Read an Excerpt
I was in the sixth grade in 1983 when Billy Idol’s song “White Wedding” hit the charts. I remember doodling designs for my wedding dress on the cover of my English book. Funny thing though: Somehow, I forgot to daydream about what would happen after I married my Prince Charming. I forgot that a marriage follows the wedding.
Growing up during the 1970s and ’80s, I remember hearing Billy Idol’s wedding song and, oh, about 2,573 other songs about love. “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen, “Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins…to name just a few. Yet I can’t think of a single romantic song that addressed the day-in day-out of marriage. Or commitment. Or forever “I do.”
Now that’s messed up.
Not too surprisingly, I wasn’t thinking about forever commitments when I became sexually active in high school. Or when I dumped “loser” boyfriends and exchanged them for better models. Or when I broke many hearts and found mine broken as well. In fact, I didn’t think much about marriage until after I was married in 1989, at age eighteen. I’d signed up for the “I do” after finding someone “safe.” Someone who loved me and my son. Someone who had a relationship with the God I was just starting to know.
I fell in love with my new beau, John. And he was great! I had a grand time planning the wedding… And then I woke up one day with this guy sleeping beside me and What now? going through my head. As someone raised by a mom and stepdad who were already contemplating divorce on my wedding day, I couldn’t think ahead to what the next year held for John and me, let alone the next fifty years. I wanted the best marriage possible, but I had no idea how to make that happen. That, my friends, is an anxiety-filled, confusing place to live.
The Scoop on This Book
You may wonder how this book differs from other marriage books out there. For one, I’m not the head of any marriage organization, nor do I have a national radio broadcast. I don’t have a degree in psychology or training in marriage enrichment. I’m just a Gen Xer who’s written a lot about parenting, life, and marriage over the last ten years. But perhaps my best credential is the fact that John and I have been married for seventeen years. Quite a statement for a thirty-five-year-old!
Although many of our friends’ marriages have ended in divorce, John and I are still together. We support each other’s careers. We’re raising a God-loving family. We volunteer in our church as a team. And most important, we’re more in love now than the day we got married.
But if I were to gush about how we’ve “done everything right,” I’d be lying. And you most likely wouldn’t want to read another word. After all, Gen Xers have a hard time relating to perfection. Maybe it’s because we’re so very far from it. And we know deep down that everyone else is too. To be truthful, the last seventeen years haven’t been all cupcakes and sprinkles.
To put it bluntly, John and I were young and dumb when we got married (or at least I was). And we’ve made a lot of mistakes (mostly me). But we made a commitment to see this thing through. To work for our marriage. To love the other person even when he or she seems unlovely.We’ve dealt with many of the same struggles as other young couples, including but not limited to:
> communication problems
> money woes
> emotional burdens from past relationships
> struggles with in-laws and out-laws
> the joys and anxiety of raising kids
> even my draw toward an ex-boyfriend
Without a doubt, this is the hardest book I’ve ever written. My novels are stories I create in my head; they contain make-believe characters who make plenty of mistakes. The children’s and devotional books I write are just plain fun. Even Generation NeXt Parenting felt like a breeze compared to writing about my glaring relationship faults. Sure, I shared my struggles with parenting in that book, but now it’s time to share my secrets. Yikes!
I noticed something else while writing this book. Most of the topics in Generation NeXt Parenting are ones you can talk about with any other parent you meet at McDonald’s, but this book goes deep and delves into intimate topics—things you share in confidence with your small group or a dear friend…maybe.
What This Book Is About…
In this book, you won’t find me talking about how to “fix” your spouse or your marriage. Instead, I’m going to talk about our generation, married and grown up—our strengths, our weaknesses, our similarities, and our desire to succeed where so many of our parents and role models failed. I’m also going to dig into God’s Word to find hope and help. The idea emerged after I noticed how different my marriage is from those of previous generations. Different doesn’t mean wrong…it just means different.
Personally, I find myself wanting to do it all—love my spouse, discover God’s purpose for my life, make a difference in my community, build a career, and provide my children with every opportunity. But is that possible while still achieving a semblance of balance? Each of us needs encouragement and help when dealing with the most complex relationship we’ll ever commit to in our lifetime.
Neil Clark Warren—a writer who knows his stuff—issued a challenge in his book The Triumphant Marriage: that each year we commit to making our marriages 10 percent better.1 I like that. Hey, who knows? Maybe you’ll even get to 11 percent with the help of this book!
"Today’s society views marriage as a contract or a legal arrangement. The marriage covenant has been all but eliminated in the world’s eyes. To me, that makes marriage the last line of defense for our Christian faith in this secular world. It convicts me to make my marriage the absolute best it can be and to show other couples what a great marriage looks like so they’ll want it too." —Chris, born in 1974 Florida, married thirteen years
"Sometimes I think Gen Xers have had more realistic expectations than other generations when it comes to marriage. Seems like my parents’ generation had high expectations, and many of them got out when reality set in. I have a lot of hope for my generation. I believe our low divorce rate will stay low. We are fighters, and we don’t need things to be perfect. Most of our relationships have not lived up to our expectations (boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, etc.). When our marriage relationships don’t live up to our expectations, I don’t think we’ll be too shocked." —Jennifer, born in 1969 Wisconsin, married thirteen years.
