The beginnings of my vocation are absurd. A marriage in tatters and I didn’t even know it.
But ever since our recovery to something resembling normal happy married life – with its fair share of ups and downs – I have been drawn unavoidably to do what I can for all those Harrys and Kates who needn’t get into the mess we did.
I spent a dozen years in Bristol teaching thousands of couples how we can all learn great relationship skills, before moving on to focus on the importance of marriage with Marriage Foundation. By far the most important factor in building and protecting relationships that can last for life is to get married. The evidence is clear and the reasoning is sound.
And yet the opposition to marriage is peculiarly persistent and entrenched. Myths hold sway over reality. I hear the same nonsense again and again.
- Marriage doesn’t matter any more
- It’s just a piece of paper
- We can’t be expected to stay together for life nowadays because we live so much longer
- It’ll be OK if we split up because we have a ‘common law marriage’
- It’ll be OK if we split because we’ll have an ‘amicable divorce’
- Divorce rates are really high
- It’s better to live together first to check each other out
- Telling people to marry is just harking back to the 1950s or an ‘Edwardian era’
Wrong. All of the above.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that I sympathise a great deal with the old testament prophets who stood out on their own, saying things that the crowd knew to be true but didn’t want to hear.
All of which leads to a old testament character I heard about this weekend called Ehud. Ehud, rather appropriately given the role of Sir Paul Coleridge, was one the “judges” raised up by God to knock some sense into his own people and the stuffing out of everyone else. Read his story in Judges 3. It’s not the kind of stuff you expect to find in the bible.
Here’s a summary. Ehud was told by God to go and see wicked king Eglon, who was being thoroughly nasty to the Israelites. (King Eglon is described as a very fat man, so I’m thinking Jabba the Hutt here). Ehud then told Eglon/Jabba that he had a secret message from God. Eglon ushered all his minders outside. Whereupon Ehud said, “this is my message”, and pulled out the sword that he had concealed from security, as a left hander, on his right thigh. He then buried his sword so far into Eglon’s rolls of fat that even the handle disappeared. Yuck. Then he walked out, locked the dead king in his chamber and escaped.
What this story made me think about was that these myths about marriage are my Eglon, my Jabba. I want to do to these myths about marriage what Ehud did to Eglon. I want to bury my sword so far into them that they never see the light of day again.
These myths are not some kind of a harmless joke. They make me angry because of the needless havoc and destruction they wreak on adults and children alike. We need to treat them seriously and deal with them firmly.
- They are the reason so many young couples move in too soon, thinking it to be risk-free, find themselves stuck, drift on into parenthood, and eventually separate.
- They are the reason couples don’t commit before they have children, so that the relationship never really breaks free from uncertainty and ambiguity – until it breaks up.
- They are the reason we have a trend away from marriage, which increases the risks couples face, and for which 45% of all teenagers now pay the price by not being brought up by both parents
- They are the reason the taxpayer spends more on family breakdown than on defence. And yet no government to date has faced up to the merest possibility that some – not all – family breakdown might be avoidable if only we did things a bit differently.
This is the reason we have launched a Marriage Manifesto. It’s deadly serious.
We really ought to:
- have a Minister for Families and Family Breakdown. The consequences of family life at home – good and bad – spill out into every other aspect of life
- stop paying couples £7,000 plus to live apart. We’ve done that since tax credits began in 2003 and still no politician does anything about it
- teach adults and children about healthy relationships. It’s not so hard. Commit. Be nice. Its not rocket science.
- have an overhaul of family law. Those who know say divorce law hasn’t been modernised for fifty years. Family breakdown was only just taking off then.
- champion marriage and demolish some of the destructive myths that lead all too many away from what works and into what doesn’t
The first four of these depend on politicians and so are outside my control. I very much hope politicians are listening to this. They really can make a difference.
But number five I can do on my own – and so can you – regardless of what others do.
So you can think of me in the coming days/weeks/months/years, as a modern day Ehud, championing marriage and burying my sword into the lardy myths of wicked Eglon. All the way. And leaving it there.
All I need now is to learn how to fight left handed.