Lifestyle

Happy marriages rely on education

eHarmony

I HAD dinner the other night with one of the most successful couples I know.

They've been together most of their adult lives, clearly adore each other and recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with a trip to Paris.

The only problem is that they're not actually married - being gay, they've had to make do with a civil partnership.

And their model relationship doesn't get a look-in when the great and the good start agonising (again) over family breakdown and the parlous state of marriage.

I agree we have a problem with relationships.

Each January, having endured the myth of a joyful family Christmas, thousands of miserable husbands and wives pick up the phone and make an appointment to see a divorce lawyer.

The divorce rate is rising, after a period of slow decline, and there are currently 3.8 million children in the family justice system.

This is hardly a snapshot of a nation of happy families, and it has persuaded a High Court judge to set up a foundation which aims to reverse the "appalling and costly impact of family breakdown".

Sir Paul Coleridge wants to end what he calls a "recycling" pattern of switching to new partners instead of trying to make existing relationships work.

I'll come back to "recycling" in a moment, but a big part of his mission - the bit I greet with a weary groan - is to promote marriage.

"My message is, mend it - don't end it," declared Sir Paul.

Unfortunately, his announcement came at roughly the same time as news was breaking of the latest in a series of horrific domestic murders over the festive period.

On New Year's Day, according to Durham police, Michael Atherton shot dead his partner, Susan McGoldrick, her sister, Alison Turnbull, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull; Ms McGoldrick's daughter, Laura, 19, was injured, but managed to escape through an upstairs window.

Friends said the couple separated for a couple of months last summer but got back together, and Laura was "scared" of her stepfather's violence.

This is an extreme case of family breakdown, but it follows similar episodes last month when two apparently happily-married men attacked their families and then killed themselves.

Yesterday, in what police are treating as another "domestic" incident, a young mother was found dead from stab wounds in a car which had been used to abduct her from her home in east London.

My point is that many people urgently need to leave dangerous relationships, and no amount of lectures about the desirability of marriage is going to change that. In most cases, warning signs exist in the form of controlling behaviour, if not actual beatings, and everyone who goes into a relationship with another adult should know what to look for.

Two women a week, on average, are killed by current or former partners, and there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women every year.

Pro-marriage rhetoric has little to say about these figures, which suggest there are fundamental problems in adult relationships right across the board.

Unrealistic expectations are fuelled by celebrity magazines, which vastly accelerate the process of falling in love, getting married and having children; from first date to fevered speculation about a "baby bump" seems to take about three months.

Recycled relationships are the norm among soap stars and reality TV contestants, and no one bats an eyelid when one of Katie Price's ex-husbands takes up with a woman who was briefly married to a pop star she met in the Big Brother House.

This is real-life soap opera, its miseries cushioned by higher disposable incomes than most couples can call on.

And one of its effects is to encourage an addiction to romance, where people who don't have much else in their lives crave the highs of a new relationship.

The result is the phenomenon of women who have babies by several different fathers, all of them absent, and the likelihood of one or more of the children ending up in care.

This is not a happy outcome for anyone, but the single most effective means of reducing the number of unhappy, and indeed abusive, relationships is education.

Lessons in what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to deal with conflict should be routine for teenagers, and there are plenty of experts who could be invited into schools to provide it.

I'm all in favour of sex education, but it also needs to cover the impact of having children and the fact that some people simply don't want to become parents.

There's also an argument for offering relationship classes to adults when they're going through a divorce or break-up, to help identify damaging patterns and reduce the effect on children.

It's hard to do this if you start from the premise that it's better for couples to stay together or promote the one-size-fits-all solution of traditional marriage.

My gay friends could teach straight couples a lot about how to live with another adult, but no one thinks of asking their advice. I mean, it's not as if they're married, is it?

Topics:  marriage, relationships




Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Interest rate cut ‘more harmful than helpful’

Warwick Credit Union (WCU) CEO Lewis von Stieglitz

Warwick Credit Union CEO describes rate cut as "over zealous"

Budget aims to extinguish smoking

Hand putting out a cigarette in ashtray

New federal budget outlines four-year tax hike on tobacco products.

VIDEO: Man tragically dies after crash with school bus

82yo dies shortly after arriving at Toowoomba Hospital

Latest deals and offers


Make Mum something special at Bunnings

Warwick families can make something special for their Mum at Bunnings tomorrow night.

Mother's Day family night at Bunnings tomorrow

Spectacular Crash as Corvette Flips at Drag Races

Corvette flips at 350kmh.

Driver walks away from 350kmh crash in Texas.

Star Wars: Force Awakens told in Emojis

Disney has released an emoji version of The Force Awakens.

To commemorate Star Wars Day, Disney releases emoji version of film on a smart...

NYPD join dance challenge

New York Police respond to NZ dance challenge.

New York's finest accept Kiwi dance challenge.

Mayor: confidence is key to filling empty shops

Former Destination Southern Downs business implementation manager Tracy Dobie has announced she will be running for Mayor. Photo Contributed

Dobie to lead economic development committee

Warwick commercial property market in ‘decline’

The old Mango camping store on Albion St is for sale/lease at the moment. It's been empty since late February after housing the camping business for 10 years.

Business confidence affects commercial property sales

Demand for acreage lots pushes up property prices

Property values in Cooroy have increased 25%

Property values jump in Cooroy and Peachester.