In 2006, Congress authorized $100 million a year for
five years to see what they can do about strengthening marriage.
The current frenzied "concerns":
1) “Marriage is on its way out - like the dinosaurs! Marriage is in decline
and cohabitation is increasing like crazy. Nobody believes in marriage anymore.
Why spend tax dollars on something that we just don't care about.?!"
2) “The administration is going to force people to marry and they’re
going to use welfare money and churches to do it! Isn't that unconstitutional?!”
3.) “The government should stay out of marriage - marriage is a private affair
and the government should just mind their own business.“
4.) “Even if the government wants to strengthen marriage, no one knows how.
They’ll just waste a lot of their time - and our tax dollars. Why spend money
on a lost cause!?”
Everyone take a deep breath:
1.) Census reports show how we’re living. They don't ask us about
our hopes and dreams or our beliefs. On all the surveys that do ask, we still
say that our #1 goal is to have a happy marriage and family - to find our soulmate.
We put a happy marriage ahead of wealth, health and satisfying careers. In spite of the
terrible 50-50 odds, 85-90% of us still marry – at least once. And when we divorce,
we rush right out and remarry. It's true we're now marrying later and cohabiting first –
“trial marriages” – but that's not because we don’t believe in marriage or because
we’re trying to get away with something, it's because it’s all we can think to do to
try to improve our odds at making our marriages work.
<>2.) It’s not just Republicans that want to do something about marriage. We’re
all sick of the carnage – and the price tag. When a car crashes or a house burns,
insurance companies come to the rescue. When a marriage fails – or fails to form – the
government and we, the taxpayers, are left holding the bag for single parents and
their children on welfare, for the increased rates of school dropout, teen pregnancy, crime,
incarceration, delinquency, violence, substance abuse, depression, suicide, etc. The government's new
Healthy Marriage Initiative is based on dramatic new research about how to make marriages
work. We now know how to teach couples the best practices for creating stable, strong
marriages and - keeping love alive. If Government is good for anything at all, it should get
this new “public health” information to its citizens. We, the people, have a right to know.
The new funding is not about taking food out of the mouths of the poor – instead
it redirects money that was being ineffectively spent on out-of-wedlock childbirth incentives
towards marriage education to try to keep more families from breaking down
and falling below the poverty line. Not to do so would be like spending all our money
on iron lungs and none on developing a Polio vaccine. Faith-based organizations can
apply for the competitive grants but must adhere to federal rules against proselytizing. In a country
where 75% of couples who marry choose to do so in a house of worship, it makes sense
that churches and synagogues are ideally situated to educate couples about
marriage before they walk down the aisle or teach skills to help couples that
are in trouble. That's hardly unconstitutional.
3.) To the highly romanticized position - "marriage is a private matter" – we would say, yes,
marriage should be a private matter. That’s why we should help couples keep the
Government out! It's when marriages fail – or fail to form – that government is
all over your private life. Government interferes when you can’t handle disagreements
without pushing, shoving and hitting. If you divorce, a judge decides who gets not only the house
and the car, but the kids – and how many hours a month you can “visit” your children – how
much to spend on their upbringing and often steps in to decide details like which schools and
church they’ll attend and whether they’ll play sports or wear braces. Talk about a loss of privacy!
If you’re a single mother on welfare or a “dead beat/dead broke” dad the government has additional
“interventions”. No one suffers more from family breakdown than single parent mothers who
are doing the heroic work of trying to raise children alone. It’s an unfair burden. We can do better than this.
4.) We absolutely do know how to encourage, support and strengthen marriage. First,
we should all relax and agree that marriage is not something the Republicans – or
anyone else – must force on us. It’s what we aspire to. But we can’t be expected to
choose marriage, or stick it out during the inevitable down times – if we don’t know HOW to make
it work. We need information about best practices for keeping our marriages healthy. We
receive information about cholesterol, exercise, smoking, diet, safe sex, and early cancer
detection and no one says that’s forcing us to live longer, healthier lives. We receive information
about bike helmets, CPR, and seat belts and no one says that’s forcing us to protect our
children. We should be outraged that there is new information about how to make our
marriages work - based on research paid for by our tax dollars – and no one is getting this
info to us. Instead we are left to operate on destructive myths and damaging misinformation
about marriage - and make fools of ourselves as we break our most cherished vows, lose our kids
and end up with people questioning our character. We want our marriages to work.
Tell us how.
It turns out this in not rocket science. Research has identified what is different about couples
whose marriages work. We all start out pretty much in love and committed - we really do care
and have the best of intentions to keep our vows. But there are behaviors that are highly
predictive of marital failure and others that are highly predictive of marital success. If we don’t
have a clue and are doing it wrong, we kill off the love and commitment we rode in on.
Additional research demonstrates that these behaviors - or skills - can be taught to couples
of all stripes and at any stage of relationship - dating, engaged, cohabiting, newlywed, long-married,
and/or deeply troubled - in inexpensive marriage education classes. This is not therapy or
counseling - think “driver’s education” for marriage. Think affordable and widely accessible.
In addition to the skills, we need information about what to expect in marriage - to understand
and be ready for the challenge points along the way for all good marriages. We also need to
clearly understand the benefits of marriage - and our reduced odds for ourselves and our kids
if we divorce and remarry. We need public information campaigns to help us get smart and skillful
about marriage so we have a choice. We can’t choose to have a successful marriage if we don’t
know how. This is not about force - it’s about choice.
The Smart Marriages Conference will convene the experts - policy makers, elected officials and
the country’s top marriage researchers, scholars, practitioners and clergy who will spend nine days
exploring the best ways to get the information to, us, the public who keep on proving that we WANT it
and NEED it. Please join us.
For a press pass:
Contact Diane Sollee
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