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February 9, 2010
Column #1,485
How to Revive Marriage in America
By Mike McManus

This year's National Marriage Week is a perfect time to report progress on how 228 communities took steps to reduce their divorce and cohabitation rates and increase marriage rates.

In addition to writing this column, my wife and I created an organization, Marriage Savers, that worked with 10,000 pastors and priests to create "Community Marriage Policies" which helped clergy address the daunting issues of marriage and divorce.

The need for such an initiative can be seen in four grim trends destroying marriage in America:

1. Marriage rates plunged 51 percent since 1970.  There would be 3.3 million marriages this year, not 2.2 million if the same percentage were marrying.

2.  Cohabitation has soared 16-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to an alarming 6.8 million couples in 2008.  Only 1.4 million married last year; therefore 80% broke up before there was a wedding!  And those who marry after living together are 61 percent more likely to divorce.

3.  America's divorce rate is the highest in the world.  After five years of marriage, 23 percent of Americans divorced - double that of Canada and triple the 8 percent of England or France.  9/11 killed 3,000 people.  But 8.5 million couples have divorced since 9/11, shattering the lives of 8 million kids. Yet divorce is ignored.

4.  Forty percent of all births are now out-of-wedlock. Why? A remarkable 41 percent of cohabiting couples have children vs. only 46 percent of married couples.

Marriage Savers has reversed all four trends in 228 cities.  Just today a man from Rochester, NY wrote that he is divorced and sees his "friends' marriages in trouble." He "grew up in a dysfunctional home and wants to help others avoid these things."

I explained our strategy that he could introduce to Rochester to cut that area's divorce rate in half.  Initially, he might ask his pastor to gather a cross-section of clergy, from the four arms of the Christian church: Catholics, Evangelicals, Mainline clergy and African-American or Hispanic pastors. 

With a new technology called GoToMeeting, I can sit at my desk in Maryland and give a PowerPoint presentation to those clergy.  I'll outline proven strategies to help couples at five stages of the marital life cycle to be so successful that any church can reduce its own divorce rate to near zero:

1. Preparation:  Require any couple getting married to experience a rigorous four months of  preparation that includes taking a premarital inventory, giving the couples an objective view of their strengths and where they need to grow.  They go on line and react to 150+ statements, such as: "When we are having a problem, my partner often refuses to talk about it."  The inventory is customized for each couple.  If they are entering a remarriage, they will have different items to respond to, or if they are an older couple, or of different faiths.

Answers are sent to their Mentor Couple who we train to meet with the couple for two hours, six or seven times, every other week, to discuss relationship issues. Mentors also teach skills of communication and resolving conflict.  The result?  In our church we prepared 288 couples over a decade, of whom 58 decided NOT to marry.  That's a big 20 percent!  But of the 230 who did marry, there have been only 16 divorces in 18 years.  That's a 93 percent success rate or virtual marriage insurance.

       2.  Enrichment of existing marriage is essential, because all marriages run down. One way to energize marriages is to schedule "Ten Great Dates," a DVD series of talks that can be shown to couples on such issues as "Resolving Honest Conflict" and "Becoming an Encourager." After watching for 20 minutes, couples go on a date to discuss the evening's theme for 90 minutes.

       3.  Restoration of troubled marriages.  Every church has couples who once nearly divorced over adultery, for example.  We show how to train those "back from the brink" couples to share their  recovery with a couple in a current crisis on the same issue. Mentor couples save up to 90 percent of troubled marriages.

       4.  Reconciliation.  If one mate wants a divorce, 80 percent of spouses don't.  An abandoned spouse can take a course with a friend of the same gender, "Marriage 911," which helps that person grow so much he/she attracts back their errant mate in half the cases. Cost: $28

       5. Stepfamilies typically divorce at a 70 percent rate.  But if their church creates a Stepfamily Support Group, four out of five will be successful.

       Couples in healthy marriages can be trained help other couples to make it.

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