Alan J. Hawkins and Hal Boyd: How (and Why) Government Should Invest in Marriage

Public Discourse 20 August 2018
Family First Comment: Excellent commentary..
“Divorce doesn’t just end a marriage, it frequently also involuntarily weakens a parent-child relationship—usually with the father—and, over time, can result in the negative effects of little or no connection at all. A generation of extensive scholarship shows that children who experience the divorce of their parents are at two-to-three times greater risk for a wide range of problems that extend through childhood to their adult years. This is especially true among vulnerable populations. On average, the presence of both parents in the home has a positive impact on a child’s well-being…. To ignore the chronic trauma faced by these children amounts to collective social negligence. As one religious leader asked years ago: “How much more research does the world need before we can accept parents as pivotal and before we focus on the family without apology and half-heartedness?”
Yep.
www.ProtectMarriage.nz

New research suggests that educational programs can strengthen or even save marriages. Government can and should play an important role in supporting marriage through such programs.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, government actions removing barriers to divorce have been far more common than efforts to help marriages remain intact. In the last decade, however, the federal government has begun to fund efforts to help couples form and sustain healthy marriages. Early studies of these efforts did not reveal much promise. But an emerging body of research—including an important new study—suggest that educational programs can strengthen or even save marriages. Given the significant pro-social effects of marital stability, both federal and state governments should gradually increase investments in educational programs that help married couples work through conflict, improve their relationships, and avoid divorce…..

Social Science Data: The Results of Relationship Education

A recently-released, rigorous study suggests that support for relationship education programs may enhance marital commitment. The study focused largely on lower-income, stressed couples and found that those who participated in the programs were significantly more committed one year later, and married couples were more likely to still be together…..

Why the Government Should Invest in Marriage

Some question, of course, whether government should be in the marital intervention business at all, since it involves the decisions of consenting adults. But this ignores the reality that divorce doesn’t just end a marriage, it frequently also involuntarily weakens a parent-child relationship—usually with the father—and, over time, can result in the negative effects of little or no connection at all. A generation of extensive scholarship shows that children who experience the divorce of their parents are at two-to-three times greater risk for a wide range of problems that extend through childhood to their adult years. This is especially true among vulnerable populations. On average, the presence of both parents in the home has a positive impact on a child’s well-being.

There is little question that the option of divorce is necessary in dangerous or unhealthy marriages. When parents are in a perpetually high-conflict marriage, there is solid research indicating that divorce is usually better for children than continuing to expose them to serious trauma. And stigmatizing families that do not meet the gold standard of two married biological parents helps no one. Many divorced couples find effective ways to co-parent, and the majority of children touched by the painful experience of divorce often turn out much like their peers. Children are resilient and able to bounce back from negative experiences.

But, on the margins, there are lasting effects. And, when one considers that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and 40 percent of children are now born to unwed parents, the margins can get quite large. To ignore the chronic trauma faced by these children amounts to collective social negligence. As one religious leader asked years ago: “How much more research does the world need before we can accept parents as pivotal and before we focus on the family without apology and half-heartedness?”

A Closer Look at “Irreconcilable Differences”

Many marriages today end for reasons other than destructive or abusive behavior. The most common reason that divorced individuals proffer for calling it quits is a lack of commitment by one or both spouses, listed by about 75 percent of divorced individuals. Too much arguing or conflict is also up there (55 percent); unrealistic expectations (45 percent) and lack of equality (44 percent) trail close behind. While all of these reasons reflect real pain, they are also problems that couples often can work through while preserving the marriage and providing children the stability and ample advantages that come from a married, two-parent household. Even couples who experience infidelity sometimes can overcome such breaches of trust. About half report that they work through the difficult process and are able to heal (and sometimes even strengthen) the marital relationship.

The reality is that most divorces are not preceded by high-conflict relationships but by moderately unhappy, low-conflict marriages. And, when given time and assistance, some unhappy marriages can rebound to become happy. Simply put, marriages are dynamic and go through ups and downs. In one recent study, nearly 30 percent of married individuals said they had thought seriously about divorce in the past but were not thinking about it now, and nearly 90 percent of them said they were glad they were still together. About one in four married individuals aged twenty-five to fifty have had thoughts about divorce in the last six months, but most of them still report that they are hopeful about their marriage.

Relationship education programs may offer the promise of intervening at times of marital stress or fatigue, helping preserve relationships that both parties hope can work out. Or, even better, these programs can prevent good marriages from falling into disrepair due to the inevitable forces of marital entropy. This is crucial not only for couples but also for their children….

Alan J. Hawkins is the Camilla E. Kimball Professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University. He is the former chair of the Utah Marriage Commission and has consulted with several state governments, as well as the federal government, on relationship education policy. Hal Boyd is a visiting fellow at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life.
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/08/22304/

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