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Commentary: Saving marriages must be a national priority

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  • Martin: More couples seem unwilling to make a marriage work
  • Martin: Many have accepted false notion that marriage should be perfect
  • Martin: America was built on the back of strong families
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Americans are always good at touting an issue as a state of emergency in order to establish a sense of urgency. And there are any number that we could highlight -- HIV/AIDS, gun violence, drug addiction -- but one that should be added to the list is that of the divorce rate in this nation.


Martin says couples must sometimes work to make their marriages last.

Various studies show that at least half of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce, and if you remarry, those figures grow exponentially. For some reason, Americans are either getting married for the wrong reasons or are not making the effort to spend more time working on their marriages to save them, and instead, run to divorce court at the first sign of trouble.

I can speak from experience on this issue -- I was divorced after six years of marriage in 1999. The idea to shut down the marriage wasn't mine. My wife said she wanted out, and then as now, I felt the reasons cited were easy to overcome, if two people were willing to actually make it work. And in fact, I refused to sign the papers unless language was cited that I didn't agree with the divorce. Why? Like I told her, if someone in the future did research on me and came across that public document, then they would see my true feelings on the matter.

I've since remarried and thoroughly enjoy the six-year relationship with my wife, Jacquie, and both of us have made it our commitment to help other couples sustain and grow their marriages through leading and teaching marriage seminars and workshops at various churches across the country.

This notion of a national initiative to get Americans discussing our marital woes -- and how to fix them -- really hit home again this weekend when I saw the movie, Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?"

It's the story of eight college friends who gather for one week a year, and we get to see the marriage drama that each of one of them go through. One couple is constantly arguing over any little issue; another appears to be strong on the outside but is grieving on the inside over the death of their child in an accident; one couple fights the workaholic nature of the wife and the sexual fits her husband has to endure; while another speaks to a husband who is cheating on his wife with her best friend because his wife has put on a lot of weight, and she has to deal with not being loved.

The movie was such a hit that two weeks ago it was number one at the box office, garnering $16 million, and was number two last week.

What resonated so much was that these were ordinary couples who go through the ups and downs that so many marriages face. I don't want to give away everything about the movie, but in the end, one of the marriages can't be saved. But the great thing is that the couples faced some serious issues, and didn't take off at the first sign of trouble. They fought (verbally), argued, disagreed, but in the end, recognized that the marriage vows they professed for one another on their wedding day came true -- to have and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.

I strongly believe that for too many of us, we've accepted the notion that marriage will be perfect; that we won't endure trials and tribulations. But that isn't true. In fact, where is that ever true than in someone's fantasy life? What's amazing to me is that when faced with difficulty on the job, so many of us will buckle down and work harder to prove ourselves worthy to keep that job. But at home, we'd rather leave, even if that means putting our kids through a divorce.

As I suggest in the six essays on marriage in my book, "Listening to the Spirit Within," if you're in a marriage where someone is physically abusing you and your life is being threatened, by all means leave. But we can't be afraid of going outside the marriage to get counseling, whether spiritual or secular. You may have grown up and watched your parents divorce, and that pain is still there, and you may see it being repeated in your relationship. Trust me, it can work.

But couples must be willing to confront themselves. Maybe your idea of marriage is "I-my" and it should be "we-us-our." Maybe you see your spouse as more of a roommate, co-habitating in a space where you pay half the bills and he or she pays the other half.

America wasn't just built on the idea of strong ideals. It was also constructed on the back of strong families. But today, these families are being splintered and broken up for a variety of reasons, including our selfishness and unwillingness to confront our problems and to compromise.

Is it you I'm speaking to? Are you in the position where your marriage is crumbling before your very eyes? If so, take action today. Don't let divorce end it all. Remember, your trial today could eventually be your testimony tomorrow.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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