Review of Smart Marriages Conference, 2001
By Harry Benson
This is a brief review of the “Smartmarriages” conference Kate and I attended in Orlando, Florida. In overlooking the touristy nature of the location, the conference itself was fabulous! Here in the UK, we should strongly consider establishing a similarly broad coalition that meets under the “marriage education” banner. It was an awesome experience finding 1,500 other people who all feel the same way we do about the importance of marriage – it’s not just me! The conference was professionally run and deeply inspiring. Present were top academics, policy makers, judges, therapists, church leaders, journalists, and many lay couples.
For those nerds amongst us who trawl through research papers trying to make sure that the authors are right to conclude what they claim, it was hugely exciting to see and hear the likes of Scott Stanley, Bill Doherty, Paul Amato and Linda Waite in the flesh. Some of their newer findings I summarise below. The case for marriage vs. its alternatives is very strong and the case to make people think very long and hard before they divorce is similarly so. We also had an amusing evening with John Gray, of Mars and Venus fame, who was very funny if a little overdone (like his books!) about the ways men and women tend to think and act differently.
Perhaps of all the many key things I heard at Smartmarriages, the strongest message I brought home is the need to increase public awareness of what it’s like to grow up as a child of divorce. Kate and I were especially struck by hearing Judith Wallerstein, now nearly 80 years old, discuss how divorce has affected the 93 children of divorce she has been interviewing since 1970. As a child of divorce myself, I was stunned to hear her use what sounded like my own words and scripts and to describe them as the common experience. Supposedly well-educated about the whole subject as I thought I was, I was genuinely surprised to discover that my own experience is the norm. And there I was thinking I was uniquely odd…