Mom, dad, baseball and apple pie. It’s the symbol of America. The family unit is just one of the many secrets to the phenomenal success of America in the world. Pioneer families spread out across the fruited plains to carve out a life of prosperity never before seen anywhere else. So what exactly happened to the family unit that built this great nation? How did we go from a nation of families to a nation of “shack-ups?”

The Erosion of our National Fabric

In the 1960’s things changed in America. Free love was the battle cry of the hippie generation. Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out was Dr. Timothy Leary’s marching orders to the youth of the day. Burn your bra along with your draft card and, “if it feels good — Do IT.” Marriage, one of our most treasured traditions, was dismissed as “old fashioned” and “out of date” with the changing times.

The true meaning of marriage was blurred by society’s failure to truly define what marriage actually is and how it differs from two people just sharing living quarters. In early times, divorce was a stigma, right or wrong, and most couples tried to work out differences and many stayed together for the sake of the children.

As divorce became more socially acceptable, the rate skyrocketed to over 50%, giving fuel to the fire that marriage was no longer necessary or needed. If you wanted a relationship, all that was needed was some sort of verbal commitment to each other and off you went. Living in sin became a footnote. The failure rate of these types of relationships became even worse than the divorce rate. And, to compound the problem, children from these unions became the real victims of their selfish parents who wanted all of the good and none of the bad.

Why is that little piece of paper needed?

That little piece of paper is way more than just some kind of legal contract. If you are living together without the benefit of marriage then you are just boyfriend and girlfriend in the eyes of family members on both sides of the family. Your “partner” carries no weight with them. Hollywood couples have somehow perpetuated this faulty thinking, but there is a good reason they can pull it off as easily as they do. In most cases, they are richer than any other family member, so its money, not the partners status, that carries the weight. The family knows there will be some kind of payoff down the road so they love whoever is shacking up with them.

But let’s examine the relationship of Jack and Jill who are a store manager and a waitress. What weight do they carry with their partner’s respective families without that little piece of paper? Answer: None. Why? Because there is no real relationship in the eyes of the family.

How does the paper change that thinking?

The couple getting married need to understand exactly what they are getting into. They are accepting each other as life partners and that changes the “pecking order” of the family. If you are just boyfriend and girlfriend, its pretty hard to put your “partner” ahead of your family. You might think you are committed to each other, but the family knows that either of you could move on at any time without consequence. So at best they will tolerate your partner but rarely accept them unless there is something in it for them to do so.

That piece of paper is a legal contract that is not easily or cheaply dissolved. Property, child custody, and money are all involved and both parties have rights and protections they would not otherwise have without that piece of paper.

Family and the “pecking order.”

What exactly do I mean when I say the “pecking order” of the family changes with marriage. When you legally commit to someone to be their life partner then they move to the top of the list. If your mother and your wife or husband are hanging from a cliff and you can only save one you save your spouse. Sorry Mom, nice knowing you. Parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins… no one comes before your life partner. “But they are my blood!” you might say. You and your spouse are the only blood that counts from the time you say, “I do”. You have made a life commitment to be there for each other and made it legal in the eyes of the state and nation. That’s what that little piece of paper says. If a family member needs help, they only get it provided it doesn’t cause hardship to your spouse and family.

I can understand where a very close family could resent this and not understand what a change a true commitment creates. It may come down to your family not wanting to see you anymore. But that’s why there is a 50% divorce rate. There is only commitment until the going gets tough. The ending question is how committed are you? Are you committed enough to accept the consequences if you make a mistake? Or, are you just sort of committed? What’s your opinion?

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