How the Generations Break Down
GI: Born 1900s to 1920s
Silent: Born 1920s to 1940s
Boomer: Born 1940s to 1960s
Xer: Born 1960s to 1980s
Millennial: Born 1980s to 2000s2
The Facts About Gen Xers
¥ Gen Xers consist of 41 million Americans born between 1961 and 1981, plus the 3 million more in that age group who have immigrated here.
¥ Gen Xers are serious about life. We don’t take life as it comes, but give great consideration to critical decisions about our present and future. When it comes to marriage, we want to do it right. We take marriage seriously because half of us were raised in homes where our parents divorced.
¥ Gen Xers are stressed out. We want to do it all…now. And when we do, we find ourselves overwhelmed—work, family, and the technostress that 24/7 communication such as cell phones, e-mail, and instant messaging has brought about. We’ve bought into following our dreams and finding our purpose. Yet we struggle to balance our spouse, kids, ministry, work, and service.
¥ Gen Xers love to volunteer, to give, to help, to make a difference! In fact, a recent study revealed that out of different age groups who volunteer regularly, the percentage of Gen Xers was higher than any other (31.2 percent). And that doesn’t even account for those who volunteer on more than one committee.
¥ Gen Xers are self-reliant, yet highly spiritual. We’re skeptical, yet eager to apply what we do believe to our everyday lives. We’re realistic, not idealistic. Our faith has to be truly lived out or we won’t buy into it.
¥ According to a recent George Barna study, only 28 percent of Gen Xers (ages 20–37) attend church, compared to 51 percent of Builders (58+). Yet a Newsweek article recently suggested that “81 percent of Gen X mothers and 78 percent of fathers say they plan eventually to send their young child to Sunday school or some other kind of religious training.”
Gen X: The Married Life… Who Would’ve Thought?
The facts are in. The generation that once bore labels such as “slacker” and “grunge” has gone G-rated. Once Gen Xers get serious about life, family now means the most to us. Marriage matters. And we want not just an okay marriage, but one filled with love, commitment, and care.
Yet as Gen Xers, we—more than any other generation—also have a hard time understanding just how to accomplish that. Divorce skyrocketed in our nation during our formative years, doubling the rate of the prior generation. Growing up, we set a new standard for sexual activity as teens, and we bore more kids out of wedlock. (I confess to both.)
And some of us have already experienced one or more divorces. “Statistics show that of every ten marriages in America today, five end in divorce and three have partners dissatisfied with marriage,” write Patrick and Connie Lawrence in How to Build a More Intimate Marriage. “Only two out of ten couples express satisfaction with the marriage.”3
Yet there is hope. Hope found in the Word of God. Hope that God is aware of the obstacles we face. And faith that He can help us, even in our marriages. And boy, am I clinging to that word hope. I write this as someone who has made a lot of mistakes. Some of my biggest struggles have been in my marriage. These are not easy mistakes to confess, but I will share them for two reasons:
1. Because by sharing my mistakes, I also can share the triumph found in God alone.
2. Because to Gen Xers, relationships and authenticity mean a lot. We won’t give two seconds of our time to a phony. We crave the real deal.
In addition to my story, this book also offers comments from other Gen Xers. Like me, they’re willing to “share all.” Some give their names; others chose not to in order to protect their families. Regardless, I know that their words will touch you just the same. As one Gen Xer said when answering my interview questions: “This is soulbaring stuff.” I agree. But in the end, I pray it will be worth it. Because only when our souls are stirred can our lives be transformed.
Throughout this book, God’s Word will be used as home base for strengthening marriage. The stories of fellow Gen Xers will be the real-life examples that hit Truth out of the park. And while I don’t claim that every marriage issue will be covered within these pages, you can see from the chapter titles that we’ll touch on the biggies. It’s my goal to help you and the person you love most in this world (or should love most) take a look at some of those important issues in your married life, view them in light of today’s world, and then process them through Scripture. Like Billy Idol sang, “It’s a nice day for a white wedding. It’s a nice day to start again.”
