Call to Families of the World, the natural family is described as "the
fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around
the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant. . ." In
this presentation, I wish to explore how we promote marriage as a
need to understand and communicate to the broader society that marriage
is the optimal family structure when the health and welfare of men,
women and children are considered.
Professor William Doherty, President of the US National Council on
Family Relations, has noted:
"for adults, a stable,
happy marriage is the best protector against illness and premature
death, and for children, such a marriage is the best source of
emotional stability and good physical health."
There is conclusive evidence to show that marriage is a 'healthy
environment' associated with lower mortality and morbidity and
strong evidence that the process of divorce leaves men, women and
children vulnerable to ill-health.
a considerable body of research evidence indicates that adults and
children are at increased risk for mental and physical problems due to
a recent review of the literature, Professor Linda Waite, the University
of Chicago professor of sociology and a past president of the American
Population Association, observed:
a variety of ways and along a number of dimensions, married men and
women lead healthier lives than the unmarried. This includes more
drinking, substance abuse, drinking and driving and generally
living dangerously among single men. Married women more often have
access to health insurance. Divorced and widowed men and women are
more likely to get into arguments and fights, do dangerous things,
take chances that could cause accidents. The married lead
more ordered lives, with healthier eating and sleeping habits.
Marriage improves both men's and women’s' psychological well-being.
Perhaps, as a result, married men and women generally live longer than
single men and women."
research findings also relate to children. A large number of studies
have shown that divorce has both a short term and a long term impact on
children. It also demonstrates that this impact often extends into adult
life with consequences for health, family life, educational performance
and occupational status.
example is the work of Professor Paul Amato. His latest research,
published in the book, A Generation at Risk, found that only one quarter
to a third of divorces end up being better for the children, than if the
parents had stayed together. By contrast, about 70 % of divorces end
low-conflict marriages, which would have been better for the children to
have continued rather than ending. Amato concludes:
marital dissolution becoming increasingly socially acceptable, it is
likely that people are leaving marriages at lower thresholds of
unhappiness now than in the past. Unfortunately, these are
the very divorces that are most likely to be stressful for
children. Consequently, we conclude that the rise in marital
disruption ... has, on balance, been detrimental to children".
Amato further noted that many of those divorces which ended low-conflict
marriages could have been avoided. These were not violent
marriages, but rather marriages where the partners had become bored, or
‘grown apart’. It is arguable that these marriages were salvageable
with an increased understanding by the partners of the realities of
married life and communication skills to maintain ‘togetherness’ and
romance in the relationship.
happy marriage is still a universal aspiration. Despite world-wide
negative trends, surveys repeatedly show that young people desire a
lifelong marriage and happy family life. One Australian survey of
year 10 boys found that 90% said that an important goal for them in life
was to have a happy marriage. Even after the trauma of a failed
marriage, many people will marry a second and even third time.
However statistics reveal that second and subsequent marriages break up
at an even greater rate than first marriages.
leads to the conclusion that overall divorce is not the answer. As
American Marriage Therapist Michele Weiner-Davis notes:
divorce were truly an answer, people would learn from the mistakes they
made in their first marriage. Their second marriage would provide
them with opportunities to apply what they learned..... but.... people
are not prepared for the complexities of second marriages or
blended families... People discover that the grass isn’t any
greener on the the other side after all."
says Weiner-Davis, divorce creates new problems. In her best selling
book Divorce Busting, she observed:
have witnessed the suffering and disillusionment that are the
predictable by- products of divorce. I have seen people who have
been divorced for five years or longer with wounds that won’t
heal. These people failed to anticipate the pain and
upheaval divorce leaves in its wake. I have heard countless
divorced couples battle tenaciously over the very same issues they
believed they were leaving behind when they walked out the door.
I have heard too many disillusioned individuals express regrets
about their belief that their ex-spouse was the problem only to
discover similar problems in their second marriages or, even more
surprisingly, in their new single lives.... And then there are the
children, who are also the victims in a divorce. ...Battles over
parenting issues don’t end with divorce, they get played out
even more vigorously with children as innocent by-standers or even
pawns.... I have come to the conclusion that divorce is not the
answer. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problems it
purports to solve. Most marriages are worth saving."
is not surprising therefore, that an Australian survey revealed that as
many as 37% of people regret their divorce five years later, and up to
40% believe that it could have been avoided.
