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Class aims at lowering divorce statistics


Sally Dear, visiting assistant professor in the School of Education and Human Development, is teaching a class she designed to address divorce issues — Divorce Culture; Relationships and Developmental Issues — which will be offered this fall at Binghamton
What’s love got to do with it?

Not much, says Sally Dear, visiting assistant professor in the School of Education and Human Development, who notes that married couples in the United States get divorced at an alarming rate. According to 1997 U. S. divorce statistics, 50 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of remarriages end in divorce.

Dear hopes to help reverse that trend through education. She will be teaching a class she designed to address divorce issues — Divorce Culture; Relationships and Developmental Issues — which will be offered this fall at Binghamton University.

“We are led to believe that romantic love is something mysterious and the key to a good relationship and marriage,” Dear said. “The truth is, traditional marriage and the myth of ‘living happily ever after’ can disrupt and reproduce power relations between men and women and set relationships up for failure. The key is to help students separate fact from fiction and learn how to put into practice the communication and negotiation skills that will help them avoid serious relationship and marital troubles.”

Relationship issues are not confined only to married couples. According to the 2000 U.S. Census report, 5.5 million unmarried couples were living together. The majority of these households were comprised of partners of the opposite sex (4.9 million), but 1 in 9 (594,000) had partners of the same sex.

Dear said the class researches the history of marriage, the life span of love, rituals of joining and parting, domestic violence, the concept of egalitarian relationships, as well as the nuts and bolts of separation and divorce including the effects on children. Approaching the issue from a multi-disciplinary social science perspective, she emphasizes that relationships are very complex and incorporate a number of anthropological, historical, sociological, economic, psychological, geographic and political factors.

This type of course is critically important, Dear said, in light of recent legislation which calls for $300 million in marriage promotion funding each year for five years, and the Marriage Protection Act, which conservatives claim will protect marriage by precluding federal courts from considering questions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman for purposes of federal law, a definition currently being challenged by gay activists and their supporters.

“Our society has undergone a significant metamorphosis over the last 50 years, and part of the problem is that we continue to rely on outdated beliefs and expectations,” Dear said. “For example, more and more women work outside the home. This factor in itself has created the need for a reorganization of our thinking about the mythical ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family.

“I’m all for a proactive approach,” Dear said. “If I can help students identify the importance of the difference between the ‘Jerry McGuire’ concept of ‘you complete me’ and the more realistic and satisfying ‘you compliment me,’ I am convinced that, at least for the students who take the class, there will be fewer relationship problems.”

Dear’s classes have proven very popular with students, with a waiting list for both of her fall classes.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08