I Do! Or do you?

Experts say there are warning signs indicating that the one you're thinking about marrying may actually be a jerk

Experts say there are warning signs indicating that the one you're thinking about marrying may actually be a jerk

January 20, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Remember "Chapel of Love," that old song by the Dixie Cups?

It went something like:

"Going to the chapel

And we're gonna get married ...

We'll love until

The end of time

And we'll never be lonely anymore ..."

Maybe. Maybe not.

Many people have been there. Love in their hearts. Stars in their eyes.


And although the American divorce rate has declined slightly since hitting a peak in the early 1980s, it's still about 50 percent, according to The State of Our Unions, The Social Health of Marriage in America 2002, a report of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.

What happens?

Do people suddenly wake up one morning and realize the person they married - the person they so adored on their wedding day - is a jerk?

Sometimes, but it's not necessarily sudden. There are often warning signs to avoid marrying a jerk.

Jon Van Epp has a plan and a program. A clinical counselor in Medina, Ohio, Van Epp, who is married to the former Shirley Newman from Chambersburg, Pa., has been a marriage and family counselor for 15 years.

He believes that if people are better educated about positive behaviors and negative traits and know what to know before getting too close to see clearly, they can avoid marrying jerks.

Van Epp says he wants to help the infatuated follow their hearts without losing their minds.

Feelings of attachment in relationships are created by five forces, he says. They are knowledge - what you know about the person you are dating - trust, reliance, commitment and sex.

These elements must be kept in balance, Van Epp says. None of the elements should exceed the one ahead of it. Imbalance - more commitment or more sex than knowledge, for example - can lead to overattachment and vulnerability.

Van Epp outlines five areas that should be investigated to predict what a person will be like in marriage: family background, the quality of the person's conscience, compatibility, relationship skills and patterns of past relationships.

In the four years since he developed his program, it is being used in 45 states and seven countries. It has reached 50 U.S. military bases, where Van Epp says there are huge singles populations. Church youth groups and singles ministries are using it, and Van Epp's program also is applied in educational and school settings.

Singles have been greatly neglected, he says. However, organizations that promote the importance of family, offer help for a little preventative care.

The "marriage movement" is large:

  • David Popenoe, professor of sociology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who speaks and writes about family and child wellbeing, co-direct the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.The project's mission is to strengthen the institution of marriage by providing research and analysis.

  • Another resource is the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, an interest group whose members are convinced that family breakdown can be reduced through education and information. CMFCE was founded in 1996 by Diane Sollee, a marriage and family therapist.

  • FOCCUS - Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding & Study, a premarital survey instrument, has been translated into 14 languages, says clinical psychologist Barbara Markey, associate director of the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

Markey developed the form in the mid-1980s, updating it from earlier inventories, which she says were not strong enough in dealing with modern-day issues such as the realities of the two-career family.

What's important about the survey is that it helps potential newlyweds to identify and discuss vital topics: things they didn't know needed to be talked about, agreement about the husband and wife roles in marriage, concerns that future in-laws will interfere.

And those things are pretty universal, Markey has learned. Wedded veterans can apply this advice, as well.

"Relationship is relationship," she says. "The issues around marriage are basic."

Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Chambersburg, Pa., is one of many parishes that use the FOCCUS survey, says the Rev. James R. O'Brien.

Married "mentor" couples, including Monica and Keith Smith of St. Thomas, Pa., meet two-on-two with a couple planning to be married in their church.

There is a lot of discussion about how family members influence marriage. There is open and honest dialogue about how finances will be handled. There is talk about talk. Communication skills are covered.

Sometimes the survey opens eyes and changes plans.

Among those who take the inventory eight months to a year before the planned marriage, 15 to 25 percent postpone or cancel the wedding, Markey says.

"Marriage is supposed to be magic," she says. Divorce statistics indicate that it is not automatic.

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