Series: Pre-Marriage Counselling
In Australia, over 40 per cent of all marriages end in divorce over a 30 year period, and marriage rates have dropped to the lowest rate they have been in one hundred years (ABS, 2007). Somewhere around one million people in Australia have experienced divorce.
The costs associated with divorce, including social security payments and court proceedings, run close to a staggering 3 billion dollars a year in Australia alone (Owen-Brown and Booth, 2003). Divorce has recently been reported to be the number one ‘wealth buster’ of all the financial hazards in life (Featherstone, 2006).
Divorce and separation can be damaging in many other ways. There is an increased risk of serious mental health problems and physical illness for both men and women divorcees. There are also higher fatality rates among divorcees from things such as malfunctioning auto immune systems, suicide and even automobile accidents (Gottman, 1998). Other studies have found correlations between marital separations and alcoholism, anxiety and eating disorders (Fincham & Beach, 1999).
Children are not spared the effects of divorce. Children growing up in ‘fatherless families’ show ten times more risk of having behavioural problems. They are also nine times more likely to leave school before graduation and ten times more likely to become users and abusers of drugs (Tornstam, 1994). Girls whose parents divorce are more likely to drop out of school and are more likely to become pregnant outside of marriage, while children of divorce report lower levels of happiness in their adult years and higher than average levels of divorce in their own marriages (Ellis, 2000).
There is a trend away from marriage. People in their thirties not marrying stated a ‘fear of divorce’ and ‘fear of making a mistake’ as primary reasons. As for those who are still considering marriage, a recent Relationships Australia survey showed that fifty per cent of people between the ages of 25 and 39 when asked about their motive for marriage said that they wanted ‘lifelong commitment’. People in their forties or older said that if they were to marry, a major reason would be to provide security and stability to their children (Clohesy, 2001).
The pre-marriage counsellor therefore enters into a very interesting and challenging situation. Clearly there is a great need in this area, and it is likely that counsellors will increasingly be called on to provide pre marital programs. In 2006, the Australian government talked about a $400 million strategy to stem the tide of divorce including pre-marital counselling and compulsory counselling for people considering divorce (Peatling, 2006). In Ireland, the Catholic Church has imposed compulsory two day marriage courses for those intending to wed (Clohesy, 2001).
This special report will explore some aspects of pre-marriage counselling, including useful information for counselling professionals and couples alike.