“Whoopie, We Saved a Marriage!” and Other Flawed Perspectives

HRC President Patty Howell

HRC President Patty Howell

By Patty Howell, Ed.M., A.G.C.

President, Healthy Relationships California

I’m not saying saving a marriage isn’t important, because it is. And it’s especially important if it’s your marriage that a Relationship Education course helped save. This is a big deal, really; one that ripples throughout all parts of your life, and impacts you, your spouse, your kids, their achievement in school, the health of everyone in the family, your effectiveness at work, your family’s income, and many other factors. It is a big deal.

But, I’m now impatient reading stories about how this wonderful class saved one couple’s marriage, and it’s especially painful to see this in a publication as important to our field as The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While attempting to present a balanced viewpoint about America’s emerging class divide regarding marriage, the work of the First Things First organization in Chattanooga, as well as the state of research in the field of Relationship and Marriage Education, their ambitious recent piece ended on the simplistic note of “one marriage saved”[1].

We in the field of Relationship and Marriage Education (RME) have a much larger and even more compelling story to tell and we need to learn how to tell this story in ways that successfully engage the media.[2]

When we talk about the work of RME, we are addressing family fragmentation that is estimated to cost our country $112 Billion per year[3]—a staggering amount of money! And, even that is just the tip of the iceberg: We are also addressing the social and emotional intelligence of Youth, parenting outcomes, productivity at work, incarceration and reentry, joblessness and welfare, along with every other type of social endeavor that human beings engage in throughout every component of life. Because of the interconnected nature of learning and the interconnectedness of human relationships, any time someone increases their relationship skills, this increases their capacity to create successful, more functional relationships with many people. As we impact one person, our work cascades beyond the one to the many, and across the family to the community, and to the greater society.

So let us do several things:  Firstly, let’s position all of our work within the broader field of Relationship Education, whether our particular flavor is working with couples, working with dads, youth, parents, military, reentry, or whatever. What we are all engaged in is teaching relationship skills to human beings.

And, beyond feel-good individual outcomes, let us talk about the social impact of our work. We must first be conscientious in measuring this impact, then in reporting our data through all the megaphones at our disposal—in journals and other publications, at conferences, in news releases, in social media of all kinds. People truly don’t know about the large-scale impact of what we do, and that’s on us.

Furthermore, we need to address society’s return on investment: whether we utilize the PROI model[4], EV-ROI,[5] or other estimations, it is important that we address the monetary impact of our work because funders of all kinds need to know that their investments are paying off—both in monetary terms as well as in human terms. Fortunately, the work we do offers a tremendous return on investment, and it’s on us to communicate that.

If people think we’re saving some marriages, that’s fine, because we’re saving lots of them. And we’re also doing so much more than this, but society cannot be expected to understand the real import of our work if we don’t help them understand it. It’s time to grab the megaphones and communicate about our real value.

Copyright © 2015 Healthy Relationships California

[1] Lindsay, D. “Bring the Family: A new class divide is emerging as marriage fades in Middle America. But Tennessee’s First Things First believes it has an answer.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, August 2015, pp. 18-23.

[2] Note to self whose interview got cut from the piece referenced above.

[3] Scafidi, B. (P.I.) The Taxpayer Cost of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All Fifty States. (2008). New York: Institute for American Values.

[4] Smoot, Bernice Sanders, founder: www.saintwallstreet.com

[5] Gluck, Andrew and Wubbenhorst, William, founders: www.socialcapitalvaluations.com


4 Responses to ““Whoopie, We Saved a Marriage!” and Other Flawed Perspectives”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Edixon Martinez says:

    In deed, using relationship skills can do much more that saving one marriage. As an avid instructor of these skills I see it first hand. These skills have the potential to transforms a way of living and the way we relate with others in every area of our life. We can affect someones day, or even life and entire generation just by the way we relate to them.

    We need to share our stories with our friends, other organizations and our social connections. If we don’t tell them, some people might think that all the thousands of researches in marriage satisfaction, training all around the country, tears of joy from participants and thousands of hours we put in to this work it only worth one marriage. This is beyond saving marriages this is about transforming lives!

  2. This is a wonderful call to action from a realistic perspective grounded in great truth. I just want you to know that I have my megaphone!
    Great article Patty!!!



  1. […] As we impact one person, our work cascades beyond the one to the many, and across the family to the community, and to the greater society.  […]

Leave A Comment...