WASHINGTON, DC (CNA/EWTN News) - While it may be the middle of "wedding season," the warm months between spring and fall when many couples choose to tie the knot, many young people today are avoiding - or at the very least delaying - saying "I do" themselves.
How to solve this dilemma? According to some marriage advocates, the first step may be as simple as happily married couples sharing their stories.
The reasons behind the marriage avoidance phenomenon are complex - when studies ask about it, they are met with responses ranging from education and career goals to finances and fear of divorce.
Adding to these challenges is an "overarching cultural bias" against the Catholic and traditional understanding of marriage is further leading some young people to avoid entering or thinking about marriage, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., told CNA.
Society's view of marriage merely as a romantic bond is alien to the Catholic view of marriage, the cardinal explained.
"The current culture presents marriage as a coming together of any two people for whatever duration of time and usually in the context of sexual satisfaction."
This understanding, he continued, is "detached from some basic human realities such as complementarity, lifelong commitment, a marriage bond that endures even challenges, and of course the fruit of marriage in children and a family."
However, society's bias against marriage does not have to go unchecked: married couples and others have the ability to show the fullness of marriage and the family. "Nothing tells the story of true married love better than the witness of enduring human love," Cardinal Wuerl urged.
Changing Understandings of Marriage
While the Catholic Church speaks of marriage as permanent, faithful, and open to life, a different picture of marriage is seen no further than the front pages of the newspaper.
New apps are explicitly creating more avenues for extramarital sexual encounters, and the choice of some couples are to forego all option of children is gaining support.
For those who do marry, divorce still occupies an ominous space in the public mindset. While in recent years, the overall rate divorce has held steady in the United States and dropped for young adults, when data on divorce is standardized for age, studies show that divorce for some age groups is still on the rise.
In addition, a push to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples has gained major ground, as both court cases and referenda have removed the understanding of sexual complementarity from the idea of marriage.
The Cost of Delaying Marriage
All of these cultural trends can create pressure - and confusion - among young people planning their futures.
"Young adult apprehension about marriage is often tied to the fact that many of them have seen only a few healthy models of marriage," explained Meg McDonnell, director of I Believe in Love, an initiative created to help young people promote and support healthy models of marriage around the country
This apprehension is particularly acute among lower-income and economically vulnerable populations, McDonnell told CNA.
In many of these communities, she said, "fear of divorce is high, but lack of dating and relationship norms and loose sexual mores make it so many young adults don't know the best ways to get to lasting love and stable marriage and family life."
These shifts in cultural values, combined with financial pressures facing young people leads to a delay in marriage, researchers have found. And while this delay can have benefits for the most wealthy in society, it has a negative impact on the most vulnerable.
The data concerning unmarried births is particularly concerning, the authors of one study say, because children born outside of marriage, even to cohabiting couples, "are much more likely to experience family instability, school failure, and emotional problems."
These same children born to unmarried parents, including the rising number of cohabiting couples, particularly face challenges when parents separate.
Solving the Problem
To help young people - particularly those without strong models of marriage and family - gain the confidence and tools necessary for a stable union, married couples must bear public witness to married love, McDonnell said.
"Those who are married - young or older - may want to intentionally reach out to single and dating young adults with a listening and supportive ear and a willingness to share what worked on their road through dating and to marriage," she suggested. "We need to revive a culture where those who are dating and married are sharing 'best practices' to finding and keeping love and commitment."
Programs and initiatives such as I Believe in Love, McDonnell continued, have already begun to give a "resounding witness" to marriage. Furthermore, they give young couples "renewed hope - you can, with a little work and sacrifice, have what marriage promises: permanent and faithful love."
Cardinal Wuerl also urged couples to share their witness of marriage.
"One of the things that we all need to do is simply share the joy, the beauty of anniversaries that point out how the Church's vision of marriage, reflective of millennia of human experience, is not only real but is verified every day," he said.
Married couples also have the chance to be a sign of Christ's call for humanity to love not only God but one another, the cardinal added. "The love that Jesus and his Church speak of is something much more profound than simple sexual satisfaction or temporary happiness."
"Love is the ability to give of one's self and receive the love of another in a way that the couple can make their way through life facing even the daily challenges of commitment, and God willing in the context of their own family, the fruit of their love."