WETZSTEIN: ‘Smart’ marriage evolves

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Ten years ago this summer, I swooped in on one of Washington’s many conferences.

Its theme was “smart marriages” and “happy families.”

Do tell, I thought.

I met quite a cast of characters. John and Julie Gottman of Seattle talked about the “four horsemen” of the marital apocalypse. Michele Weiner-Davis of Illinois talked about “divorce-busting.”

Dr. Frank Pittman of Georgia talked about, uh, eating disorders? To make marriage work, he said, “we need to get into it all the way … . Put divorce in the category of cannibalism. It’s not something you’re going to do.”

The queen of this conference was a blond dynamo named Diane Sollee.

“Marriage is not a crapshoot. It’s not about whether you’re lucky in love,” she told me as she wrestled with boxes for display tables.

There are skills couples can learn to help them relate to each other better, she said. What’s needed is “marriage education.”

This week, the Smart Marriages conference convenes for the 12th time. When I covered it in 1998, there were probably 500 people there, counting waiters. Now, more than 2,000 participants will cram into plenary sessions, workshops and training sessions.

What has a decade’s worth of gabbing about a “marriage renaissance” wrought?

For starters, a handful of states give couples a break on marriage-license fees if they get premarital counseling. Some high schools now offer marriage and relationship education.

Products and services aimed at creating and maintaining good marriages have become well-known. Pastor Mark Gungor of “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” and John Gray of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” are just two of the people whose messages spread thanks to a spotlight at a Smart Marriages conference.

Nationally, the Bush administration and Congress have given marriage a financial boost.

In 2006, the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) awarded $118 million a year to 225 pro-marriage and responsible-fatherhood groups. The total investment over five years should approach $750 million once administrative and technical assistance funds are added in.

These grants were a quantum leap in funding, ACF aides told me. Previous ACF grants had amounted to about $20 million a year for marriage and $4 million a year for fatherhood.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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