The first professorial chair in sustainable relationships, announced last week by a Dutch university, aims to inform government policy towards supporting marriages and preventing relationships conflict.
In a society where sustainability is seen as an essential goal in almost all areas except marriage and family relationships, the appointment of Prof Dr Esther Kluwer (48) to this chair–by the Behavoural Science Institute of Radboud University in Nijmegen–is a pro-active attempt to promote happier and more stable relationships.
The new chair is an initiative of the MarriageWeek Foundation in the Netherlands which is concerned at the 43% divorce rate in Holland, and the social and economic costs of such broken relationships.
Jan Hol, chairman of MarriageWeek, wrote about the appointment as follows: ‘Our foundation works to promote happy and long-lasting relationships and to reduce the number of divorces. Our country needs a policy that sustains loving relationships. Germany and England have been giving a good example in these areas for some time. This special chair will help towards these goals.’
Hol and other board members including my wife Romkje, secretary and project director of MarriageWeek, became concerned at the lack of research concerning marriage and divorce in the Netherlands some five years ago. They commissioned an independent research which eventually calculated the cost of divorce to Dutch taxpayers to be some €2 billion per year. The greatest costs, about €900 million, related to criminal behaviour of children from broken homes. The extra demand by one parent-families on social subsidies amounts to some €380 million. The estimated costs of loss of workhours resulting from divorce come to some €440 million.
Research in Britain by the Relationships Foundation had helped inspire the Dutch project. Family breakdown across the channel had been estimated to cost up to £46 billion a year, a figure quoted in The Telegraph by the Welfare Minister, Lord Freud. He had also called for marriage to be ‘put back into its rightful place’ after a surge in the number of children being brought up by unmarried parents who he said were four times more likely to separate than those who tie the knot. The Coalition Government should make “no apology” for saying that it had a clear duty to strengthen the family, he was quoted as saying.
With their research findings, MarriageWeek board members met with Dutch government officials two years ago, supported by Christian members of parliament and other experts in the field, to discuss the implications for public policy. They were told more specific research was needed.
Last week’s announcement was MarriageWeek’s response to this request for better understanding on which to develop policy.
Meanwhile, the Christian MPs have continued to be active on other fronts. In response to television programmes romanticising adultery, and specific media advertisements encouraging ‘second love adventures’, one parliamentarian raised sponsorship for roadside adverts stating: Adultery–the family game where everyone loses (a word play on the Dutch word for adultery, ‘overspel’–‘spel’ means ‘game’.)
Others continue to push for a law allowing couples tax deduction on marriage-enrichment courses, just as divorced couples are entitled to deduct expenses of post-divorce counselling.
Prof Kluwer plans to research factors which make relationships sustainable. “Scientific literature shows that people in a good partner relationship have fewer problems with heart failure and depression,” she explains. “Also they recover better after sickness.” Much research done on relationships has focussed on what goes wrong, according to the professor, but the focus on positive aspects is only recent and less frequent.
While taxpayers as well as the partners involved suffer the consequences of divorce, the most vulnerable victims are the children, who in the Netherlands number some 70,000 accumulating each year.
Lord Freud told the House of Lords that there were ‘an estimated 2.5 million separated families with 4.1 million children’ in Britain. Studies had linked family breakdown with children failing at school, becoming unemployed, getting involved in crime and suffering mental health problems, he told the Telegraph. “It would be easy to put a financial cost to society from family breakdown, but the social cost is far higher and its impacts far deeper.”
However, while the situations in Britain and the Netherlands raise real concerns, other European countries reflect more alarming figures. Eight of the ten countries world-wide with the highest divorce rates were European. The United States, with a 53% track record (one every six seconds), is topped in the Americas only by Cuba (56), and the following European countries: France (55), Estonia (58), Luxembourg (60), Spain (61), Czech Republic (66), Hungary (67) and Portugal (68)… with Belgium topping the world rankings at 71 per cent!
Obviously much has to be done to promote long and happy marriages all across Europe. May this chair be the first of many more!
Till next week,