October 6, 2001
(first of a five part series)
GIVING ''MARRIAGE INSURANCE'' TO THE
For two weeks after September 11, divorce
applications were being withdrawn in Houston at three times the rate
before terrorists hit. When tragedy strikes, ''People stop and think
about the most basic things in life - companionship, love and family,''
an attorney said.
The numbers then drifted back to normal.
Can any reform permanently deepen the
commitment of American husbands and wives?
Yes. My wife and I introduced two reforms in
marriage preparation at our Presbyterian church in suburban Maryland in
1992 that together have almost eliminated divorce.
The first reform requires any couple who wants
to marry to take a premarital inventory, which asks the man and the
woman whether they agree or disagree with 189 statements like these:
At times I am concerned about the silent
treatment I get from my future spouse.
I am concerned that my future spouse
sometimes spends money foolishly.
The inventory results are computer scored and
compare what the man and woman said on each item. The inventory can
predict with 80 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce or have
a happy marriage. However, the survey is not determinative. What matters
is how the couple reacts to the results.
There is no better way for a couple to get an
objective view of their strengths and areas of conflict. A tenth of
couples who take an inventory decide not to marry. Studies show that
those who break up have the same scores as those who marry and later
divorce! Thus, they avoided a bad marriage before it even began!
One inventory, FOCCUS, has a section on
cohabitation which is vital because half of those who marry are living
together, and they are 50 percent more likely to divorce. FOCCUS helps
couples see they are on thin ice, and should consider moving apart.
About 400,000 of the 2.4 million couples who
marry each year take an inventory. But it is only a tool. What matters
is how it is administered.
The major reform our church pioneered was to
train older, solidly married couples to give the inventory and mentor
those preparing for marriage. Instead of having a pastor go over the
results, in an hour or two, Mentor Couples, whose kids are grown, can
spend four or five evenings reviewing every item. This is a lavish
investment of time, giving young couples what may be their first
exposure to a vibrant, joyful marriage.
Every church or synagogue has such couples -
but they have never been asked, inspired or trained to mentor others.
The inventory makes it easy for one generation
to pass on its wisdom to the next. One couple we mentored were giving
the other the silent treatment. Asked for an example, Liz said, ''We
went to a friend of his for dinner, but he got lost. I said, `There's a
gas station. Call your friend and ask him where he lives.' He replied,
`I know where he lives. I've been there.' We arrived an hour late. I was
so disgusted I did not call him for two weeks, and he was so
embarrassed, he did not call me.''
I turned to Bob and said, ''What you did was
childish. You should have apologized. Had you done so, your relationship
would have grown closer. But you let pride get in your way. So you had
two weeks of silence. That's how divorces happen.''
On other items Liz said Bob never shared his
feelings, and Bob said she did not understand him. I asked Bob, ''If you
don't share your feelings, how do you expect her to understand you? What
if she asks you how your day was? What would you say?'' He replied, ''I
might say it was great or terrible.'' I said, ''Well, women want detail.
`It was great because I got a raise.'''
''That's what he doesn't tell me,'' she said.
My wife, Harriet, added, ''She wants you to share your thoughts.''
The next time we met, they seemed happier.
''Is he sharing his feelings with you?,'' Harriet asked. ''Yes! Miracle
of miracles.'' Bob added, ''She's stopped nagging.'' Asked about the
silent treatment, he replied, ''We haven't done that since you said it
Couples in love want to learn how to make their
relationship work. Mentors can teach it.
Of 302 couples who registered for our course
between 1992 and 2000, 21 dropped out and 34 couples broke their
engagement before there was a wedding, according to Catherine Latimer,
who studied our church's results. But she reports there have been only
five divorces and two separations of those who married.
''That means there is only a 2.5 percent
failure rate over a course of almost 10 years. Compare that to the 50
percent divorce rate,'' Miss Latimer writes. ''This is not just marriage
preparation. This is marriage insurance.'' (To learn more, see
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.