Monday, October 20, 1997

Love, honor and Prepare

Linda Barnard
Toronto Sun
WEDDING TEST   For the sake of their marriage, there are 165 questions couples should answer before they come to the one that ends with "I do."

  In fact, before men even pop the question, they'd be better off asking their potential mates to sit down and take a kind of quiz called a relationship "inventory." It tests the mettle of relationships with such success that in 66 U.S. cities and one B.C. community, the majority of clergymen won't marry a couple unless they take part.

  Called Prepare (Premarital Personal Relationship Evaluation), the inventory was created 20 years ago by University of Minnesota family psychology professor David Olson. It has grown from a handful of questions to a full inventory of 165 queries on 11 crucial areas of a relationship, ranging from financial management to sex. Other inventories, such as Enrich, are geared to middle-aged and older couples, to those remarrying with children and to marrieds who want to get their relationship back on track.

  There are no right or wrong answers, and nobody passes or fails. And this is no magazine pop quiz, but rather a complex psychological profile which gives a true assessment of your feelings about life, your marriage and each other. Even the honesty of the responses is assured, because certain test questions earmark those who are faking their answers.

  The questions ask you to rate your feelings about a statement like: "I do not seem to have fun unless I am with my partner," choosing options from strongly agree, through neutral, to strongly disagree. When your replies are put next to your mate's, a pattern about your relationship emerges.

 Hot spots

  Follow-up counselling sessions with clergy or a therapist guides couples through the maze, dealing with the hot spots and potential trouble areas identified by the inventory. When they finish, experts say, not only are they stronger as a couple, but their risk of divorce has been lessened by as much as 50%. In 10-15% of cases, they may even decide that this marriage would be a mistake, and call the wedding off.

  "Prepare can predict with 80% accuracy who will divorce and, with the same accuracy, who will have a good marriage," says Mike McManus, a 57-year-old religion and ethics writer from Bethesda, Md. Through his company, Marriage Savers, McManus works to encourage members of the clergy in cities across America to take Prepare/Enrich training and make inventories and counselling a prerequisite for a church wedding.

  "Too many churches are wedding factories or blessing machines," says McManus, adding about 75% of first-time marrieds choose a house of worship for their ceremony. Since that is the case, the clergy have to do more than simply be concerned about skyrocketing divorce rates. They have to actively do something about it.

  ""If you want to be married in a church, it ought to mean more," says McManus.

  Similarly, U.S. judges and civic officials are making the same requirements.

 Cost saving

 For Judge James Sheridan, a Lenawee County court judge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it's not paternalism. Rather, he's being responsible to local taxpayers, preventing some of the costs the social service system can face when couples with children break up. "As an elected public official, should I be taking action that in the end will end up increasing the costs to the public?" asks Sheridan. "This becomes a question of professional responsibility."

  So far, 60 Ann Arbor-area ministers and two judges have agreed to require Prepare inventories and counselling prior to marriages.

  The program benefits couples in any stage of their relationship, supporters say. Even couples in crisis can find out there are areas of great strength in their marriages, that all is not lost, while targeting areas that need the most work to renew their relationship.

  But it's the engaged couples that are being targeted most vigorously, as experts in both religious and lay counselling agree that Prepare is just about the cheapest form of marriage insurance around.

  Scarboro registered marriage and family therapist Ed Bader says marriage preparation, once looked on as "Mickey Mouse," is now gaining acceptance as one of the best ways to head off problems in relationships early on.

  "Even if you love each other, you don't always agree on approaches to married life," says Bader, adding Prepare also gives the counsellor important insight into the bride and groom's family backgrounds and prior relationship attitudes.

  "I'm not sure it makes a marriage succeed. What its purpose is is to give an awareness of the areas of strength and possible difficulty. It's like giving them anticipatory guidance. It's a good way to take the rose-colored glasses off."

  In the end, says Bader, it is the couple who determines if the marriage will succeed or fail.

  Prepare also gets couples talking about issues they may not have discussed. "We've already run into stories where people have not discussed basic issues like, 'Do you want to have children?'" says Sheridan. "With the inventory, there are no right answers. There are no moral issues involved. If you want three kids and he wants none, how do you do that?"

  The number-one issue couples seem to let fall by the wayside is money, says Olson. Often, they have given that potential marriage flashpoint little or no thought.

  'They don't know if they'll have a joint account, or separate accounts, or how much each other makes," says Olson. "That's the area that's most taboo."

  St. Albert, Alberta, psychologist Jerry Cossitt is the Canadian co-ordinator of Enrich Canada Inc. He became involved in 1980. Today, about 4,500 clergy and counsellors across Canada have been trained to do Prepare/Enrich inventories and follow-up work with couples.

 In response to concerns that the inventory wasn't keeping up with the times, and was too heavily weighted with Christian and religious questions, Cossitt is now offering the newest, more secular version, called Prepare/Enrich 2000.

 Cossitt says the inventory is the best way to strip away the layers of idealism so many young couples in love cloak themselves in. Prepare gets them talking about issues they may have been aware of, yet afraid to bring up, and it gives counsellors a natural path to follow when helping couples.

  Does it work? Some 30,000 counsellors and clergy have given inventories to an estimated one million couples in the past 20 years, and in communities where Prepare is a prerequisite for marriage at most churches, divorces are down. In Peoria, Ill., the divorce rate has dropped 20%. In Modesto, Calif., it has dropped 51% in the 10 years since 95 religious leaders started following the community marriage policy.

  In the Vancouver suburb of Cloverdale, 12 of 14 churches have signed a community marriage policy, pledging that inventories, counselling and marriage mentoring must all take place or be agreed to before a couple can be married in their houses of worship.


  Pastor Greg Schroeder's 700-member Pacific Community Church began using Prepare a year ago. Already, there have been cases of couples realizing they were about to make a mistake, and deciding to call off the wedding.

  "We think people need to be honest with themselves," says Schroeder. 'It's not like me as a pastor saying you're not going to have a good marriage."

 If you're wondering how Prepare/Enrich may work for a married couple, check out how Sun columnist Valerie Gibson fared after putting her relationship under the microscope. The five-times-married Gibson said she had fun, and the inventory confirmed what she already knew: that although her marriage is perhaps unconventional, it is a happy and secure one for her and her spouse.

 Toronto counsellor Beverley Hurlburt, who has been doing Prepare/Enrich inventories and counselling for about 10 years, says while she doesn't use it with every couple she sees, it is an excellent way to get couples talking and building the strengths in their relationship.

  "It's an insurance plan. It teaches a habit," Hurlburt says. Once couples get into a routine of talking to each other, working on their relationship and seeking counselling when they feel they need help, it keeps a marriage "tuned up and healthy," says Hurlburt.

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