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Review of "Inside the American Couple"

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
Inside the American Couple

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," states:

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)

Issues 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