Is Mentoring the Answer to Skyrocketing Divorce Rates?
- 2006 19 Jan
The head of an organization dedicated to saving marriages says the Church needs to get involved in an effort to curb the tide of divorce. He believes divorce could be almost completely eliminated in the body of Christ if couples can only learn one important skill.
Mike McManus, president of Marriage Savers, says divorce filings tend to skyrocket in January, making that month, out of the entire year, the one with the highest number of divorce actions filed. In a nation where half of all new marriages end in divorce, McManus notes, there have been 38 million divorces since 1970, and one quarter of all adults from age 18 to 35 have grown up in divorced families.
McManus feels churches are partly responsible for the divorce trend in America. A Hart poll reports that houses of worship marry 86% of Americans; yet church culture researcher George Barna estimates that 39% of Protestants have divorced, a higher percentage than the 37% divorce rate of atheists and agnostics. Meanwhile, 35% of born-again Christians in the U.S. have divorced and 23% of born-again Christians have divorced twice. Among Catholics, the divorce rate is only 25%; but among Pentecostals, the rate is as high as 42%.
The head of Marriage Savers estimates that about three-fifths of all these divorces are due to poor communication. And yet, he muses, "people marry people each other because they think they have great communication. So what explains it?" The answer, he suggests, is many couples who think they have the art and science of communicating with each other down pat "don't really have good skills of communication. They don't know how to resolve conflict in a way that is mutually respectful and mutually satisfying."
Fortunately, those are skills that can be taught, McManus says. "And if those skills are learned," he asserts, "you have almost no divorces, really. Unfortunately, churches don't understand this, and they don't know how to do it in most cases."
The sad fact of the matter, the marriage expert contends, is that most houses of worship do not know how to teach couples the skills needed to sustain a marriage. Often, he says, many churches function as "wedding factories," churning out joined couples to survive or separate on their own, rather than acting as marriage builders that help lay a foundation for strong, healthy, and lifelong relationships between husbands and wives.
In his own church, McManus notes, older couples were trained to mentor engaged couples and teach them communication skills. He says while the rate of breakups of engaged couples increased, the marriage success rate rose to 97 percent.
Marriage Savers has developed proven alternatives to the divorce trend in contemporary America. As of last year, the group had assisted the clergy of 197 cities and towns in adopting a "Community Marriage Policy" for their areas, each with the goal of radically reducing the divorce rate in the local churches. In this program, participating church leaders join across denominational and social dividing lines, signing a covenant to make healthy marriages a priority in their congregations.
Also, in Community Marriage Policies, religious leaders specifically pledge to train "Mentor Couples" to help other couples at every stage of the marital life cycle, including pre-marriage. McManus says if pastors can equip older, happily married couples to mentor engaged couples and teach them important lessons and communication skills, divorces can be almost completely eliminated from the church.
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