JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Almost half of all marriages end in divorce, but new studies show that divorce rates are actually trending down.
Florida, Duval County divorces
Rate per 1,000 from 1995 to 2016
Source: Florida Department of Health
A University of Maryland study found that between 2008 and 2016, the divorce rate in the United States dropped by 18 percent.
In Duval County, the drop is even more dramatic.
According to the Culture of Freedom Initiative, from 2014-2017, divorce rates went down 28 percent in Duval County.
Another study found several reasons why more couples are working through their differences. Partners are getting married older, and they understand themselves and their spouse better.
Marriage counselor and coach Dr. Richard Marks said Millennials are actually helping drop the divorce rate.
"They don't value marriage. They actually value parenting. However, the Millennials that are marrying and choosing marriage are actually getting married later, and they're dating longer,” Marks said. “They're becoming more wise about who they're marrying because they understand the divorce risk out there because of divorce culture. So they're becoming much more judicious and wise in their dating, meeting partners and making better decisions about who they marry.”
Duval County demographics
Source: Florida Center for Prevention Research
Marks is the vice president for marriage education for a Christian-based marriage strengthening program in Florida called Live the Life.
During the past two years, staffers with the program have been scouring court documents for couples filing for divorce and offering them another option.
Live the Life has provided more than four hours of individual marriage and relationship counseling to more than 15,000 men and women in Jacksonville.
Marks said one goal is to target the faith community.
"The best way to do that is -- you think about what organization in a community has the ability to teach healthy marriage, teach the skills and support the change any time of the week -- it's the churches, the synagogues, that's the place,” Marks said. “This is why we're going after the faith community, saying, 'Hey, you guys value marriage based on your faith. What if we teach you how to do strong, healthy marriage ministry and family ministry. We'll show you how to teach the skills, and then you guys can support it, because it's a value to part of your faith group.'”
Click here for more information on Live the Life's programs and sessions.
A marriage-saving 'adventure'
A Jacksonville couple who went through one of the sessions called “Adventures in Marriage” believe it saved their marriage.
They were high school sweethearts, who were separated by life, before their flame was reignited in a church eight years later.
"I said, 'Are you single?' And she said, 'Yeah.' And I told her, 'I'm gonna marry you.' And that's pretty much how that conversation went from the get-go, because I already knew she was the one I missed," Patric Myers said.
Patric describes his wife, Rebecca Myers, as selfless, outgoing and a woman who earned his trust.
Rebecca describes Patric as a caretaker who exudes strength. They've loved each other for years, but somewhere along the way, the relationship turned toxic.
"We were arguing all the time -- all the time -- every single thing. It didn't matter what it was," Patric said. “At that point, she was becoming my enemy.”
"I didn't think things were OK, but my previous relationship wasn't the greatest either, so I was just in the state of, 'Well, we're married. I guess this is how it's going to be,'" Rebecca said.
The Myerses said they lived as roommates handling the bills and kids, avoiding each other so they wouldn't fight.
But a big blowup while driving on 295 ended with Patric deciding to get out and walk home -- about five miles. That's when they knew they needed help and enrolled in an Adventures in Marriage counseling session at Live the Life.
"We didn't want a quick fix,” Patric said. “What we wanted was someone that would be real with the situation, but it will be based on God's word.”
"A lot of things I had to learn, because I was a very bad communicator,” Rebecca said. “I was emotional. I do low blows. If he says something that I take the wrong way, then I have to make sure that he feels just as bad as I do.”
Patric said it's easier to reflect about the lows because now they celebrate the highs.
"It didn't just teach us how to talk to each other; it taught us how each other thinks," Rebecca said.
Patric now knows and acts on what his wife likes.
"I have to be really intentional to say, 'I love you,' and really be intentional to come up on her and kiss her on the neck while she's cooking," Patric said.
Rebecca does the same. They still have challenges, but they agree, if they use the tools they were taught, they're going to make it.
Communication is key
The No. 1 thing couples complain about in marriage counseling is bad communication.
Part of what the Myerses learned was how to talk and listen to each other. They used a tool called the Dialogue Guide.
The key to this working is active listening.
The person talking finishes a sentence that expresses how they're feeling about a particular conflict.
The listener can't respond but can only repeat what the other person said -- to make sure they understand it.
The expresser can then correct them to make sure they really grasped how the expresser was feeling.
For a demonstration of the technique, watch the video below: