- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

Attending a government-funded marriage-strengthening program in Baltimore has led to some “nice candlelit dinners” with her fiance, Nakia Staton said at a Capitol Hill forum.

It’s also been helpful to learn “how to calm myself down” and turn toward each other, not away from each other in times of stress, she said as Terry Brown, the father of her young children, watched with a smile.

“And you learned how not to clock him with a frying pan,” joked Joe Jones, president of the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development (CFWD).

The couple and the audience laughed at this and other comments about love and marriage at Friday’s forum, which was sponsored by the Brookings Institution, CFWD and the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI).

Pro-marriage programs such as OMI and CFWD may soon be getting a major boost from the federal government. This week, the House is expected to consider a deficit-reduction bill that would reauthorize welfare reform and create a $150-million-a-year healthy-marriage grant program.

Up to $50 million of the annual funds can be used for “responsible fatherhood” programs and up to $2 million for child welfare, according to an analysis by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Unlike earlier welfare proposals, states will not be required to match federal marriage dollars with state funds.

However, state agencies and groups seeking federal marriage funds must describe how they will address issues of domestic violence as part of their application, CLASP said.

Questions arose at the forum about how the Oklahoma and Baltimore programs handle domestic violence. The answer, program leaders said, is to first talk to the man and woman separately and use screening tools to identify which problems they might have.

There is a big difference between “characterologically violent” people and people who get into situational violence, said Julie Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute in Seattle and co-author of “Loving Couples, Loving Children” marriage-education curriculum.

Screening will identify sociopaths so they can be referred to programs that can help them, she said, adding that most women in domestic-violence shelters are seeking refuge from men who have deep-seated problems.

But, in general, she said, most people have a conscience and respond well to relationship-skills education.

“We learned how to settle our differences,” said Greg Mitchell, who just finished taking OMI’s 10 weeks of relationship-skills classes with his pregnant girlfriend, Tabitha Cates.

In the beginning, the speaker-listener communication technique seemed “really stupid,” Miss Cates said.

“But we made it work for us,” she said. “It’s helped a lot to be able to say what’s really on your mind.”

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