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DIVORCE PREVENTION 101 | PREMARITAL VERSION

If divorce were a virus that negatively affected 40% of American children we would be turning to the National Institutes of Health and demanding research to find a vaccine or cure.

As a pediatrician I believe in prevention. Marriage counseling is advised when a couple is struggling and sometimes it does prevent divorce. Are there possible preventive measures that could start earlier, before the marital problems or before marriage itself? Can we include teaching about what marriage is and what commitment means in high school? Can we raise our children to value and honor the two-parent family?

I think the answer to all these questions is, “Yes.”

But there are powerful forces that make premarital divorce prevention difficult. Love is a very strong emotion and the decision to marry is more likely to be based on chemistry than on critical thinking. We live in a culture that sanctions and even glorifies selfish behavior. No wonder. We are extraordinarily consumeristic and consumerism depends on gratification, the more instant the better.

Marry the guy or gal? Why not? It feels good now and why worry about tomorrow.

Alternative script: move in together? Why not? Ditto.

These scenarios wouldn’t be so bad except for two facts: sex makes babies and there is no perfect contraceptive.

There would not be so many kids affected by divorce or break-ups if prospective partners used a check-list.

• Is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with?
• Is this person grownup? Am I grownup?
• Is this person trustworthy?
• Will this person make a good parent? Will I?
• Is this person responsible enough to postpone gratification? Hold a job? Stay off drugs? Drink responsibly? Not fool around? Am I?
• Do we share similar values and goals?
• What kind of life do we want for our future children? Do we have the ability to provide that life if we get pregnant now?
• Do our families and friends like the prospective partner?
• Are there any things I don’t like about this person? Am I dumb enough to think I can change any of these things after we are married?

A marriage that works, that nourishes each person, and allows each person to grow is a treasure. To live in the home that houses such a marriage is the best gift you can ever give to your children.

I believe we can teach school children how best to get along with others, how to communicate, how to defuse oncoming fights. Yes we can teach children both at home and at school what marriage means, what a commitment is, how important a stable family is.

I believe it is possible to lower the number of divorces even though we will never be able to eliminate divorce. Recognizing that prevention is our only vaccine we should join together and make lowering the divorce rate a public health priority, After all, a divorce can be as emotionally crippling to a child as polio was once physically crippling.

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