Family Scholars blog is having an online symposium on marriage policy, featuring responses to their new “State Of Our Unions” report from various folks with an interest in family and policy.
One thing that’s interesting is that this is a discussion about marriage and policy which is NOT, by and large, about same-sex marriage. The big exception was anti-marriage-equality activist Ryan Anderson, who pretty much argued that there can be no pro-marriage policy that is not premised on opposition to same-sex marriage. I really liked David Blankenhorn’s response to Ryan in comments:
Nothing good can happen until we all agree with him on matters of definitions and core principles? Really? I must have missed that memo. My own idea is that we have reached the place in our national discussion where it is not only possible, but also desirable, for people who disagree on gay marriage, or who aren’t sure about gay marriage, to come together in a broader conversation focussed on strengthening marriage as a social institution for all who seek it. And for those who, like Mr. Ryan, can only say “Oh no! You must jump in my little definition box until I say it’s OK for to come out and do something else,” I say, no thank you. And, no thank you.
My comment from that same thread:
I really hate the idea that “child-based” and “adult-based” are inherently contradictory, as if families are never good for the needs of adults. Surely healthy families are beneficial to the entire family, not just to the children.
As for gay marriage being “adult-based,” as Kevin says, that’s obviously an unfair generalization. Families headed by same-sex parents typically make the children’s well-being the organizing principle behind a huge number of their life choices (what hours do you work? What job do you take? What neighborhood do you live in? Who are your friends?). This is, of course, also the case of heterosexual parents.
In a less obvious sense, I’d say that any fully child-centered society needs full equality and acceptance of lgbt people. This is because a huge number of children – over one in twenty – will at some point realize that they are lgbt.
This is not a minor point. Lgbt children are just as important and worthy or protection as the non-queer children. And many of them will find it difficult to grow up healthy in a society that tells them that they cannot one day grow up and form families of their own.
I think a lot of it simply comes down to love. Queer people – and many other stigmatized minorities, such as the disabled, fat people, and others – are taught by our culture that we are unworthy of being loved. A lot of people overcome that message, of course, but even having to overcome it is a terrible effort that I’d rather kids not have to go through. For those who don’t manage to overcome that message, the result is that we have trouble even loving ourselves, or imagining how others could love us.
In a comment on Barbara Defoe Whitehead’s post, I wrote:
I’m all for efforts to increase the number of happy families with married parents. But I’d also like to see more done to study single-parent families whose kids do seem to have gotten what they need to survive and become happy adults. What makes those families different from those single-parent families whose kids turn out more troubled? Is there something that can be done on the policy level to make more single-parent families thrive?
La Lubu said “THIS” to that comment, which made me feel terribly happy, since La Lubu’s comments on FSB are consistently among the best writing I’ve read on any blog.
This entry by law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn was interesting:
…while we approve of many of the Project’s proposed policies, we doubt that these policies, good or bad, can fully address the issue. Instead, we need to place greater attention on the creation of good jobs, the relationship between employment stability and family health, and the societal responsibility to ensure that the next generation of children is not left behind. While the class-based decline in marriage is a symptom of growing inequality and economic privation, an exclusive focus on marriage cannot by itself restore family health.
Regular “Alas” readers won’t be surprised that I agreed with that. But then they said something I didn’t know:
Over the last thirty years, greater economic inequality has done something very unusual: it has shifted the cultural strategies at the top and the bottom of the economic order in different directions. At the top, the dedication to stable two, parent families has come not just from a cultural commitment to marriage, but from the fact that the gendered wage gap for college graduates has increased. As a result, high-earning men outnumber high-earning women to a greater degree today than in 1990, and all but the wealthiest men need high-income women to afford middle class life in the fastest growing and most expensive metropolitan areas. Today, executives no longer marry their secretaries; they marry fellow executives. And in these dual-earner families, the maid cleans the toilets while the parents trade-off homework supervision and Little League attendance.
I was surprised that the gendered wage gap for college graduates has increased, since overall the gender gap has been slowly declining. Looking around, I found this graph, which does indeed show that the gender gap for recent college graduates has been getting larger for the last decade.
I’m not sure their picture of what wealthy families do is all that useful, though. Although the middle class has been declining, my suspicion is that middle-class married couples still far outnumber couples who can afford hiring a maid.
I don’t think that there are a lot of good-paying jobs in America’s future. The manufacturing base has for the most part left America and won’t come back, and automation may well continue making human workers less necessary. As a culture, we should rethink our picture of the good life, and find a way for more families to be happy and content with less wealth and income. I think that’s possible, because what’s most important is not economic plenty but economic security. I think more people could be happy with less income if they felt secure in their housing, their health, and their food.
Finally, you might also want to read Kevin Maillard’s harsh critique of the entire project.
