The state of our unions: a snapshot of marriage in Black America: money, can't buy love, of course, but one study shows that being happily married is worth about $100,000 a year

The state of our unions: a snapshot of marriage in Black America: money, can't buy love, of course, but one study shows that being happily married is worth about $100,000 a yearBlack love has always been under siege, but our men and women came together anyway. When White folks denied us marriage, we jumped the broom. We survived generations of enslavement and dreams deferred, men prevented from earning fair wages and women doing double duty to carry the load. But survival has come at a price: Blackcs are now the most unpartnered people in America. Only 34 percent of us are married (versus 57 percent of Whites), and nearly half of our unions end by the tenth year.

Black women are less likely to marry than Whites, Hispanics and even Black men. So why aren't we tying the knot? And when we do, why can't we keep it tight? This report on African-American marriage reminds us of how strongly we have loved each other and how hard we still have to fight for that love.

We want to love each other, but often the weight of our history, social forces and even government policy puts stress on our relationships. For instance, our marriage rates dropped sharply in the 1960's when the welfare system discouraged many poor women from finding husbands. Then drug infestations in the 1970's and 1980's shredded the fabric of far too many of our communities. Given slavery, racism, injustice and any unhealthy relationship habits we may have picked up from our parents, it's easy to see why so many of us struggle to get together and stay together.

Imagine what slavery did to our relationships when wives and daughters were raped in front of their men, and our men were forced to breed with other women to produce more "inventory." Brenda Wade, Ph.D., a San Francisco psychologist and relationship expert, says the slave owners' divide-and-conquer strategy became our way of being: "Never let a Black woman think she can count on a Black man, and never let a Black man think he can take care of his woman." That attitude has a disturbing legacy. Today sisterfriends often dish that brothers are no good, and far too many of our men are physically or emotionally unavailable, frustrated by daily assaults on their character, intelligence and manhood.

Racism today causes tension that can undermine the best of relationships. And our brothers bear the sting of racism far more than we will ever know. "There are many ways to castrate a Black man," says psychiatrist Carl Bell, M.D., president and cofounder of Community Mental Health Council in Chicago. "Kick him out of school. Charge him with a felony so he can't vote or find a job. Make him feel he has no future. This is what they're up against."

And without support, we are likely to repeat any unhealthy patterns we saw as children. "Many of us grew up in homes where parents didn't treat each other with love and respect," says Wade. "Each of us needs to ask ourselves if we have brought baggage to the relationship that we need to eliminate. What did my mother teach me? Why was my father gone?"

Because of our history and its fallout, we may have to adopt attitudes and behaviors that will help us get together and stay together:

* BE CLEAR ABOUT ROLE EXPECTATIONS. Orlando Patterson, Ph.D., a Harvard sociologist, says Black women have always worked outside the home, but "Our men still have male-dominant attitudes toward their spouses." Have an honest discussion with your mate about what he expects and what you can offer.

* CONSIDER NOT LIVING TOGETHER BEFORE MARRIAGE. Sixty-two percent of those of us who live together do not make it to the altar (compared with 39 percent of White women). "You can't practice marriage," says Diane Sollee, director and cofounder of "It's a state of mind."

* SUPPORT EACH OTHER. "Sisters need to recognize that brothers are targets," says Michael Eric Dyson, a University of Pennsylvania humanities professor and author of Why I Love Black Women (Basic Civitas Books). "Lovingly encourage your man to seek relief--the therapeutic kind, not just the bar or the basketball court--for the invisible injuries he endures every day." And, Dyson says, men must see their women as partners, not competitors. "Brothers should aim to cooperate, not dominate."

Our marriages are more likely to last if: * "we have a religious affiliation or think religion is very important * we wait to have a baby more than seven months after marriage * he is five or more years older * we live in the suburbs of a major city

we believe in commitment

African-Americans arent the only group to put marriage on the back burner. The institution has declined across all racial and ethnic populations in the United States, as more couples move in together or opt for career and higher earnings first. But in pockets of persistence throughout our communities, we still believe in the promise of "I do." And research shows that marriage contributes to healthier lifestyles, stable families and more prosperous communities.

Lorraine Blackman, Ph.D. a trainer at the African American Family Life Program at Indiana University's School of Social Work, notes that despite the odds against us, Black people are committed to the idea of marriage. She cites the growing popularity of couples education, especially in our places of worship, "Wherever people are talking about marriage," Blackman says, "they re talking about how to make it better."

BRINGING LITTLE ISAIAH AND IMANI into the world is one of life's greatest joys, but raising those darlings can challenge a relationship. Children, with their 24-7 needs, change everything--from the length of time couples have together, to the kinds of roles women and men assume at home, to the need for more money (thus increasing time spent on the job).

According to family experts at the University of Washington in Seattle who run a "Love Lab" that can predict with 90 percent accuracy whether a husband and wife will divorce, 40 percent to 70 percent of couples experience stress, major conflict and declines in marital happiness after children enter the picture.

And not surprisingly, women report greater dissatisfaction than men, because traditionally the bulk of child rearing and household responsibilities fall on us. Research shows that when couples think each person is carrying a fair share of family duties, they're more likely to be satisfied with their relationship.

and baby makes ... the fourth time around

Sure, only 32 percent of us are likely to remarry after divorce (compared with 44 percent of Hispanic women and 58 percent of White women), and our chances decrease as we age. But it's often when you least expect it that love will find a way. Consider JoAnna Moore, a 46-year-old Californian who found that the fourth time was the charm.

Moore runs a computer-technology firm in Rancho Cordova. She says the problems in her first marriage were twofold: her age--she was 19--and her husband wasn't ready for the responsibility. During her second, when she was 28, "we both agreed it wasn't working." In the third, at 35, "I said I could learn to love him. But I realized that love already has to be there," she recalls with a sigh, noting that the first and second produced beautiful and talented daughters.

She married number four, Norris Moore, then a 42-year-old divorced father of four, just eight weeks after she met him. JoAnna marvels at how love found her, even though she wasn't looking. "I never really dated lots of people," she explains. "I never exposed my girls to anyone unless I was going to marry him." Nor did she pay any mind to those who sucked their teeth at her multiple trips down the aisle. "I don't need anybody's opinion or approval; it's not how many times you marry but marrying the right one." She and Norris are celebrating their sixth anniversary this year. And this time? "This is it! This time it's easy, it's natural she says. Never say never.



Three couples share the trials and triumphs of marriage:

EBON'NAE, 21, and SHADRICK PIGGEE, 24, DeSoto, Texas Married since: December 15, 2004 Occupations; She's a customer-service rep at Wal-Mart; he's an independent personal trainer When they met: Four months before they married Children: His son, from a previous relationship She says: "Initially I had excluded men who had kids, but the love he showed his son was captivating. It demonstrated his character and what he valued." He says: "Before we met I was basically a womanizing dog. That all changed when she walked into my life. Our biggest issue is time. I can't stand being away from my wife." They're working toward: "Our spiritual foundation. We don't want it to seem as if we're perfect, but we're doing okay."