Dec 282013
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Close up of young couple fighting

I’d like to discuss a new concept to be put forth toward marriage, that is, a social union and legal contract between two spouses.  Though there are many different motives for marriage, including legal, social, sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious; my focus is based on a new model to improve the likelihood of a marriage being ‘successful’ and life-lasting.

Let’s begin by looking at some important statistics about marriage and America’s middle class, which make up a large portion of our population.  Such numbers provide a strong backdrop toward understanding the far-reaching and devastating social effects of poor marriages, as well as those ending in divorce.

Back in the 1980’s, thirteen percent of children born to moderately-educated mothers were born out of wedlock.   Today, that number has risen to 44 percent – a massive increase of 338 percent!  Moreover, a recent analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that in the U.S., among women less than thirty years of age, more than half of childbirths— 53 percent—now occur outside of marriage. 

If you believe that it makes no real difference whether children are raised with unmarried or married parents, take a read at an insight granted by Paul Amato, a Penn State sociologist:

“Increasing marital stability to its 1980 level would result in nearly half a million fewer children suspended from school, about 200,000 fewer children engaging in delinquency or violence, a quarter of a million fewer children receiving therapy, about a quarter of a million fewer smokers, about 80,000 fewer children thinking about suicide, and about 28,000 fewer children attempting suicide.”

Marriage and Relationship Education (MRE) programs have been in place since the mid-1970’s, having received public funding at the state and federal level.  The average “dosage” of the past typical MRE program was twelve hours, with most programs having targeted young married couples or engaged couples.

In review of the many studies referencing nearly thirty years of these programs, individuals who had MRE classes or training saw their relationship quality improve by forty to fifty percent. Along with that, communication skills with their spouse or future spouse were seen improving by fifty to sixty percent.  Hence, MRE programs appear to positively affect the first two to three years of marriage, which also happen to be high risk years for divorce.

So why haven’t these programs become more widespread in use? 

The simple fact is that people who are about to enter marriage only think the best thoughts and do not believe that they will be one of the divorce “statistics” down the road. Plus, there are no immediate benefits afforded.

Separately, many religious organizations and churches offer pre-marital classes for their members, emphasizing the moral underpinnings of marriage and the importance of God as a part of it.  However, several important studies on religion and divorce rates were made by George Barna, founder of The Barna Group, a market research firm looking specifically at “the intersection of faith and culture”.  

Barna’s group interviewed nearly 3,800 faith-based couples, including agnostics and atheists.  The results showed that the divorce rates for Christians were not much lower than the national average – and, in many cases, were equal to those of atheists and agnostics!

All of this led me to what I believe could be a new solution – The Marital ‘Rewards’ Program.  

The Rewards Program would start with the understanding that not all people are meant to be married, nor at the time they believe they should be.  The primary purpose of the program would be in discovering potential conflicts, and that couples could see these problems as true deterrents.  From there, the couples would either work through and solve them, set them aside and continue into the marriage with the real possibility of future marital difficulties, or hold off marriage altogether.  

The program would be a 30-day course, non-religious in nature, and consist of questions, group meetings, homework, consulting and tests.  Topics would include some of the most common reasons for divorce, such as:

  • Infidelity
  • Finances
  • Addiction (Smoking, drinking, drugs)
  • Risk-taking
  • Sexual preferences
  • Communication
  • Abuse
  • Child-rearing
  • Cultural differences
  • Boredom/Lack of Interest

All participants who complete the Rewards Program would receive an initial individual benefit of a $1,500 tax credit, for the first taxable year after completion.  If the participants do not pay taxes because of lower or no income, they would receive the money as a yearly payment by the government, to use as they see fit.  For each year they remain married and cohabitate, the benefit would be a $500 tax credit, with an additional $500 tax credit if they would take a yearly 12-hour course.

The prospective couple would also need to receive a minimum of two hours education on divorce, including statistics, state law, what happens during a divorce, child custody, and alimony payments.  Both participants would sign a form stipulating that they understand the nature, possibility, and legal ramifications of divorce.

This program would by no means be mandatory.  However, it would set the precedent for establishing a strong marital and family foundation.  That in itself could help to begin a cycle where strong nuclear families create more successful future generations.  

I welcome your thoughts here.

  5 Responses to “The ‘Rewards’ Marriage Program”

  1. Long term marriage requires a committment from both parties and should be based on matching interests. You first have to genuinely like and want to be around the person you choose for a long term partner. They should be your best friend and a companion for the years to come. It is not looks, sex or forced due to bad choices made when young. It is hard work and will require compromise and doing things occasionally that you do not want to do because your partner asks you to. It is real love that allows the freedom for each participant.

  2. An interesting idea, with some potential. Considering that a large percentage of welfare reciepients are single mothers, logically it would seem that keeping marriages together would actually reduce costs. The problem, I suspect, lies in the demographic. Educated people generally tend to take a long term view of the consequences of thier actions, while the less educated tend to ignore the long term. The question then is how do we ensure that we hit the right segment, and not waste resources on teaching those who are already aware. The tax benefit is a long term gain that may not attract those who need this education the most. The other part of this is teaching people to be effective parents. The same issues apply here, children from parents on welfare or lower economic levels tend to have children with the same problems, thus perpetuating poverty.

    • Well that’s really the whole point here, and I did respond with some points to Robert’s inquiry, as you can read. The tax benefits would of course be ongoing, for each year the couple cohabitated and remained married. However, that may not be enough to get them to take the program in the first place.

      Maybe if this also tied into other state and federal government social programs, by their granting individuals some additional levels of benefits, if they took and completed the program. That way, the importance of not only nuclear families, but also families that show responsibility in their marriage, could be given more benefits than single parents. Not always fair, but it would send a message too.

  3. Interesting idea, and I don’t see how anyone question could question the societal importance of stable marriages. However, it seems to me that the group most likely to use MRE programs are the college educated, a demographic in which there is a significantly lower rate of divorce to begin with. Also, and the takers would be the most serious people within that demographic. So I’m somewhat pessimistic that it would have significant societal effect. But it sounds like an idea worth trying, as long as there is enough regulatory oversight to maintain some sort of accreditation standards for the programs.

    • Good points Robert. Though one cannot be sure that providing tax credits and additional yearly government ‘marital benefits’ handouts would do it for the less-educated and lower class, I do see financial benefits as a carrot here. It was hard for me to think of any other benefit which would attract non-college educated individuals toward undertaking the program.

      Perhaps a greater acceptance rate would come if this program was also blended into hotels and travel resorts, willing to give a discount to recently married couples who took this course. Plus, states may be able to offer some tax benefits as well.

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