As a family therapist with a PhD who also researches and teaches about families and children, I can assure you that you are utterly correct. :)
I’ve articulated my two-point plan for supporting marriage before but it never seems to make it to the table. I know a lot about what will help married people function well – I spent a solid hour this morning perched on the edge of my seat, every ounce of my energy focused on the couple in front of me and helping them talk with each other in a new way. (Though I think for the most part the “marriage policy” people wouldn’t give a toss if this couple didn’t make it, since they sleep with other people and like to do kinky stuff in their spare time, but I think their marriage is as worth supporting as anyone else’s….)
But for some reason “give people health care, including mental health care, and stop pretending that good mental health is only an individual issue that should be treated individually” doesn’t seem to be a conversation of interest to the sort at Family Scholars and elsewhere. Too prosaic? Not political enough (unless you’re a psychologist/psychiatrist/MD trying to keep the medical model at the top of the mental health hierarchy, which no one is interested in but us insiders)?
I would say more but I am suddenly finding it rather hard to breathe because 1) Kevin Maillard is super hot, 2) also super smart and on target, and 3) he’s currently at one of my alma maters, which makes this the very first time in 11 years that I’ve wished just a little bit to still be in Syracuse.
elusis, link’s broken.
The graph absolutely doesn’t support either of those interpretations.
Over three decades 1979-2010. 1979 the gap was M 19.97 – F 15.80 = $4.17, or men earn 26% more than women. 2010 M 21.77 – F 18.43 = $3.34, or men earn 18% more than women. So it has fallen.
One decade 2000-2010. 2000 the gap was M 22.75 – F 19.38 = $3.37, or men earn 17% more than women. 2010 M 21.77 – F 18.43 = $3.34, or men earn 18% more than women. So it has fallen a very small amount in absolute terms, and risen a very small amount in relative terms (since real wages have fallen over the last decade).
The big take home point of that graph is that changes in the gender pay gap seem to be driven very little by changes in cultural attitudes, but mostly by macro-economics – since it contracts in times of recession and expands in times of economic growth.
Oh heck, cut and paste FAIL. This is what happens when I’m in grading hell.
My two-point plan for supporting marriage!
Man that sounds pretentious.
1. Banners that say “marriage is great!”
Robert – I will totally sign off on that plan. I love pie.
Everybody loves pie.
Sigh. Not everybody loves pie, you piests.
What everybody does love is:
2) Some flavor of poptart
@Jake. I don’t actually like pop tarts.
I do like most cake and most pie, though.
Everybody whose opinion I care about likes pie.
(Stares pointedly past Jake as though he were a particularly ethereal type of ghost, the bonhomie of the Pop-Tart accords a cold and dead memory.)
I only like brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts, really, and much prefer pie to cake whenever I can get it.
Maybe if I served pie at my office, I’d get more clients?
Free pop-tart with every first session?
When you say “pie,” are you talking about some awesome savory pie – 0nion, say, or mushroom – mmmmn, onion pie – or are you talking about something that is objectively loathsome and that, still speaking objectively here, no one but a depraved half-human whose tongue has been ripped out by a face-hugger alien could like, such as fruit pie?
This is an essential point to any potential support of the two-part plan from my nation.
I like both kinds. I’m eating a chicken pie right now.
(Okay, not really.)
You are merely jealous of my greatness. It’s OK. Part of my greatness is understanding the limitations of others.
Elusis (I assume you’re also Dr. Sheila?)
The 2 part plan is nice, but not practical. The social benefits of therapy are generally proportional (in some way) to how fucked up someone is: when Joe and Mary are in a deep funk, therapy is more helpful than when they’re just having a bad weekend.
But the costs of therapy are static. Whether Joe and Mary go to counseling as “maintenance” or whether they go only when things go to shit, it costs the same per session either way. And of course, therapy isn’t especially cheap. At least, it doesn’t tend to be cheap for people who are reasonably well trained and experienced.
Moreover, therapists (and clients) are not especially good at self-limiting. Unlike most medical treatment, people often have incentives to WANT to go to therapy. Many therapists find it difficult to cut off paying clients who want to continue: for most people, there is always something worth working on.
Given that we don’t have unlimited money, society will insist on rationing therapy. Problem is, that there’s no DSM for couples. We don’t have a way to evaluate how well a couple is doing other than by simply asking them.
And it’s difficult to do objectively. I can pretty well assume (on average) that most people would prefer not to have certain mental illnesses. But there are lots of people I find detestable and, whaddya know, they’re happily married.
So if we can’t afford it other than as carefully rationed care and we can’t ration it, then we probably can’t do it.
Robert, I believe you meant to say that all right-thinking people like pie.
