The pact to take a new tack in fostering strong marriages was signed Thursday at a conference addressing the breakdown of the family and growing divorce rates.
"For the past 30 years, marriage counselors have been operating with faulty information, and the divorce rate has soared," said Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. "It's not because we were bad or stupid, we just had the wrong information."
Counseling policies are now based on the acceptance of family breakdown and focus on dealing with the aftermath instead of prevention, leading to a 50% divorce rate nationwide, she said.
Those policies stemmed from studies of failed marriages that cited frequent disagreements as the cause of failure. When researchers went back to study successful marriages, they found those couples also disagreed over some of the same issues, such as money, sex, and children.
Those whose marriage ended in divorce concluded they picked the wrong person because of frequent fights, Sollee said.
"We need to get out the message now and tell people before they get married that it's OK to fight," she said. "Right now, we're sending couples out onto the football field and not telling them the rules."
Counselors should teach couples communication skills and how to handle their disagreements.
Leo Godzich of the National Association of Marriage Enhancement said churches bear part of the blame. His group released a survey of 532 churches from 17 denominations that showed the divorce rate among churchgoers is equal to or greater than the general population.
"When one considers that more than three-quarters of marriage ceremonies are performed in a church, it seems that those conducting weddings perceive marriages to be better than they are," Godzich said.