Is your marriage on the rocks? Are you about to get hitched? Does your relationship have a few niggles that keep popping up? Or do you just love a freebie? As of tomorrow, Aussie couples can apply for $200 ‘relationship vouchers’ to subsidise counselling.
You can thank Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews for the initiative, which he designed to “help couples achieve a greater degree of happiness and stability and thereby a better environment for their children.”
The first 100,000 couples to apply in the $20 million trial’s first year will be able to take the voucher to an approved provider for “marriage and relationship education and counselling, including components of parenting education, conflict resolution and financial management education.”
And it’s not only the married-and-resigned-to-divorce types that are eligible. These relationship spruce-up tickets are for long-time married couples, honeymooning couples, engaged couples, unmarried (and with no plans to marry) couples and same-sex couples. Couples with kids, couples who’ve received their diamond anniversary letter from the Queen, couples who believe marriage is a trap and couples who think it’s cool to wear matching, hand-knitted cardigans.
When the 12-month-trial was announced earlier this year, there was much criticism. Mr Andrews responded by pointing to statistics telling us that about a third of first-time marriages fail. He estimated that each divorce cost the taxpayer in the vicinity of $100,000 for a total of $15 billion a year, not to mention the often-messy and heartbreaking outcomes for children.
I’m a fan of his motivation and approach. Focusing on prevention rather than cure, encouraging us to give our relationships some attention before the big problems blow out (and cost the government a mint) aren’t such bad things.
Few people quibble over the money spent to insure their car, house, boat and whatever other precious things they own. Many go a step further and install security systems or guard dogs.
We buy cars with airbags, buckle our kids into the recommended child seats, go to restaurants that adhere to health and safety regulations, report dangerous behaviour to the police and follow the instructions on the use of hazardous chemicals.
It’s natural to protect what is valuable to us.
But there’s no such insurance, regulations, manual or instructions that accompany a marriage. For many of us, it will be the single most important relationship of our lives – from this union comes personal fulfillment and joy, children and family, support and protection. Yet many of us will fail to invest in its success.
If it takes the government to encourage us to give our marriage a health check-up; good! It’s no silver bullet. A few random counselling sessions aren’t going to fix a nation’s broken family epidemic.
But I do think Mr Andrews’ relationship vouchers are a positive step towards restoring the value we place on marriage and family.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:7-9)
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 30, 2014.