State turns agony aunt: Couples receive marital tips

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THE 350,000 couples who marry each year will all soon be receiving Government-backed advice on avoiding divorce, coping with a partner's adultery, sharing chores, and sex (before and after the wedding).

Ministers are supporting plans from One Plus One, the marriage research charity, to give every church and Register Office in England and Wales copies of a booklet dealing with the matrimonial problems which have led to Britain having one of the highest divorce rates in the world.

Tom Sackville, the Health minister, is expected to meet the charity to discuss the booklet later this month. 'I am deeply concerned by the breakdown of marriages,' he said yesterday. 'If I can find any way to promote their survival, I would be very happy to do so.'

The booklet aims to avoid offending moral and religious conservatives by giving the facts behind common worries about marriage to couples when they first notify a church or register office of their wedding.

By using a question and answer method the charity hopes to ensure that couples realise what they are letting themselves in for.

On the most fraught issue - sex - One Plus One starts by saying that young couples tend to worry that their sex lives will decline after marriage. According to most surveys, nearly two-thirds of married couples have sex once a week. Women tend to complain about the quality of sex after marriage; men about the quantity, it says.

The only advice proffered is that couples should talk honestly and expect difficult times.

It points out that 60 per cent of couples live together before they are married and that that figure is expected to grow to 80 per cent by 2000.

It says that people who have cohabited are more likely to divorce - but this may be because people with a moral objection to living together will also be reluctant to leave a bad marriage. The advice is to think carefully about why you want to marry.

Women are warned they are likely to carry the burden of domestic duties even if working. Sharing of responsibilities is a subject best tackled before a wedding, it says.

The contents of the booklet have been approved by the Church of England's Board of Social Responsibility, which also helped compile it, and representatives of other religious groups. But the Department of Health and the Home Office, which funds One Plus One, still have to authorise its distribution. After a year of negotiations about the proposed mass circulation of marriage guidance, however, it seems certain that the project will go ahead.

An objection from Peter Wormald, the Registrar-General, that his officers should not have their political independence endangered by having to hand out anything which could smack of propaganda or advertising, has been overcome. Leaflets will now be sent to Register Offices and it will be for each official to decide if and how they are distributed.