 1970. While this may seem encouraging, more than 80 percent of all teen mothers were still unwed.
The problem of divorce still threatens the home in America.
While the divorce rate has slightly declined in recent years, the United States still has the world’s highest divorce rate. According to calculations by the National Marriage Project, there are fewer divorces now than in 1980. In 1980, 22.5 of every 1000 women age 15 and older were divorced. That figure has dropped to 17.7 percent in 2004. Though the risk of a marriage ending in divorce in the United States is still close to 50 percent, for many people, the actual chances of divorce are far below 50/50. “The background characteristics of people entering a marriage have major implications for their risk of divorce. Here are some percentage point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation for women during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors” (Bramlett and Mosher 22):

  • Annual income over $50,000 (vs.under $25,000)–30 percent
  • Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage)–24 percent
  • Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18)–24 percent
  • Own family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents)–14 percent
  • Religious affiliation (vs. none) –14 percent
  • Some college (vs. high-school dropout)–13 percent So, if you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after age twenty-five without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are very low indeed.

Are People Happy in Marriage?
According to the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, 64.6 percent of men and 60.3 percent of women (1998-2002) said their marriages were “very happy.” When one considers the number of divorced and cohabiting couples, some suggest that these figures do not reflect the whole state of the matter. One 1999 Rutgers study suggested that when one considers divorce and problem marriages, only about one couple in four is really happy (Popenoe and Whitehead 1999, 97).
What Can We Do?
For each person reading this article, the most important marriage is his or her own. We want our marriages and the marriages of our children to be very happy and to reflect the love and the purity of Jesus Christ. What can we do?
First ,we must commit ourselves to the Lord, to live righteous lives according to His Word. Christians must put away immorality (1 Cor. 6:18-20) and impurity (Eph. 5:3-12). They must be convinced that the Lord’s way in marriage is the best and only right way to live. They must not only believe the truth, but also find a mate who also shares their values.
Second, husbands must love their wives as themselves; and wives must see that they respect their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33). When husbands fail to love, wives behave with disrespect. When wives fail to respect, husbands do unloving things. Each spouse needs to treat the other as special, with love and respect.
Third, Christian couples should seek spiritual intimacy through prayer, attending worship at church, and growing in the knowledge of God. The more couples pursue their faith, the happier they are and the better chance they have of a very happy marriage.
Fourth, couples must learn the skill of reconciliation. Couples who can apologize, forgive, and maintain a positive relationship keep their marriages intact. Divorce is usually the result of an individual who won’t repent or an individual who won’t forgive.
Fifth, churches should equip couples with the skills they need to build successful marriages. Church leaders must not assume that young couples have had Christian models of marriage in their home of origin, or have had the training they need for marriage. Older men and women need to mentor younger adults in how to love their spouses and their children (Tit. 2:1-6). Churches can help struggling families with marriage seminars, classes, and counseling when needed.
While we cannot change some of the trends of marriage and morality in our country as a whole, we can make a difference in our own lives and in our congregations. Let us do all we can do to see that the future of Christian marriage remains strong and healthy.