By Hayley Kappes

Killeen Daily Herald

It's the American ideal.

You grow up, go to school, get a job, get married and start a family.

That dream was somewhat marred in the latter part of the 20th century by staggering divorce rates throughout the country, which saw families torn apart.

At one point it was estimated that nearly half of all marriages in the United States would end in divorce.

The Texas Legislature passed a provision this year called the Twogether in Texas Healthy Marriage initiative, which waives the state's marriage license fee for couples who undergo a free, state-approved, eight-hour marriage workshop.

The marriage license fee increased to $60 in September.

A 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of marriage licenses was also relinquished for participating couples.

Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, is one of 12 regional intermediaries for the state and responsible for organizing secular marriage workshops across Central Texas.

"Studies show that couples who take pre-marital education classes have a 30 percent higher success rate in their marriages than those who don't," said Patricia Polega, director of marriage education with Lutheran Social Services. "Children from healthy marriages do better in school, have a reduced rate of alcohol and substance abuse, and enjoy better physical and mental health."

The organization will host its third workshop Saturday in Killeen.

All workshops are secular, but LSS provides information on religious entities that participate in the Twogether in Texas program if a couple wishes to go that route.

The divorce rate in Texas declined from 5.5 percent in 1990 to 3.4 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bell County had the highest number of divorces per capita in the state in 2006.

Much of this has to do with the high number of soldiers who marry at a younger age in comparison to the rest of the population.

Only 1 percent of civilians under 20 are married, compared with 14 percent of military members in the same age group, according to the Defense Department.

Polega's goal is to see those numbers decline through the state's burgeoning initiative.

Marriage, like any relationship, excels when communication lines function properly.

"What it's geared to do is give couples the skills to communicate better," Polega said. "If you have good conflict management skills, you'll be able to overcome problems. These skills help, especially if a couple is facing an issue that may seem unsolvable."

Rina Rincon met her fiancé, Juan Milvon of Killeen, six years ago. She was 21 and he was 16. There was a spark between them, but Rincon didn't want to act on it because of their age difference.

Their paths crossed again two years ago, and they became engaged in October.

"At the time, I was too old for him, but we always liked each other," she said. "Later on in life, if that fire between us was still there, I knew we were bound to be together."

The couple participated in the workshop last month because they didn't want to fall into statistics like so many others have in the county.

Rincon said the skills they got from the workshop have worked out thus far. The communication skills come into play, not only when there's a disagreement, but when it comes to the little things like how much it irritates Rincon when her fiancé leaves the cap off the toothpaste.

The couple was supposed to get married two weeks ago, but Milvon's middle name was misspelled on their marriage license.

During the workshop, the instructors stressed how important it was to learn how to listen and not interrupt your partner.

"I had a problem with interrupting him and trying to make my point," Rincon said. "It's amazing that learning how to listen and not interrupt your partner really go a long way."

Contact Hayley Kappes at or (254) 501-7559.

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