So, Elusis, you love pie more than you love cake. You also love a flavor of poptart. (Let’s not use this valuable space to argue over the true meaning of “love”).
(Ben is clearly the exception that proves the rule. Or something else entirely)
Also, the thing that Amp said about savory versus disgusting. I never considered the option of non-claimed to be tasty dessert pies. My mistake.
And what about those of us who can’t eat pie? Or are people with food allergies just plain old excluded? (Though I did like pie when I was able to eat it, sweet or savory, didn’t matter. Not better than chocolate cake, but I liked it well enough.)
I checked my coverage and it is apparently limited to a set number of sessions in a given year. Overall, I have the impression that it’s a pretty decent package, so I’m guessing that such limits would not be a problem to implement, and probably already exist widely.
So, I would guess that it can be rationed.
Also, because of my job I end up responding to domestic arguments a lot. Some end in arrest, and some don’t. There is a large subset of each of those where I recommend to both parties involved that they get into couples therapy. I focus on not blaming them, but on pointing out that the dynamic isn’t working, and sometimes good people miscommunicate and it can be a huge benefit to have an experienced professional in communication there to throw a flag when they’re starting to push buttons, and suggest an alternate path. I talk about building a working tool kit, and how they can learn these tools from a good therapist. I also emphasize that not all therapists are created equal, and if the first one isn’t cutting it, the second one, third one, sixth one might. Because I don’t blame them as individuals, but focus on the dynamic between them, I often get accepting body language, and thoughtful examination of the information sheet which lists ways to find counselors.
Sometimes I run across them later in other venues, and they often tell me that couples therapy has been working well for them.
This is all data drawn subjectively through a series of biased samples, but that experience is why I agree with Elusis: if we want existing marriages to succeed, then we should do things which help people get access to effective coaching.
@Richard, I’m pretty sure there is no food allergy “to pie” given that pie can be made of many ingredients, but I’m willing to be proven wrong here.
Oh dear me no.
The bulk of the research on couple therapy, which mostly focuses on cognitive behavioral treatment (beloved of insurance companies and “outcome research”), has always showed that the greatest predictor of success in couple therapy is how distressed the couple is at the start. So the *lower* your initial distress, the better you look at termination and 6 months out (when most of the CBT follow-ups end). Kind of sad really, especially for those people who are really unhappy.
Fortunately some of the newer approaches based on process research, particularly Emotionally Focused Therapy, have managed to un-couple that linear relationship. EFT’s research shows that degree of distress is NOT predictive of degree of improvement at termination. (Interestingly, the greatest single predictive variable for heterosexuals? The woman’s belief that her male partner still loves her.)
This is absolutely true for some but not for others. (Oh my is this article right on target. I am always telling my students: you are in business to put yourself out of business, with any given client that is. Therapy should make people independent, not dependent!) EFT takes between 8 and 20 sessions for most couples, 30-40 for couples with a trauma history. There are brief solution-focused approaches for specific couple issues that can work in just a few sessions. Gottman Method couple therapy, another very well-researched contemporary approach, is about the same length as EFT for most people. The old psychodynamic “therapy for a lifetime” approach is still being taught, yes, and practiced, yes, but there are alternatives and many training programs are going where the research is pointing the way.
My point is that money spent on well-delivered, well-researched couple therapy is money well spent if your goal is to support marriage. The costs of dysfunctional relationships extend beyond mental health into physical health, impacts on children, impacts on work performance, and of course the “divorce epidemic” that the “pro-marriage” folks are concerned about.
The DSM is an interesting problem – there are “V-codes” identifying generic relational problems, shoved way back in their own little ghetto at the end of DSM-IV. Insurers don’t reimburse for them, because they’re not “illnesses,” and as I learned the hard way, even if you can give an Axis I diagnosis (like say “depression”) for one partner, if you add a V-cod the insurers will kick it back at you. As far as I know there was little or no effort to improve or revise this section in the work on DSM-V, despite calls from prominent psychiatrists to consider relational diagnosis more thoroughly and mountains of research on the effectiveness of conjoint treatment for both individual and relational issues.
So much for “supporting marriage.”
Universal health care, cover (and encourage!) conjoint therapy. Even if you don’t do B, do A, as a start – get insurers to stop discriminating against conjoint treatment. Then we can get actual married people into treatment that we know works, and that has salubrious effects on more than just whether they fight over the toilet seat but across all aspects of their home and public life. And I never see the pro-marriage folks even consider that as a possibility. As I said at my site, the echos of the pro-life movement are there for me – we want to get you married, but then you’re on your own.
I… I feel like I just died a little inside. Amp, I thought I knew you a little. Now… now I feel like you just pulled your face off and underneath were tentacles.
Well Robert already pun-blocked me from making some kind of bi/pansexual joke here so I’m just going to sulk.