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Ring 246Divorce rate falls by 28% after relationship education programme

From a blog by The Institute of Family Studies

Relationship Education programmes have traditionally been irregularly held, small group initiatives for couples approaching marriage, couples in church strengthening their marriages and perhaps couples who are struggling in their marriages.

What if we thought in bigger terms? Can we scale up Relationship Education services to saturate a community? Could Relationship Education make a larger impact than for just a few couples? And, importantly, could it have a measurable impact on community divorce rates? 

That’s what a recent study set out to test. The study, which has not yet been published, tried to evaluate the impact of a Culture of Freedom Initiative (COFI) programme in the Jacksonville, Florida, area, which aimed to saturate the area with Relationship Education services.

COFI worked through 93 churches and had a strong coordinating organisation leading the initiative (Live the Life). The organisation helped churches build up and publicise their Relationship Education services, including premarital education, marriage enrichment programs, and an intensive programme for couples thinking seriously about divorce called “Hope Weekend.” It’s important to note that COFI had substantial financial support from a philanthropic organization.

So, what did this study find? 

Over two years, COFI efforts helped to put 35,000 people through Relationship Education services in the Jacksonville area and publicity tried to target those at most risk for divorce. The divorce rates in the area compared with the rest of Florida were almost identical in 2015.

The divorce rate in the Jacksonville area fell by almost 30% in the first two years of the COFI project (2015-2017) to a record low. The divorce rate in the rest of Florida fell by just 8% in that same time period. 

IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox (University of Virginia) and Spencer James (Brigham Young University) said, "Our initial data analysis suggests that the COFI effort . . . has had an exceptional impact on marital stability. . . . As family scholars, we have rarely seen changes of this size in family trends over such a short period of time."

Churches promote healthy marriages and often provide Relationship Education services. Churches also provide a network of individuals ready for Relationship Education. It’s even possible that group dynamics in these religious settings increase the effectiveness of these Relationship Education programs because participants may know other participants better and support each other’s efforts outside of class. And relationship skills taught may be effectively supported by religious principles.

We need to think about service delivery differently. Rather than just finding couples to come to programs, make Relationship Education part of the community. Saturate the area with programs and awareness; create a culture of Relationship Education. This can help build an understanding that normal people seek out this kind of help and combat any stigma associated with attending Relationship Education classes.

Read the full blog here.

See also blog on this site on Within My/Our Reach - an opportunity to improve relationships.

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From a blog by The Institute of Family Studies, 07/11/2018

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