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Speeches

E. Hartley: Address to Focus Group on Marriage and Family

Address at the Focus Session on Marriage and Family
Global Peace Festival-UK, November 22, 2008


There are strong arguments, supported by social research, that marriage preparation and enrichment programs help couples have more successful relationships.

Once a couple does decide to get together, one can assume that they have some kind of dream or hope of happiness together for themselves and for the children they may have. Also all marriages should ideally succeed in allowing children to grow up in a loving, supportive atmosphere created by a united Mum and Dad.

In the UK, 42 percent of marriages break down over 30 years (14 percent in the first five years). We are also moving towards 50 percent of children being born out of wedlock into what are statistically demonstrated to be “less stable” situations. Also the fruits of marriage breakdown are costing the UK taxpayer an estimated £24 billion per year. Some would say “at least”!

Going back to the fundamentals of conjugal and family relationships, it is clear that a huge contribution is made when we can help couples to stay together, to realize their original dream, by weathering even the lowest points in their relationships (a perfectly normal to thing to experience!). This is why the Universal Peace Federation, as the lead partner in the Global Peace Festival and as an organization involved in all aspects of promoting peace at every level of human existence, began its project in March 2007, researched every aspect of marriage and family issues in the UK, met with a number of experts in the field and decided to start at the root, namely greater promotion of marriage preparation and marriage enrichment and stability enhancing programmes. These are just one tool in our arsenal to support marriages to be more stable, but a very key one, since they have been shown to be capable of reducing couple breakdown by 20%-30% or more, to help people fulfil that dream.

The UPF has Ambassadors for Peace from virtually every conceivable background throughout the UK, many of whom are ready to engage in a Marriage & Family project promoting greater use of couple relationship education programmes.

The logical conclusion is that the more people there are preparing for marriage as a totally normal, even wise thing to do and the more married couples there are attending marriage enrichment courses as a smart and helpful thing to do, the more marriages there will be which remain intact. A greater number of marriages would be even more satisfying and fulfilling and more children would be saved the disaster of Mum and Dad separating. Society will also benefit through facing less of the problems and costs arising from family breakdown.

So how is the UK doing? Available statistics for the USA suggest that 31 percent of marrying couples take formal marriage preparation classes (although 75-80 percent when polled consider it a good idea) while 29 percent do this in Australia. The estimated number in the UK is just 8 percent.

There are many discussions and papers published about what at all can be done about marriage breakdown and what research tells us about making available programs more effective when delivered, but what we also really need is a discussion and sharing of ideas about what can be done to better market and promote use of existing programmes. We could aim at doubling the acceptance and use of these programmes for a start and then aim to increase that figure from there on.

Our initiative seeks to:

a) to raise awareness of the value of these programmes and the untapped potential to support more couples and
b) to share best practise in promoting these programmes as a basis for action for a collaborative undertaking.

There are already good signs of developments in this field in the UK which we can associate with, for example:

• Care for the Family in Cardiff is boosting the effectiveness of its operations throughout Britain by taking on a new strategic communicator to lead a team of marriage and parenting specialists as well as a marketing/ sales/ business development/ brand management manager.

• The relationship support the charity Marriage Care has brought in the PR company Geronimo Communications to challenge misconceptions that it only welcomes Catholics. Marriage Care is hoping to attract a younger audience to use its services as well as to counsel couples and will promote its marriage preparation courses through the national media and women’s magazines.

• The Relationship Foundation in Cambridge is doing a very valuable project working on a report arguing for government investment in relationships education. They are gathering evidence from around the world to ascertain the effectiveness of couple education in keeping families together, and to discern the best way to deliver such programs. The resulting report will then be used to encourage each of the main political parties to include a commitment to relationships education in their next manifesto. It will be published in January next year.

There are different types of interventions which can be used with couples and families which can be broadly sub-divided into preventive programs and remedial programmes including counselling.

Marriage preparation and marriage enrichment courses (otherwise known as couple relationship education) enable people to enjoy a better marital relationship, a more stable one, to have the chance to become even better parents and to benefit society as whole.

• We know that such interventions work, that family breakdown does not have to occur as much as it does with all the difficulties this presents to the children involved.
• We know people want the freedom to make personal decisions according to their individual judgment about their own lives so we have to find ways to persuade them to consider doing a personally valuable thing of the same nature as giving up smoking, going to the gym or eating more healthily.
This is about avoiding problems before they arise and/or minimising them.
• We know that more harmony in a relationship helps people to be better parents – thus it could be argued, as Penny Mansfield from One Plus One, a UK charity, does, that couple relationship education should precede parenting education where necessary.
• We know that some countries have forged ahead with relationship education as a matter of public policy (supporting couples and couples-to-be who want to take advantage of such programmes) like the USA, Australia, Norway and others, but that the UK has largely ignored the subject until now.
• We know that there are many things which can put a strain on a relationship like mental health difficulties, substance and alcohol misuse, domestic violence, family poverty and serious family conflict over relationship breakdown, some of which to some extent negatively “pre-programme” a couples’ approach to the lasting quality of such relationships like the inter-generational effect based on a personal lack of a positive role model from parents, relatives, friends, even society (celebrities etc.). All of these situations can be helped through provision of appropriate relationship education in an appropriate way (with emphasis on the word “appropriate”)
• We know that 31 percent on average of newly marrying couples in the USA formally prepare and that 95 percent of the programmes are delivered by a religious organization. We also know that just 8 percent prepare in the UK despite about 30 percent of marriages (at least) taking place in a religious institution. Thus only 25 percent or so of faith-oriented people are taking advantage of the existing programmes. As one Christian correspondent put it: “Let us pray that ministers within all church movements will open their eyes and attach their hearing aids as at least 90 percent of them do not”. There is, unfortunately, only scanty data on what is happening in the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and other such communities.
• We know such interventions could be very cost effective for the public purse (see Breakthrough Britain from the Centre for Social Justice for detailed calculations) and could help the UK government save some of the estimated £24 billion a year it spends on family breakdown