Hope in the gloom: Harry’s November newsletter

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Britain is now West European capital of family breakdown. Not much of a claim, is it?

My new analysis of the latest figures from Eurostat reveal that lone parenthood in the West is driven by the separation of unmarried parents – and not by divorce as many might assume. In Eastern Europe, where only Latvia does worse than us, divorce remains the main driver. Odd. If there’s a good reason, it escapes me.

So when Britain’s four largest relationship organisations launched their ‘Relationship Manifesto‘ this month, you might think they might have said a bit about the way we structure our relationships, how we commit, whether we marry or cohabit. But no. Not a word.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. A few years back, I recall the head of one of these organisations saying ‘wait until the data comes in on cohabiting couples and we’ll see little difference between them and married couples‘. Well, the data is well and truly in and it doesn’t show anything of the sort.

Marriage is the inconvenient elephant in the family policy room. It certainly is for family division high court judge Sir Nicholas Mostyn who, in a recent speech, dismissed outright the evidence that there might be any difference between marriage and cohabitation. I’m a huge fan of high court judges who have to exercise the wisdom of Solomon (and not just because I work with one!) So when a prominent judge gets it so wrong, it really jars.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by gloom in all this. But there is a sliver of hope. Even if 52% of our teenagers are likely to marry, based on current trends, there was an unexpected 5% increase in weddings in 2012. I put this down to the influence of the Royal wedding (and therefore this blip will probably reverse in 2013).

Here’s the hope. What this shows me is that outside factors can and do influence private behaviour. Trends can and do change direction. They just need a bit of inspiration and encouragement.

And if you want some of that yourself, may I encourage you to spend ten minutes listening to my talk on five things we should be telling our teenagers to help them find reliable love. The talk was for church leaders but could equally well apply to anyone.

The message from research is this:

  • Stick to your guns. Marriage Matters.

This would have been a far more convincing headline theme for the ‘Relationship Manifesto’. 

I hope our work encourages you. Don’t forget our Key Facts pages are there to help.

May your marriage and those around you flourish!

Harry Benson, Marriage Foundation

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