- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

Did you know the federal government has spent $150 million yearly on grants for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood since October 2006?

If that makes you grumble, consider this: Divorce cost the nation about $33.3 billion in 2003, with the “average” divorce costing state and federal governments $30,000 in direct and indirect costs, according to a report titled “Making Marriage & Divorce Your Business” by Matthew D. Turvey and David H. Olson of Prepare/Enrich Life Innovations Inc., an organization dedicated to building strong marriages.

A case is forming that shows marriage education and relationship-skills training can have a direct impact on curbing divorce rates. And for those who are married a second time, it’s never too late to learn.

In California, home to about 12 percent of the U.S. population, “the related social service impact on state and federal governments of California’s broken families conservatively costs taxpayers more than $4.8 billion per year,” according to Dennis Stoica, president of the California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC) in “The State of California’s Unions: Marriage and Divorce in the Golden State,” released in October 2008.

The CHMC is a pioneering nonprofit organization that works throughout California to improve the well-being of children by strengthening the relationship of parents through marriage education and relationship-skills classes. Since 2006, the CHMC has received nearly $12 million annually as part of a five-year grant.

Even though it is too early to make final conclusions about the grant work, the CHMC is seeing some early positive signs in Orange County, where it has invested less than $2 million in marriage education. The divorce rate, fairly consistent for the previous nine years, has decreased by 11 percent, leading to an annual savings of $18.2 million, according to Patty Howell, CHMC vice president of operations.

For those of you who are remarried, take note. Divorce takes place in about 60 percent of remarriages. With 1 million remarriages occurring annually in the U.S., 65 percent of which include children, remarried people should seriously consider taking marriage education or relationship-skills classes.

In the first five years of my remarriage, my reaction to this would have been, “What? Been there, done that. I’m fortysomething years old, why do I need to take a class with a bunch of starry-eyed, naive first-timers?”

Those ill-conceived notions changed once I learned about marriage education. Think about it; we invest time and money to acquire and strengthen skills for most of the key areas of our life. We learn about hobbies, physical activities, financial planning, leadership, career, religion, health, etc. Why wouldn’t we put equal effort into learning about how to have a successful marriage?

The No. 1 thing my husband and I would have done differently when we were getting remarried would have been to pursue marriage education. When we remarried, we didn’t know about the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (smartmarriages.org), which is dedicated to getting information about creating successful marriages out of the research labs and clinical offices and into the hands of the public.

Finding the right resources is challenging. Considering ourselves fairly informed people, we were astounded to find so many marriage-education resources at the annual Smart Marriages conference.

According to CHMC’s report, 58 percent of Californians were not aware of any relationship, marriage-education or premarital-preparation programs available in their communities. When it comes to remarrieds, in a survey of 1,000 people conducted in March 2008 by Remarriage LLC, 59 percent said it’s easier to find a diet they could stick to than find remarriage resources.

Furthermore, CHMC reports that “among married couples who attended relationship or marriage education classes, 95 percent found the classes somewhat helpful or very helpful, and more than three-fourths (80 percent) reported that the experience strengthened their relationship.”

As a start, I think my next investment will be in improving relationship skills, even if I do nothing else but read Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages,” which has been sitting on my nightstand since last summer.

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