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Divorce Rate Plummets as Marriage Education Increases

From the back of the class, things look bad. Nine couples sit side-by-side, but most seem separated by an invisible wall of anger and resignation. This monthly event is called Hope Weekend, but saving these marriages, which have histories of emotional abuse, infidelity and complete apathy, seems utterly hopeless.

Nevertheless, the instructor at Live the Life, a nonprofit marriage organization here in Jacksonville, begins by asking couples to give 100 percent of whatever part of them still wants the relationship. For some it’s 50 percent, for others it’s only 1 percent, and sadly, for some, it‘s none. However, all have agreed to sit through one last attempt at salvaging the dream of a life-long marriage.

During the weekend, couples receive a high dose of communication skills, self-evaluation tools, and opportunities to reestablish the bond that was lost — AND IT WORKS!

By Sunday afternoon, all nine couples have signed a pledge to stay married for life. Not only have they agreed to stay married but to love each other unconditionally with the hope that their rekindled feelings of love will continue to grow. This is true for more than 80 percent of the couples who come through the program, a staggering success rate that proves the effectiveness of marriage education done well.

Hope Weekend is just one of many marriage education (ME) programs offered in Duval County. For the past year, more and more of these programs, designed to reach couples in every stage of life, have appeared in churches and organizations like Live the Life. With increased funding by outside donors interested in reviving the institution of marriage, the programs range from fun date nights and enrichment programs to retreats designed specifically to restore broken marriages.

The emphasis on lasting marriage is driven by the drastic effects of divorce on our culture. In Florida, 60 percent of children are born into broken homes. This social indicator has been linked to higher crime rates, higher poverty, an increase in the instances of child abuse, drug addiction, and even a higher likelihood of illness. To make matters worse, the financial impact on the American economy of one divorce has been calculated at $30,000. For Duval County, which saw approximately 3,700 divorces in 2015, that is a financial impact of over one hundred million dollars.

The good news is that over the last year, as funding for marriage programs has risen by more than a million dollars in Duval County, the divorce rate has dropped by 16 percent. As couples choose to invest in their marriage through ME, they are working out their problems rather than throwing in the towel. To make things even more incredible, last year Duval County had the lowest number of divorces since 1970, the first available statistic.

In 2016, there were 600 fewer divorces in Duval County than the previous year. This trend is bucking the overall trend in Florida, which remains consistent in the number of divorces. Based on these numbers, it is clear that something special is happening here. Not only were people saved from the negative emotional, financial and social effects of divorce, but the 600 marriages that were saved represents eighteen million dollars in taxpayer savings. It is hard to image the impact if this same success could be recreated across the country.

According to Live the Life’s Jacksonville Director and Board Chairman, Dennis Stoica, Duval County is on track to see the overall divorce rate drop by 50 percent within the next 3 to 5 years if current funding stays in place. This will involve a community effort, focused on mobilizing more than 800 churches and multiple community organizations here in our city.

Partnered together, couples in Duval County will have access to more opportunities for ME than ever before. This is where Live the Life shines. Not only is it a consultant and provider for ME programs across the country, but the organization also hosts a website aimed at connecting individual couples to this vastly growing network of ME opportunities. At livethelife.org, classes and events are categorized and arranged by location, so couples can find the classes near them that best suit their needs.

Whether it is at a local church or a community center, Live the Life wants to get every couple into some level of ME. Couples who spend just 8 hours per year in a good ME program can improve the quality of their marriage and drastically decrease the likelihood of divorce and dissatisfaction. The movement can be infectious too as couples in crisis witness the revitalized relationships in their community and begin to feel hope..

Watching recommitted couples from Hope Weekend walk out the door on Sunday afternoon moves one to tears. The anger and bitterness that they walked in with has been replaced by a new sense of purpose, self-awareness and hope. Thanks partly to organizations like Live the Life, the marriages in Duval County also have hope: hope for life-long fulfilling relationships, hope for a better future with less crime, illness and poverty, and hope for a world that knows how to love better.

For more information on Marriage Education (ME) opportunities across Jacksonville, visit Livethelife.org.

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