Marriage Survival Provides Washington County Divorce Prevention

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As soon as I mention “marriage survival,” people start acting funny. Usually they mumble a few unrecognizable words and abruptly change the subject as if my marriage is quite literally on the rocks and ready to tumble into the abyss below. Much to their surprise, however, the USU marriage resource guide states that couples need six hours of quality relationship building sessions each year to rebuild and work on their relationship.

Lucky for us, the USU extension at 44 North 100 East in St. George offers marriage survival courses almost every Monday. I admit I was a bit wary at first, but those feelings were quickly forgotten when we were greeted at the door by a nice little deli dinner and child care–completely free.

As we ate, a speaker informed us and about nine other couples about how to better communicate with your spouse about finances. The course was both interactive and informative, and according to a recent USU study, very relevant since 93 percent of marriages in Washington County list financial issues as a major conflict. We learned to designate a money “boss” and to compare insurances on a regular basis, as well as comparing cost versus value whenever possible.

FCS Agent Carolyn Washburn says, “If money relationships are good, most relationships are good.”

My husband and I left the survival course with full bellies, better financial awareness and a resolve to return. Other course topics include building strong communication skills, commitment, domestic violence prevention, issues that hurt relationships, building lasting relationships and blending stepfamilies. Washburn says the courses run for two months with exception to June, July, and December, then the topics begin again, but interested couples could come any time since the courses don’t necessarily build on each other.

Washburn says the marriage enrichment classes were started about four years ago. One-third of the counties in Utah have some type of marriage-enriching program and when USU did a study that found Washington County was 55 percent of marriages ending in Utah, the county commissioners gave Washburn money to begin classes. The Governor’s Commission on Families and Marriage put in a grant and now workforce service funds the course through the Utah Healthy Marriage Initiative.  Washburn says the classes are really funded with money from food stamps and childcare.

“People don’t think marriages cost them, but divorce costs everybody,” Washburn says. “The average tax payer pays 300 dollars in income tax each year.”

Even those who aren’t married can benefit from the USU classes. Washburn says 80 percent of couples that take pre-marriage education are married 10 years later, compared to 50 percent of couples that don’t attend. In addition to free dinner and childcare, Washburn will pay half of a couple’s marriage license if they attend the seven-week session. “The courses encourage couples to build strong relationships,” she says.

After just one session, my marriage felt stronger. Leave it to us to quarrel about which route is faster on the way to a marriage enrichment class. But after an hour of relationship-building information we felt like we were back on the same page with similar financial goals.

4-H staff assistant Miriam Force has been married 35 years and she says the courses are a great help. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married one year or 35, it’s beneficial to anyone,” she says.

Office manager Debbie Irvine was married in December and she went through a survival session. “The classes remind you of what you should be doing,” she says. “It’s always good to do that, and it can be a fun class. It’s not a lecture style; you interact with your spouse and sometimes the speakers even incorporated games.”

Washburn says she is already gearing up for the annual marriage celebration on February 11. Workshops will be available to couples as well as a big dinner, where 2 or 3 couples will be honored for demonstrating successful marriages.

Washburn says a man once told her the classes were better than any counseling session he’s ever had. “Those six hours a year are the best divorce prevention,” she says. “Long-term education is the biggest defense for divorce.”

When we examine the stats, Washington County, we need all the help we can get.