Pre-marriage and Post-marriage Relationship Education – Improving the Trend

Written by Edward Hartely
Saturday, 08 November 2008 00:00

              Edward Hartley

Edward Hartley, co-chair of the GPF Marriage and Family working group opened the focus session by stating “Stable families are the building blocks of a peaceful society; it behoves a country to look carefully at how these can be nurtured”. Mr Hartley went on to say “All couple relationships should ideally succeed in allowing children to grow up in a loving, supportive atmosphere created by a united Mum and Dad - not suffering from emotional or other disadvantages from their family life.”

“Couple relationship education programmes have been shown to be capable of reducing couple breakdown by 20%-30% or more – but only 8% of couples in the UK and many other countries enjoy the benefits of them with the notable exception of Norway, the USA, Australia and one or two other countries”

He cited at least four very positive developments in this area in the UK and asked the conference delegates to please think about what role, large or small, they may be able to play in their country to support and promote greater use of these programmes.

During the session there were presentations on Couple Relationship Education and How to expand use of existing pre-marriage couple relationship education and post-marriage enrichment programmes.

             Marijo Zivkovic

Mr. Marijo Zivkovic, the Director of the Catholic Family Centre in Zagreb in Croatia, spoke about the fact there can be very successful, beautiful and joyful permanent love relationships and there are also completely unsuccessful ones across the social spectrum. Very often a problem with true, unconditional and irrevocable love toward spouses or existing children and the unborn child is that a given person does not love anyone with such love because he did not develop the capacity to love with such love. He then went on to talk about successful promotion of good Marriage and Family through spreading true knowledge about relevant facts. “That knowledge should be spread in clear and understandable language using understandable and acceptable arguments”, he said. We should help our children and other people we wish to influence to have experience of a loving relationship towards them, and also between us (parents), so they can have impressions and experience that successful, joyful and beautiful marriages and family exist in real life. We should live what we promote”, he stated.

            Alex Borchardt

Mr. Alex Borchardt from Families need Fathers, UK, explained about the excellent work done by his charity since 1974 reaching hundreds of thousands of people per year in the UK. He spoke FNF’s core values including “Children have the right to a continuing loving relationship with both parents”

He stated that “an estimated minimum of 3,600,000 children in the UK today are affected by divorce or separation” and that this number is increasing by at least 120,000 per year.

He then talked about “What can be done” including:
•    Better support for families
•    Greater use of marriage preparation
•    Marriage enrichment programmes
•    Improved attitudes in society
•    Better use of the media to spread positive messages
•    Support for families that get in to difficulties
•    A more effective Social Services system
•    Learn lessons from how other countries manage better

Mrs. Sara Perez-Tome Roman, President of The Association of Large Families in Madrid and her husband Mr. Carlos Molina Grigalba gave a talk about education supporting couple relationships, before and after marriage, in Spain and offered some statistics about the Spanish situation. For example, the number of couples getting premarriage training before entering into a Catholic marriage is 98.0% while those receiving post-marriage training is 1.5% (0.01% in the UK). The number of Catholic marriages in 2006 dropped to 118,000 from 160,000 in 2000, the difference being made up by civil marriages.
They explained that relativism, consumerism and an absence of any faith and belief in / knowledge of God produce family instability and that there are, unfortunately, some quite negative policies for the family be promoted by the Spanish government.

                       Mr Nick Gulliford

Mr. Nick Gulliford, from FOCCUS Scoring Centre UK, reported how Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the Family spoke at the Conservative Party Conference on 30th September to the effect that:
“There is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life”.
He hopes very much there will a move towards publishing a 'Social Capital Index' by a neighbourhood as a monitoring device [which will be at least as significant as GDP and RPI], and that signposting by registrars to relationship education - along the lines outlined by Maria Miller MP - will be implemented now by local authorities in conjunction with voluntary groups.
He explained very clearly that nice words have often been spoken by the government of the day about supporting the family and relationship education but that little has happened. However, he remains optimistic about eventually getting the government to support these properly as other countries do.

The MC then introduced a surprise fifth speaker, Professor Alan Saunders, who is the Director of the Character Education programmes of the Universal Peace Federation based in the USA. Alan has trained in twelve different relationship skills, marriage enrichment and parenting programmes and has so far worked in 82 countries training teachers and educators in these type of skills and programmes. He gave a short interactive presentation involving the audience and encouraged everyone to familiarise themselves with available programmes.

The organisers truly hope that everyone benefitted significantly from the information provided at the conference and that a good proportion of the delegates will be inspired to actively support this kind of work wherever they may be in the world!

The MC concluded by stating that this is another step forward for the UPF Marriage and Family Initiative in the UK and Europe. There will be a number of follow-up up meetings taking place over the coming weeks along with discussions with partners about how best to make the initiative substantial over the long-term.
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