Some 200 engaged and recently married couples, marriage guidance counselors and other professionals will gather in the capital on Tuesday for a one-day symposium that will promote formal courses for anyone thinking of tying the knot or in their first few years of marriage.

Organized by the non-profit organization Behirat Halev (www.choiceoftheheart.org), the forum will highlight the need for marriage training and relationship advice for young couples and provide workshops on “the critical aspects that can make or break a marriage,” according to Sherrie Miller, the organization’s founder.

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“Some of the workshops will be the first time that these topics have been presented here in Israel,” Miller, a veteran US immigrant, told The Jerusalem Post Monday. “Finance and physical intimacy can have major torpedo effects in a marriage and there is a very strong need for couples to explore these issues in advance or to look into how to effectively deal with them before they grow to become major problems later on.”


The latest figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that 13,105 couples divorced in Israel last year and 57 percent of some 105,000 single-parent families are the result of divorces here.

Tuesday’s conference, which is set to take place at Beit Avichai in Jerusalem, will include workshops led by Professor Claire Rabin of The Claire Rabin Institute for Couples Therapy, Doug Goldstein, a Jerusalem Post columnist and financial advisor, and Dr. Anna Woloski-Wruble, a sex health counselor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

According to Miller, who founded the non-profit together with South African-born family therapist Lori Lurie, Behirat Halev is the only organization in Israel to provide such prenuptial counseling based on the Prepare and Enrich Program developed in the US by Dr. David Olsen.

Israel is the 14th country to adopt and translate Olsen’s technique, said Miller, a technique based on research and statistical analysis of 20,000 couples over a period of 20 years. In his research for the program, Olsen documented the elements that made certain couples happy, as well as those that made others unhappy.

“The program basically teaches couples what it takes to strive for a happy and long-lasting marriage or what will torpedo their marriage,” explained Miller, a trained couples therapist who also worked for many years as an educational counselor.

Also at Tuesday’s conference, which will also allow professionals to sign up to learn this particular technique, Behirat Halev will provide ongoing courses for engaged couples and newlyweds.

“A couple spends an average of 150 hours planning a wedding that lasts for five hours, but they spend little time thinking about married life afterwards,” pointed out Miller.

She said that the six two-hour sessions cover “all the areas that marital research has shown makes for successful relationships.”

“We start off with communication and conflict resolution techniques and also look at family roles, spirituality, sexuality, finances, parenting, family origins and how to set goals for yourself, your partnership and your family,” said Miller.

Noting the pre-marital classes run by the Rabbinate – which are compulsory and given by ultra-Orthodox counselors – Miller said the problem with these programs is that the couples are not taught together.

Women traditionally learn with a rebbitzen and men with a rabbi.

“Our feeling is couples must talk about these issues together,” she said. “They must sit down and carve out for themselves a plan for how they are going to achieve harmony.”

Miller added: “We have to get in and work with these couples before problems arise and teach them the skills they need for marriage. A good relationship requires hard work.”

Persuading young couples to participate in such a course, however, is extremely challenging, Miller admitted.

“Most young couples who hear about our course say, ‘It’s not for us, we’re in love’” she said. “But when everyone gets married they are in love, still the [international] divorce rates today show that up to 50 percent of these happy couples end up getting divorced, so something has gone awry.

“We just want people to know that there is no stigma attached here and that this should be what every couple is required to do before they get married,” concluded Miller.
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