"I think that in society today, the idea of marriage is no longer a sacred thing, and that makes me very angry! People look at marriage like, “Oh well, if it doesn’t work this time, we just get divorced and try with someone else.” People need instant gratification these days and no one wants to work hard, so we have high divorce rates and broken homes. I made mistakes when I was younger, but now that my marriage was given a second chance, I look at the way things are and it makes me sick! It makes me want to work harder and defy the odds by being married to my soul mate until we die and to raise our children in a happy home with both of their parents." —Dee, born in 1975 Michigan, married ten years
"I think that people give up on marriage too easily. It’s not something to be entered into lightly, yet people do it all the time. I think this affects my own marriage by giving both my husband and me more determination to make it—conforming is a bad thing! We’ve discussed the failed marriages around us and tried to analyze them along with our own marriage—helping to keep our faith strong in ourselves." —Amy, born in 1971 South Carolina, married five years
1. Gen Xers desire to maintain the nuclear family. On Wikipedia, the term Gen X marriage is defined like this:
Gen X quietly practices their tolerance, as shown by the increase in interracial marriages and adoptions, experimenting with alternative lifestyles such as living together before marriage, while not yet showing a desire to impose their personal individual choices on society via legalisms. Gen Xers moving into marriage and parenting are expressing a stronger desire to maintain the nuclear family. Some Gen Xers delayed marriage in order to more carefully choose/find a mate for a lifetime. If the marriage does end in divorce, both parents stay involved with the children via joint custody.4
2. Gen Xers know the facts. The percentage of new marriages predicted to end in divorce or separation over a lifetime is as follows:\
¥ 1960: 33%
¥ 2000: 50%5
3. Gen Xers want a soul mate. The Whitehead-Popenoe study found: America’s twenty-somethings are looking for a lifetime soul mate. An overwhelming majority (94 percent) of never-married singles agree that the search for an emotional and spiritual “soul mate” is the first consideration in marriage. There is no significant gender gap in the response. Eighty-eight percent of never-married singles in the 20–29 age range are optimistic that such a soul mate exists and that, when the time is right, they will find that special someone. Seventy-eight percent agree that a couple should not get married unless they are prepared to stay together for life.6
4. Gen Xers’ uncertainty started in the home. When the bottom fell out of the institution of marriage, Xers were the victims. And it left a scar. The divorce rate and the percentage of children born outside of marriage in the United States doubled between 1965 and 1977. In the 1970s, their Boomer parents achieved the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest divorce rate—40 percent of all marriages ended in divorce. A 1995 American Demographics article reported that “more than 40 percent of today’s young adults spent at least some time in a single-parent family by age 16.”7
5. Gen Xers long to be accepted. Experts claim that the strongest desire of Gen Xers, due to the loneliness and alienation of their splintered family attachments, is acceptance and belonging. Unfortunately, we often get married only to discover that our needs still go unmet.
6. Gen Xers believe in family values. We want to have a good marriage that will last “until death do us part.” Yet we question if we’re doing it right. We wonder if our marriage, too, will be absorbed in a disheartening statistic. To do it right, we must discover a better way.
Why Hope? Why Try?
For our happiness. Married people are more than twice as likely to be happy as divorced or never-married individuals.8
For our lives. Married families have higher incomes. The economic benefits of marriage are not limited to the middle class; some 70 percent of never-married mothers could escape poverty if they were married to the father of their children.9
For our kids. Children from intact families are less likely to be depressed, to have difficulty in school, to have behavior problems, or to use marijuana.10 (The older I get, the more I realize what I missed as a child. Namely, growing up with two parents who loved each other unconditionally and modeled a happy and healthy marriage.)
For our core values. One 2000 study conducted by the Radcliffe Public Policy Center found that the job characteristic most often ranked as “very important” by men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-nine was “having a work schedule that allows me to spend time with my family.” At a time when people are asked to work longer hours, that same study found that some 70 percent of these men wanted to spend more time with their families and were willing to sacrifice pay to do so.11
For our God. More than all the reasons above, we want our marriages to succeed for the love of God. He has placed us in this time in history for a reason, and as Gen Xers we long to succeed for His glory!
"I see marriage as a proving ground, a place where I’m most challenged and changed. I think society says that too—that marriage is tough. The difference is that I’m in this relationship until the Lord calls me home, whereas society says divorce is an option. That knowledge makes it difficult to stay when things get hard. But the reminder that I’m not alone in this, that there is a greater plan at work and a very good God at the center, makes it worth walking through the fire and holding fast to the truth." —Amy, born in 1970 Georgia, married eleven years
"I’m fighting even harder to make sure the hedges of protection are around my household. I’m doing all I can to keep my end of the vows so there is no opportunity for the enemy to kill and steal and destroy. I’m staying on my knees for my marriage and family. I’m holding on to who God is and what He’s promised in order to find my way in this life. He’s taking me step by step through the minefield, and He’s never led me astray." —Allison, born in 1974 Florida, married thirteen years
Final note: One more thing I want to mention is the use of song lyrics from the 1970s and ’80s in the text. Do I quote these singers and groups because they’re upstanding people who have answers? Not at all. I quote them because their music defined our times. I quote them not because they have the answers, but because they reveal our questions. Within their lyrics lie the thoughts, longings, hopes, and confusion of an entire generation. And within God’s holy Word are the answers we sought then and still seek now.
And One More Thing...
This was the generation, after all, for which the term “latchkey kid” was coined. The end result was that Gen X put off marriage and having children in record numbers. Gen X helped push the average age of first marriage over 27 for men and 25 for women. In 1970, the median age at first marriage was 22.5 years for men, and 20.6 years for women. So far, the divorce rate for Gen X stands at an unusually low 8 percent, but if history is a guide, most would agree it’s too early in the marriage cycle of the group to get a proper read on its potential outcome.12