January 9, 2008 | By: Carol Lea Spence

There’s no required reading or test to be passed when two people decide to build a life together. Yet, according to Erik Carlton, project director of the University of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Healthy Marriage Initiative, one of the most significant decisions people make is whom they are going to marry, and if that decision isn’t made well, the relationship may not have much chance of lasting very long. 

The UK initiative is part of the School of Human Environmental Sciences Department of Family Studies. Its staff works with community partners in an eight-county service area in the Bluegrass to help couples build healthy and lasting relationships.

“It’s about learning skills that help you connect in very deep and intimate ways, and that’s what we’re about,” Carlton said.

The program is in its second year of a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has been channeling funds into healthy marriage initiatives across the country. Carlton said the federal department’s intent is to lower out of wedlock births and divorce rates. 

“According to one recent study, divorce costs the state of Kentucky roughly $700 million a year, because of things such as legal fees, low productivity or absenteeism at work, its impact on health, and child support that goes toward supporting a second home rather than being conserved within one relationship,” he said. “Anytime somebody gets divorced the employer can count on losing about $10,000, minimum.”

The initiative does not promote marriage simply for the sake of marriage. 

“We’re here to say, if you’re going to get married, let’s do it in a smart way so you can have a healthy relationship,” he said.

The program primarily targets young adults, new or expectant parents, whether married or unmarried, newlyweds and engaged couples. Carlton said these groups comprised the primary audience because of the transitions they are experiencing and the opportunity to them when they’re not set into a relationship, though he emphasized anyone of any age can benefit from the classes.

“In all honesty, the skills taught in the classes apply to all sorts of relationships,” he said. “It could be your best friend, your sister, co-worker. We take a relationship/marriage sort of approach, but you can be single and come to the classes.”

In 2008, the initiative is planning to offer monthly classes throughout its service area, which includes Fayette, Jessamine, Woodford, Scott, Bourbon, Clark, Madison, and Franklin counties. For those interested in taking a class, Carlton said the best way was to find one offered through one of the initiative’s many community partners. Classes are listed on the event calendar posted at the Bluegrass Healthy Marriage Initiative’s Web site, http://www.bluegrassmarriage.org.

He said much of the staff’s effort is dedicated to developing a coalition of organizations that host classes and offer other types of support. The coalition is made up of an assortment of agencies and businesses, including public health and social service agencies, schools, hospitals, churches and private businesses. They are also actively seeking more partners.

“Any organization, school, business, church, health care facility, whatever, who’d be interested in either partnering with us to provide these services or having information readily available for their clientele or their people should give us a call,” Carlton said.

Carlton and the Bluegrass Healthy Marriage Initiative staff are also looking toward the future.
“We realize that our grant is not going to be around forever. We’re going to apply for more funding, but in case that doesn’t happen we wanted to make sure there was capacity in the community to keep these services going,” he said.

With that goal in mind, the initiative is offering its first Central Kentucky Marriage Conference in cooperation with Bluegrass Healthy Marriages Partnership, a separate nonprofit organization in Lexington, with which the initiative collaborates. The conference, which will be held on February 8 and 9 at the Embassy Suites in Lexington, will offer training and certification in various relationship education approaches, as well as networking opportunities for professionals in the field. 

Nationally and world-renowned facilitators in relationship counseling will conduct workshops sessions during the main conference, including Steven Stosny, author of “Love Without Hurt,” Mary Ortwein, creator of Mastering the Magic of Love program, and Rozario Slack and Nisa Muhammed, who will be offering Basic Training for Couples, also known as the Black Marriage Education Curriculum. Professionals will be eligible to receive continuing education units for attending.

Registration materials for the conference can be found on the initiative’s Web site,http://www.bluegrassmarriage.org or by calling 859-257-5527. Deadline for registration is February 1. Conference fee is $100 for both days and $25 for the preconference workshop. The fee includes breakfast and lunch. A special rate is available at the Embassy Suites for those who wish to stay overnight.


Erik Carlton, 859-257-7734