In Bid to Stem Divorces, Israeli City Offers Marriage Counseling

'Marriage' to become a compulsory course for 12th graders as part of Ashkelon municipality's new plan.

Yanir Yagna
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Yanir Yagna

The Ashkelon municipality has embarked on a pioneering venture to reduce divorce rates in the city: It is organizing marriage counseling workshops for couples both before and after marriage.

In addition, the city decided, all twelfth-grade students will have to take a special course on marriage and family life.

Women dressed as brides in support of civil marriage bill.Credit: Emil Salman

The workshops will be available to all couples aged 20 to 40, and to any new couple that applies for a marriage license. In addition, special workshops will be available for couples whose marriage is on the rocks. Each workshop will comprise six, eight or 12 sessions, depending on the couple's level of difficulties. A nominal fee of NIS 10 per person will be charged for each session to ensure that those who attend are serious about doing so.

The workshops will cover topics such as resolving conflicts, how to improve your connection with your spouse, and differences between the sexes and how they affect spousal communication. The sessions will be led by marriage counselors, social workers, economists or doctors, depending on the topic, and will be given at local community centers.

The workshops are the brainchild of city councilman Yair Haddad, of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel faction. Haddad said he hoped the initiative would lower the city's divorce rate.

"Divorce is a nationwide plague," he said. "Our goal is to prevent them, so that children won't fall into drug abuse or need the welfare authorities. I thereby gain good citizens and good soldiers."

Today, one out of every three couples divorces, he said, and believes this rate would be lower if couples underwent courses in marriage and parenting.

"There's no such thing as a failed couple; there are only couples without guidance," he said, likening his initiative to driver education. "If there is understanding between the spouses, they can get through many difficulties."

The goal of the twelfth-grade classes is to teach students how to set up a loving home even if they come from a broken one, Haddad added. Those classes, which he said the local education authorities have approved, will be given at school for free.

Mayor Benny Vaknin said he was persuaded to get behind the initiative after seeing many couples decide to stay together after getting assistance while going through a rough patch. "Therefore, we decided to set up workshops that would prevent ugly divorces, which are a trouble and grief to the entire family," he said.

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