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It takes a village to save a marriage

For better or worse, 61st Family Institute speaker
talks tough about building long-lasting relationships

By Vickie G. Hampton

While many may think of marriage as a very private affair between two people, Dr. Linda Malone-Colon, director of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center in Washington, D.C., begs to differ.

Malone-Colon said that for better or for worse, the community has always meddled in marriages—from the catastrophic influence of slavery to today’s plethora of forces, including a shift in values that promote individualistic and materialistic pursuits rather than communal values.

In a take off the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it also takes the community to save marriage, said Malone-Colon, the keynote speaker for the Sociology’s Department’s Family Institute Conference held March 16-18. According to her, other external forces that contribute to the steadily increasing divorce rate include dual-income families, greater work demands that steal time from family, and—as women return in greater numbers to the workplace—a greater opportunity for extra-marital affairs.

These factors are behind the projection that one in every two marriages will end in divorce, Malone-Colon notes. However, in the African American community, economic and educational disadvantages increase the likelihood of divorce.

“Studies have proven that low levels of education is associated with low marriage rates,” she said. “There are more black men in prison than in college. And two-thirds of blacks with bachelor’s degrees are women.”

She attributes the socialization patterns of black children to be as equally damaging to African American marriages as the disparity between the number of black men in college and in prison. Many black girls are being raised by single mothers, who themselves were raised by single mothers, giving birth to what is being called the “Fatherless Woman Syndrome,” said Malone-Colon, adding that the syndrome is characterized by these women’s fears of rejection and abandonment and feelings of being unworthy and unloved.

But look at black boys, she urges: Meanwhile, they are internalizing damaging stereotypes about themselves that don’t wed with the concept of marriage.

“Black boys are being socialized to think that being a man means having lots of money, being sexually active, being violent and, unfortunately, going to jail,” said Malone-Colon.

But just as the wider community has exerted home-wrecking influences, there are strong forces particular to the black culture that can help strengthen marriage.

Malone-Colon sees a solution in “Africanisms,” the concept of valuing group interests rather than individualistic ones, strong ties to the extended family, and spiritualism can help black couples save their marriages.

“I’m suggesting that we uses these cultural advantages as the first step toward improving African American marriages,” she said.

“There is a concern about airing our dirty laundry in public,” Malone-Colon said. “But we need not fear admitting the obvious, because then we can begin to have frank, candid and open dialogue and take the steps to fix [black marriages].”

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