Couples address issues in UGA premarital counseling
By Merritt Melancon | firstname.lastname@example.org
updated at 11:47 PM on Thursday, February 14, 2008
When Judy Jackson married her best friend Michael 16 years ago,
they thought they knew pretty much everything about each other,
but it turns out they had a lot more to learn.
"There's always something that you can do better," Judy Jackson
said. "There's always something you can learn."
Last year, she and Michael went through a three-weekend marriage
enrichment program sponsored by the University of Georgia. They
never had considered counseling, but they agreed to be one of 500
couples participating in a research project called the Program for
Strong African American Marriages.
They learned listening and problem-solving skills they wish they'd
had as newlyweds, Judy said.
"It was a really good experience," Michael said. "And I would say
for young people who are planning to get married, it would really
help them to be able to face the problems of that first year - without
having to learn everything by trial and error."
Since 2005, the state of Georgia has encouraged engaged couples
to participate in relationship enrichment programs like the one
the Jacksons followed by giving a discount on the price of a marriage
license in exchange for six hours of premarital counseling.
Still, only about half of Athens-Clarke County couples qualify
for the $35 discount on their $57 license fee, said Pam Middlebrooks,
clerk of marriages in the Athens-Clarke County Magistrate Court.
And the percentage who take advantage of the deal statewide is
less than that, said Ted Futris, a UGA College of Family and Consumer
Sciences Professor trying to spread the word about premarital enrichment
classes. Only about one in 10 of the brides he talks to knows about
"But the true benefits of going through the program outweigh the
$35 savings," he said.
Futris has started a UGA-based, discounted premarital counseling
program for Oglethorpe, Oconee and Athens-Clarke County residents,
which will run throughout the spring.
He hopes several counties in Georgia eventually will offer counseling
similar to his program. Once more couples have access to comprehensive
premarital counseling, the state's marriage license discount initiative
will gain a foothold, Furtis said. In the end, fewer couples will
get divorced, he said.
During the six sessions, the $30 course covers everything from
child-rearing philosophies to money-management styles to dealing
with in-laws. "After marriage, you are not going to change your
spouse," Futris said. "If someone doesn't want to have children,
they're not going to change their mind after five years of marriage.
During the course (the couples) identify those things that they
agree on, what they may need to make some decisions on in the future
and how to communicate about those issues."
Some couples discover that they do, in fact, have serious issues
to work out before they get married, Futris said.
"For some couples you want to say, 'Your wedding date's in three
weeks, are you sure you want to go through with this?' " he said. "But
it's better to identify the problems before you get married. Usually
the couple is so committed to each other that they say, 'Hey let's
work these things out.' "
Futris recommends that couples take counseling before they send
out wedding invitations, so they have time to identify and discuss
any problems they might find.
"Once those invitations go out," he said. "It's much harder to
back out of it or push the date back."
Couples seeking more information on this program can visit http://www.gamarriages.org/.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 02/14/08
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