Where are all the happy people? My social circle seems to be flooded with a glut of unhappy marriages of late. As a mental health professional, I can't seem to stop analyzing the data before me. I ask myself: What is this epidemic? Who are these people? Why is this happening now?

I examine each relationship, searching for common denominators, trying to crack the code in an attempt to discover the formula for marital bliss. Most of the profiles are unique, however, offering little by way of clues as to the common thread of failure.

There is, however, one glaring commonality that keeps coming back to me. It stares me in the face, daring me to acknowledge its presence: children. Our approach to parenting seems to be the true test of a marriage.

It appears that in the course of aspiring to be the perfect parent, many of us have ceased being -- or trying to be -- the perfect spouse.

In speaking with a friend the other day she informed me: "Child A's soccer game is at 9am, Child B has his soccer game immediately following at 10am, we have two birthday parties to go to this afternoon, and then I've started them in swimming lessons that begin tonight. I'm just too tired at the end of the day to do anything with my husband. We promised each other that that would never happen...but...it's just life, I guess."

Is it? Is it "just life" to have an entire Saturday booked from the moment one wakes up to the moment one retires for the evening? What has happened to lazy weekend mornings of staying in PJs until noon, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons? I remember the crazy feeling of freedom I experienced as a kid knowing that for just one day there were no expectations placed on me. For just one day I could do what I wanted to do and not what an adult told me I must do. I get delirious now just thinking of such liberation!

Such over-scheduling of our children's lives not only leads to exhausted, burned-out, over-stimulated kids...it leads to the neglect of our marriages. How does one maintain intimacy by proxy? And, no, I am not just talking about sex, although that is very important as well. I'm talking about connecting with one another: emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually. Intimacy cannot be attained if we spend too many hours at work, at the ball field, at dance class...yadda, yadda, yadda. Intimacy means two people. Together. Alone!

Now some couples may think that it's only non-Christian marriages that fall prey to such an imbalance of priorities. But let's look at the numbers.

According to numbers obtained from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, the divorce rate in the Mountain State (my home state) for the year 2000 was 5.2 per 1000 population. This number, although slightly higher than the national average of 4.2, has been relatively stable over the last ten years. What this really means is an estimated 40-50% of all who marry will end up divorced. We are talking about divorce rates among non-Christian as well as Christian households. In fact, recent research indicates that the divorce rate among Christians may actually be higher than the national average (Barna Research Group). This possibility is hard for us to accept. After all, the Lord is on our side, right? How can we fall prey to the same traps as everyone else?

Answer: life is hard -- for everyone. Especially when we have a family to take care of. And we are only human after all. We get tired. We get grumpy. Sometimes we don't feel like putting forth the effort. Many times it's easier to go to a scheduled activity than to put forth the energy it takes to connect with our spouse (or our children) one-on-one.

And might I suggest that because we are Christians we are a target for greater temptation and "sifting" than the average person? Satan would love nothing more than for the general public to read a statistic about Christian marriages ending in divorce at a higher rate than others.

Most Vulnerable in the Early Years

Over-zealous parenting is not the only roadblock to intimacy between spouses. Even at our best, parenting exposes the soft underbelly of each married partner. At some point, neither spouse can live up to the other's expectations for family life, especially in the early years of parenting.

I was unable to find any statistics that clarified the average age of children involved in divorce, though I'm sure they are out there somewhere. I found a statistic on Divorcemagazine.com from 1997 citing the median duration of marriages that end up in divorce as 7.2 years. If this is still an accurate estimate, we can only assume that many children of divorce are younger than the age of seven years.