by Marilyn Yalom and Laura L. Carstensen (Editors)
University of California Press, 2002
Review by James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. on Mar 26th 2004
What does the Pope, the Archbishop
of Canterbury, the President of the United States and a book on the American
Couple have in common? They each deal with a subject matter that is in process
of changing the very fiber of Western family life. What defines a couple, or
in this case a marriage is at the center of a debate that is causing great
anguish for the liberal vs. conservative Roman Catholics and a debate on the
fundamental values of faith, a schism in the Anglican Communion on a worldwide
basis, and is the bedrock of a Presidential move to amend the Constitution of
the United States of America to define marriage as exclusively between people
of the opposite sex.
Inside the American Couple: New
Thinking, New Challenges is on the cutting edge of what may be the most
defining issue of the first part of the 21st Century. The
reverberations of this basic issue of what constitutes a couple will have
effects that will outlast this century and well into the next. With the
continuing decay of the traditional American family and the shifting in values,
this book asks seminal questions and gives rich food for thought.
Beginning with Chapter One, Marilyn
Yalom takes the reader on a journey back into the past discussing
Judeo-Christian tradition as reflected in the Old and New Testament of Biblical
lore. God speaks in Genesis and says, "It is not good for a person to be
alone," and thereby creates woman. The mythic beginning of coupling gets
off to a great start, but it too decays, much as the American family has; so
shortly they are evicted by the landlord God out of the garden paradise and are
on the road to perdition, especially the woman.
With this beginning myth, we have
the advent of the heterosexual couple as the paradigm for future generations to
follow. The state of the woman degrades as to be somewhere between the
property of a man and a close second to his farm animals. It is no wonder that
the feminist view throughout this book has much to say about the state of
couple-hood and the role of women. Ecclesiastically for the Judeo-Christian
tradition, this fight is still raging as to what is the proper role of the
female in this paradigm set by God early in creation.
Throughout the rest of the book,
various chapter authors reflect on the role of the couple across time in the
larger scene of Americana. Much attention is given to the traditional
heterosexual marriage and its continuing decline through divorce and
separation. Homosexual unions are often the scapegoat for this slippery slope
giving good cause for concern over the status of the American way of life.
In looking at divorce as an
indicator of the twilight of American heterosexual marriage, author and scholar
Deborah Rhode in her chapter entitled, "Divorce, American Style,"
Despite almost two decades of reform effort, America has made highly inadequate
progress in increasing either the size or reliability of child support. Some
$30 billion in support awards remain unpaid. About 40 percent of single
mothers receive no court-awarded assistance and only half of the rest
ultimately obtain full payment. The average amount of child support ordered is
well below the actual costs of child rearing and a third to half of what
experts estimate that fathers could afford. Yet men are over fifteen times
more likely to default on child support than on car payments. About half of
all divorced fathers drop out physically as well as financially from their
children's lives. Within a few years after divorce, fewer than a forth of
noncustodial fathers continue weekly visits. (p.167)
regarding cross-cultural views of coupling along with arranged marriages vs.
love-based marriage are addressed. It may give the reader a surprise as to how
marriage and coupling outside the American paradigm works.
Several chapters are addressing the
issues of gay marriage and coupling. This is way outside our "normal
marriage." Are gay unions more stable or less stable than the straight
unions? What happens when gay unions beget children? What are the advantages
and disadvantages as seen through the clinical eye? Are traditional American
values really at stake, or are these traditional values all but mythic on their
way to complete metamorphosis?
In this time of great upheaval
where wars continue to be fought over ideologies, clarity is essential as to
what constitutes the American way of life in the existential present.
Phenomenological investigation of what constitutes the foundation of the family
unit begins with an understanding of the dyadic couple unit. This book gives
information and asks the questions that will lead to meeting this important
challenge to a clearer view of what are the most basic values we hold as
Americans in the 21st Century.
© 2004 James E. de Jarnette
James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D.,
Forensic Child Custody Evaluator