Our culture desperately could use a more thorough understanding of what constitutes a healthy marriage and a more realistic conception of how love evolves over time. Movies tend to end when a couple is still in the throes of new, passionate romance. Few explore the very different, but arguably stronger and more intimate, love that exists between a couple twenty years later, after decades of negotiating who does the dishes and when to trade in the worn-out car.
Young people—particularly those raised outside a marriage—need role models beyond fictional couples who are perfectly content. They need to see people who've experienced periods of hardship and less-than-optimal happiness, yet still treasure the relationship.
The alarming state of marriage tempts many to seek a set of policies or government programs to improve the situation. And certainly policymakers should consider the areas in which government actively undermines families. Welfare laws, for example, that rewarded mothers for not marrying their child's fathers were exactly the wrong prescription for fighting poverty. By discouraging marriage, they reinforced poverty and helped start a cycle of dependency that's difficult to break.
Yet attempts to use government to fix marriage will almost certainly fail. At their worst, such programs co-opt or displace more successful private (often religious-based) efforts that actually work. And while many people concerned about the state of marriage want to focus on gay couples, statistics show the decline began long before this was even an issue.
In short, family fragmentation isn't a problem that can be solved through the ballot box, by a federal program, or by condemning others. The hard work of improving the culture surrounding marriage must take place at an individual level. It requires married couples working harder to improve their own relationships and talking honestly with young people about what it takes to make a marriage work. Friends need to counsel other friends to work through rough patches and focus on the long-term value of their commitment.
So by all means, let's celebrate romance on Valentine's Day. But let's not forget to appreciate the deeper significance of love and commitment that lasts all year long.
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