it or not, marriage has become a major casualty of the cultural changes
over the past few decades. Modern life is more complex,
lived at a faster pace, with more demands than in the past. Personal
fulfillment has replaced economic security as the cultural basis for
marriage. Economic conditions have required most families to have
both spouses in the paid workforce. Legislation has made divorce
easier to obtain. Community supports for marriage have been
leading US sociologist, Professor Norval Glenn has noted:
"marriage now tends to be
highly hedonistic throughout the Western World and is becoming at
least moderately so in many non-Western societies…..Given
Americans’ highly hedonistic orientation toward marriage, their
motivation to marry and their commitment to the institution of
marriage must be affected by their perception of how well marriage
is serving the needs and desires of married persons."
shaping contemporary marriage and modern attitudes to marriage have led
to a culture of divorce being seen as an acceptable answer to an
remarkable increase in cohabitation has lead to a further
destabilisation of marriage. Changes to laws governing the rights
of cohabiting couples have made that lifestyle a much more common option
in most of the industrialised world.
patterns of cohabitation have been identified in three groups of
countries where cohabitation is well established (most of the
Secondly, those where it is emerging primarily
as an extension of courtship and a prelude to marriage (UK, Germany, the
Netherlands, France, Finland, and Austria); and
thirdly, those countries
where cohabitation is relatively uncommon (Ireland and the Southern
in Australia and the United States fits mainly in the second group, that
is, as a pathway to marriage. According to the latest Australian Bureau
of Statistics figures about 66% of marriages are preceded by a period of
cohabitation. This figure has more than doubled in two decades. It
is estimated that in the United States, over half of all marriages are
preceded by a period of cohabitation.
trend toward pre-marital cohabitation in much of Europe, Australia and
the US is especially significant, because despite increasing evidence to
the contrary, many people consider 'trial marriage a good idea'.
two aspects of the phenomenon of cohabitation bear further
consideration. The first is the inherent instability of cohabiting
relationships. According to recent American research, the median
duration of cohabitation is 1.3 years. About 53% of first
cohabiting unions will result in marriage, 37% will dissolve and 10%
will continue. While about half of cohabiters will marry the
person with whom they cohabit, another 26% reported plans to marry their
live-in partner, but did not. 10% to 30% of cohabiters intend
never to marry.
US Bureau of Census has found that 40% of cohabiting households have
children, yet social science research is increasingly finding that women
and children in cohabiting relationship run increased risks of physical
and sexual abuse. For example, one British study found that,
compared to children living with married biological parents, children
living with cohabiting, but unmarried biological parents are 20 times
more likely to be subject to child abuse, and those living with a mother
and a cohabiting boyfriend who is not the child’s father, face an
increased risk of 33 times. In fact, one study indicates it is
safer for children to be living with a married step-parent, than
unmarried biological parents. This is significant, as the rate of
out-of-wedlock births has increased markedly in most industrialised
violence occurs more often with cohabiting couples than with married
persons and cohabitors are likely to carry this pattern into marriage.
Indeed some research has found, where violence already exists in the
relationship, there is a 95% to 98% likelihood of it continuing after
other disturbing trend is that marriages which are preceded by
cohabitation are up to twice as likely to subsequently breakdown.
The 1992 Australian Institute of Family Studies Family Formation
Project, found that after five years of marriage, 13% of those who had
cohabited would divorce, compared to 6% of those who had not cohabited.
Ten years later the proportions were 26% of those who had cohabited and
14% for those who had not. According to that study pre-marital
cohabitation is one of the three pre-martial experiences contributing
most to the risk of martial breakdown. The other two are having an
ex-nuptial child, and leaving home at an early age.
findings about cohabitation have been supported by research in Britain,
Canada, the US and Sweden, and most recently, the report of the Rutgers
University National Marriage Project titled Should We Live Together?
What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation Before Marriage.
effort is now being made to shed more light on the risk factors of
cohabitation. It would appear that risk factors fall into two
first is the predisposing attitudes and behaviours which cohabiters
bring to their relationships, whether de facto or married. These
factors include libertarian attitudes to sexual exclusivity, commitment
and the exchange of resources. Independence, individualism and autonomy
are also associated with cohabitation. Cohabiters tend to be less
religious and exhibit an increase in risk-taking behaviours. Reduced
confidence in being able to sustain a life-long marriage, especially in
the context of divorce already being a family experience, is also a
factor which appears to play a role. Cohabiting couples may drift
into marriage because they are getting older, or have become used to
each other, or are subject to peer and family pressure to marry.
