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If ever there were a good-news, bad-news topic, it's marriage, according to a renowned marriage and family therapist.

On the plus side: Couples are more skilled at communication and better-informed about issues that affect marriage, said Carlfred Broderick, professor at University of Southern California whose titles include author, lecturer, therapist and television personality. And in families that include fathers, men are more involved in their children's lives in more ways than ever before."We see more children with fully involved fathers who share parenting tasks. In some ways, there probably have never been better marriages," he said.

"Some people have more skills and commitment to human dignity than ever before. That wasn't always required before by society. We know more about parent-child and husband-wife skills. I really think there is more kindness and egalitarian camaraderie than there ever has been in the world."

Broderick was the keynote speaker Friday at the Marriage Enrichment Conference sponsored by the Governor's Initiative on Families Today. Gov. Mike and first lady Jacalyn Leavitt hosted the conference.

Marriage negatives weigh in heavily, too: Broderick said one-fourth of children are born into households that don't include fathers. Another one-fourth of children have fathers who are not involved in their lives. And America has never before seen so many instances of abuse and violence within partnerships.

If Broderick could impart one message to married couples, he said, it would be that while society's mores make a difference, people choose what kind of marriage they are in when they make decisions on sharing, commitment, communication and more.

"The problem with marriage today is that it tries to do two things at once that are not absolutely compatible: Try to make two different people happy, and those people may have very different scripts. And taking responsibility for founding a family; those covenants are not just to each other but to the children."

In other eras, divorce was more rare. At those times, he said, individual needs were less at the core of decisions. Decisions were made based on what was best for the couple or family unit.

Religious sanctions no longer hold couples together, either, Broderick said. "It speaks to the secularization of society. A study found . . . that religiosity is not a protection against the secular influence on children in com-mun-i-ties."

Some areas, where religious involvement is more community-wide "and you can say a prayer at the school banquet and no one is likely to take you to court" are different. There, "religiosity predicts conformity" in areas like marriage and delinquency. The community itself reinforces it, he said.