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Counseling Could Be Best Wedding Gift

Marriage Savers News

Counseling could be best wedding gift
Local clergy hope covenant builds marriages that last

The Huntsville Times
Friday, January 26, 2007
Times Faith & Values Editor

Ah, February: the month when thoughts can turn to romance, and roses and chocolate precede a marriage proposal. Not so fast, say many local clergy - 75, in fact, have signed a Community Marriage Covenant promising not to marry couples until they have had meaningful premarital counseling. The ministers hope to effect in Madison County, where the divorce rate runs half again as high as the national average, what has happened in other places with the covenant: building marriages that last and reducing divorces up to 48 percent.

A public ceremony celebrating the covenant will be held next Friday at 1 p.m. on the east side of the County Courthouse downtown with Circuit Judge Billy Bell presiding.

Mike and Harriet McManus, founders of Marriage Savers, will attend. The McManuses will lead a workshop beginning next Friday evening to train mentor couples in local congregations to counsel engaged couples, support married couples and help troubleshoot a marriage on the brink.

"The minister cannot do it all," Mike McManus said Monday from his office. "That's simply an unfair expectation. Most of them didn't learn anything about this in seminary."

Halting 'disintegration'

The McManuses, based in Maryland, have spent the last 15 years building their nationally respected training program to help congregations prepare, enrich and restore the marriages of their members.

"I don't pretend to be objective," McManus said . "I think the disintegration of marriage is the central domestic problem of our times."

McManus, who has been a correspondent for Time magazine and is the syndicated author of "Ethics and Religion," can quickly reel off the cost of singleness for both adults and children: reduced life span and increased financial pressures for the adults and increased delinquency, teen pregnancy and dropout rates for the children. Plus, the children of divorce grow up less likely to marry and more likely to divorce if they do marry, he said.

"The failure of marriages puts an awful lot of people at risk," he said. In the McManuses' home church, between 1992 and 2000, of the 288 couples who were contemplating marriage, 19 percent backed out after premarital counseling helped them confront serious differences, effectively preventing marriages that would have failed, McManus said. Of those who did marry, 97 percent are still married - a success rate extraordinarily higher than the 50 percent national average.

Since most people in the U.S. marry in a house of faith, McManus said, starting there is a great way to begin.

"What I find exciting is that these churches are going to do something about this," McManus said of the congregations who have joined the Marriage Covenant and are sending couples to the training. "They are not just sitting back. Many people have never seen a good marriage up close. This is a great gift - older couples have wisdom they can pass on. These are skills that can be taught."

The covenant and training are sponsored by the Madison County Coalition for Healthy Marriages. For information, contact coalition director Debbie Preece at 519-7100 or