Having lived together, some couples’ ability to choose clearly may
well be impaired. James Burtchaell, in his book Sober Thoughts on
Passionate Promises put it this way:
the very time a couple need the clearest view of one another and must be
free enough from each other to decide whether to embrace each other for
life, they are held in an embrace which makes them feel as though
they have already done so, and so their energy to face the
life’s decision is weakened."
that in Australia for example, a fifth of couples who cohabit, do so
after being in the relationship for less than three months, the question
of mate selection and compatibility testing is significant. Another
quarter move in together after being in the relationship for between
four to six months. So nearly half of all those who cohabit, do so
after knowing their partner for six months or less.
other category of risk factors is the effect of the experience of
cohabitation on those individuals involved. These include changes
in attitude about commitment and permanence in relationships, thus
making some people less tolerant to the normal vicissitudes of married
life and more open to divorce. These risk factors would seem to
relate to the US findings, that those who cohabit more than once prior
to marriage, have higher rates of later divorce; and those cohabiters
who do subsequently divorce, tend to break up early in the marriage.
In Australia, one quarter of separations will occur before the third
have heard that marriage remains a dominant aspiration for many people;
that it has positive benefits for men, women and children; that divorce
often has negative consequences, particularly for children and could, in
many cases be prevented; and that many people subsequently regret their
divorce and say it could have been avoided. Further, it appears
even harder to make a success of a second marriage, which often involve
a culture of lifelong marriage will require considerable effort. In many
of our countries neither economic factors nor religious and societal
values hold marriages together. Thus, I believe that marriage education
can play a vital role in supporting the lifelong covenant of marriage.
a social policy level, it involves a recognition of the crucial
importance of marriage for the stability of families and society, and
the implementation of national policies that support husbands and wives,
especially in their care of children. Amongst other things, this
involves educating people about marriage, both its importance and the
consequences of its breakdown.
also involves educating young engaged and newly wed couples about the
nature of lifelong marriage and supporting them in gaining the knowledge
and skills needed to sustain them throughout life. Given that
personal fulfillment is now the dominant measure of marital stability,
such education can offer couples the opportunity to examine their
expectations of marriage and learn to respectfully negotiate their lives
is therefore important that we take steps to inform and educate people
about their choices, both the population generally, as the report of the
US National Marriage Project does, and also individuals through marriage
cohabiters may believe living together is the best preparation for
marriage, the social science research increasingly indicates otherwise.
Rather than being superfluous, marriage education is essential for these
couples, and educators are being challenged to find new ways of working
more specifically with the risk factors experienced by cohabiting
couples, when they attend group programs.
education is essentially different from marriage counseling or therapy
in that it focuses on the development of the appropriate knowledge,
skills and attitudes to build and maintain healthy relationships; as
opposed to counseling and therapy which has as its primary orientation
the solution to specific emotional problems presented by the clients.
marriage education can be traced to a number of events over the past few
decades, including the development of marriage counseling in many
countries in the 1940s and 50s; the emergence of Marriage Encounter in
Spain in 1962, and the Marriage Enrichment movement in the US the same
year; the development of psychological and behavioural theories over the
past three decades; and the evolution of adult education principles,
with an emphasis on the idea that people learn best through experiential
recent report to the Australian Parliament on Strategies to Strengthen
Marriage and Relationships identified three contemporary approaches to
approaches seek to gather data on partner attitudes and behaviours which
can be used to set growth goals and attitude or behaviour change. The
underlying belief is that insights about one’s attitudes, behaviours,
and expectations can lead to changes in thinking or behaving that give
marriages a better chance. The two most well-known assessment approaches
are the Inventories PREPARE and FOCCUS.
inventories typically consist of a Questionnaire to be completed by each
partner - the responses (Agree, Disagree or Uncertain) are then
correlated and categorised, by computer. Examples of categories in
the FOCCUS Inventory include Life Style Expectations, Friends &
Interests, Parenting, Communication, Problem Solving, Religion &
Values, etc. The resultant report gives a 'snapshot' of the couple
relationship, enabling them to appreciate and be affirmed in their
strengths, clarify issues and also to begin the dialogue on their 'work'
or 'growth' areas.
pre-marriage education programs typically involve couples in an
exploration of their awareness of factors such as expectations of
marriage, the influence of their family background, communication
patterns, conflict styles, and the ever-changing nature of the life
cycle. Programs often include information sessions about financial
issues and home buying, sexuality and family planning. Those conducted
by church agencies usually include sessions on spirituality and
Skills training approaches
third approach to marriage education involves the training of couples in
communication and conflict resolution skills, especially active or
reflective listening. Well-known US programs include Relationship
Enhancement, Couple Communication and PREP (Prevention and Relationship
Enhancement Program). Some of these programs, such as PREP, are used in
European countries like Germany and Norway.
all nations, programs of Marriage education are most commonly found in
Australia. More than one-quarter of all couples marrying in Australia
participate in some form of marriage education. Significantly, those
marrying in churches have a higher level of participation, for example
about two-thirds of Catholics do some form of marriage education.
