A Challenge to Protect 25 Million Years of Life

Written by Seth Eisenberg

“In the next five years, five million American children will experience the break-up of their parents. As a nation, we could lose the promise and potential of 25 million years of life. Not because of war or famine, disease or natural disasters, but because of our own decisions. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

by Seth Eisenberg

My grandfather divorced when my father was a youngster. My father divorced before I reached my fourth birthday. My first marriage ended during the childhood of my two oldest sons.Little did any of us know in our early adulthood that the decisions we made about love and intimacy, marriage and divorce, would be so closely connected to life and death itself.

By 1984, Virginia Satir, the pioneer of humanistic psychology and family systems, and other early visionaries in the field of marriage and relationship education, such as PAIRS founder Lori Gordon, recognized that the epidemic of marital and family breakdown that was sweeping across America would have long-term consequences. They also knew it was significantly preventable.

At the time, there was growing evidence that traditional approaches weren’t beginning to stem the tide of divorce. Mental health professionals were becoming increasingly alarmed by both the short and potential long-term impact on America’s children, families, and communities.

A quarter century later, the Longevity Project’s Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study delivers one of the most exhaustive scientific confirmations of what Satir, Gordon and others considered an urgent national priority: preventing the breakdown of America’s marriages and families is a matter of life and death.

While the report delivers insights and analysis that will undoubtedly inspire volumes of further discussion and study, several conclusions have immediately captured the attention of the public and policy-makers.  In particular, the revelation that a parental divorce reduces average life expectancy for the affected children by five years is cause for millions of American couples caught up in continuing marital conflict, distress and discord to recognize the price that will be paid long into the future.

Had any of us fully understood the price innocent children would pay for those decisions, would that have altered the choices we made about who to marry, how to be married, or what to do when our marriages became increasingly disconnected from the dreams and promises we embraced when we said, “I do”?

What value do we place on another day of life, not for ourselves, but for the children for whom we’d sacrifice life itself in an instant if they were threatened? Another week? Month? Year?

Never before has the world so clearly understood the likely consequence of decisions typically made without the benefit of wisdom and maturity that so often arrives only as a result of perspective and lessons learned much later in life.

It will be some time before we know if the Longevity study causes millions of Americans to begin to think more seriously about being happily married versus getting married. Will we become a society that is increasingly open to discovering what it takes not to fall in love (that’s the easy part), but to keep the flames of love alive through the natural passages, transitions and challenges of our lives? In the years ahead, will we collectively begin devoting the same attention to mastering skills for relationship success that we today invest in our careers and professional development?

As parents and policy-makers, the Longevity Project is an urgent call to speak out on behalf of the more than one million children who experience a parental divorce each year.

In the next five years, five million children will experience the break-up of their parents. Potentially, that could mean as a nation we lose the promise and potential of 25 million years of life. Not because of war or famine, disease or natural disasters, but because of our own decisions.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

As the Longevity Project study reported:

“The Terman participants who were able, despite the dysfunctional patterns they observed in childhood, to establish themselves in good marriages of their own were much better off in terms of their future health and longevity than those who followed the template their parents modeled for them. “

The urgency to make evidence-based marriage and relationship education increasingly accessible, coupled with meaningful divorce reform that inspires new national competencies and understandings, is a challenge that should unite us all.

Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

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