This week my wife and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. We married at 19. We came from different ethnic, religious, social and-economic backgrounds. If anyone had been taking bets, the odds of our marriage succeeding were less than even.
Over forty four years we have had a troubled marriage, an average marriage, a good marriage, and a great marriage.
Why was it that we were able to survive, improve our marriage, and finally flourish in an excellent marriage? No marriage is perfect all the time. Every couple faces difficulties, even crises, which can lead to divorce. We certainly had our own. And couples are not always in agreement about whether the marriage can be saved. But it only takes one person in many cases to keep a troubled marriage together. We made it through the difficult times by seeking professional help and leaning on friends and family.
The rewards for saving our marriage have been incalculable not only for us but for our children and grandchildren. Every day I wake up and feel blessed to be married. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every New Year’s for forty years we’ve spent together, first with our sons, then our daughters-in-law and now eight, soon to be nine grandchildren.
I ask myself: “Why did my marriage succeed?” We married too young, we didn’t have any money, and we were from different backgrounds. We had many difficult times when our future together looked bleak.
The answer is simple: the commitment to the marriage. All marriages have good times and bad. There are no Cinderella stories that last for forty years. Every single marriage has its crises. Every marriage has times when one of the partners is bored or angry, or hurt and thinks he or she would be happier outside the marriage.
Those marriages that survive the difficult times, and usually go on to thrive, are the marriages where one or both partners had a steely commitment to save the marriage and then to improve it.
How do we help marriages in crisis survive and grow? We now have a national network of marriage educators who provide classes which give couples the skills they need to help improve their communications and survive the hard times. There are classes for young couples, newlyweds, and couples in crisis. And we have religious institutions providing mentoring couples for newlyweds and couples in crisis. These marriage educators are not counselors, asking couples to talk about their inner feelings and spend months and thousands of dollars in therapy.
Marriage education is about teaching skills that couples need to have the ability to communicate better, work through conflict and anger, financial problems, infidelity, and parenting issues.
The newly proposed Parental Divorce Reduction Act would require that all couples with children, where there is not domestic violence involved, participate in at least six hours of marriage education for couples in crisis, or “divorce reduction education.” After these classes, the couple would have to wait for four to eight months, depending on the state law, before they could file for divorce. This waiting period would allow those couples who want to try to save their marriages get additional services to help them improve their marriages including online materials and additional skills building classes.
Research informs us that thirty percent of all people seeking divorce are open to reconciliation. When we pass new laws requiring marriage education classes for all couples with children seeking divorce, we will help these people avoid unnecessary divorce and protect up to a third of a million children a year from the tragedy of divorce.