Although almost a half of couples are now married in civil ceremonies,
very few of them participate in marriage education. Yet the divorce rate
for people marrying in civil ceremonies is about twice that of those
marrying in churches, synagogues and temples. Part of the reason for the
high participation rate in marriage education in Australia, by
international standards, is due to support by the Federal Government.
more than 100 agencies and groups throughout Australia offer Marriage
Education programs, many of which are partially funded by the Federal
Government. This funding amounts to almost $AUS 5 million per year.
the Federal Government launched a $AUS 1 million pilot media campaign
entitled Relate with the purpose of normalising and increasing awareness
of marriage education, and decreasing the social stigma which works
against couples seeking out preventative education.
past June, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced, in response
to the Parliamentary Report To Have and To Hold, that the federal
government would develop a National Families Strategy. The
proposed strategy has a number of positive initiatives including the
establishment of a new Marriage & Family Council to advise the
Government, a trial voucher funding scheme for marriage education,
promotion of research into marital stability; the development of
relationship education in Secondary Schools and a resolve to extend the
maximum notice of 'Intention to Marry' to 18 months from the current 6
months. The Strategy is to be developed over the next year.
critical area for marriage education is the early years of marriage.
As previously noted, one quarter of separations in Australia occur
before the third wedding anniversary. Add to this fact, the high
and increasing rate of cohabitation and the increased risks it places on
the survival of the marriage, it is essential that we develop programs
to support newly-weds through the early adjustment phase of marriage.
The Marriage Education Programme in Melbourne, Australia, of which I am
convenor, has recently developed a program for newly married couples
which includes a series of newsletters, Modern Marriage, with the aim of
supporting young couples through the early years of marriage.
theme of this session is marriage as a lifelong covenant. To have
a vibrant society, we need strong, healthy, energetic families.
Functional families rely on successful, intact marriages. There is
a complex array of demands that are placed upon marriages and families
by our ever-changing, fast-paced, modern society. We therefore need to
affirm and support existing marriages and get new marriages off to a
good start, so they have the resources to meet the ongoing challenges
which will be encountered over a lifetime.
dream of universal educative programs, which begin with encouraging
school students to learn good communication skills in their interactions
with their classmates and their parents, through to work colleagues and
eventually marriage partners and family members. Marriage
education programs should support young couples by enabling them to
evaluate their decision to marry, clarify their individual and mutual
expectations, affirm and build on their strengths and acknowledge and
discuss their differences. I believe these practical solutions
could make a monumental contribution to sustaining the lifelong Covenant
Andrews, Kevin & Michelle Curtis (I998) Changing Australia.
Federation Press, Sydney.
Amato, Paul & Allan Booth (I997) A Generation at Risk: Growing up in
an era of family upheaval. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA.
Bronfenbrenner, Urie (I994) Address, Australian Institute of Family
Council on Families in America (I995) Marriage in America. The Council,
Galston, William (I994) Beyond the Murphy Brown Debate. Council on
Families in America, New York
Glenn, Norval D (I987) 'Continuity versus change, Sanguineness versus
concern: Views of the American Family in the late I980s' Journal of
Family Issues 8(4).
Harding, Ann & Agnieszka Szukalska (I998) A Portrait of Child
Poverty in Australia in I995-96. National Centre for Social and Economic
Home Office (UK) (I998) Supporting Families: A Consultation Document.
The Home Office, London.
House of Representatives Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
(I998) To have and to hold - Strategies to strengthen marriage and
relationships, Parliament of Australia, Canberra.
Ladbrook, D (I997) 'Why marriage matters: An Australian perspective'
Markey, Barbara (1999) Preparing Cohabiting Couples for Marriage A
National Advisory Council on Youth Suicide Protection (I998) National
Action Plan for Youth Suicide Protection. Department of Health and Aged
National Commission on America's Urban Families (I993) Families First.
The Commission, Washington DC.
Popenoe, David and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (1999) Should We Live
Together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before
marriage, National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Prime Ministerial Youth Homelessness Taskforce (I998) Putting Families
in the Picture. Department of Family and Community Services,
Canberra Tapper, Alan (I990) The Family in the Welfare State. Allen & Unwin,
Waite, Linda (I997) 'Why marriage matters' Threshold 57: 4-8
Weiner-Davis, Michele (1992) Divorce Busting Summit Books, New