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Marriage Preparation

Components Of Successful Programs

Howard Markman, Frank Floyd, Scott Stanley, and Ragnar Storaasli (1988) suggest that programs show impact when participants a) use conflict constructively, employing problem solving rather than withdrawing or overreacting; b) invest in growth; c) display optimism about changes in marriage; or d) remain confident about their abilities to maintain a healthy marriage. These positive outcomes are most typical of programs with one or more of the following traits:

  • Strengths-based. A focus on affirming or improving capabilities rather than dwelling on problems tends to build confidence and openness to new learning. Helping partners utilize existing personal, couple, and family assets to meet life's challenges and encouraging their affection, fun, and togetherness sustains romance and cooperation.
  • Growth-oriented. Although couples face predictable challenges with each life stage, adjustment rarely follows a prescribed pattern. Couples benefit most from training in inter-personal skills (communication, conflict resolution, problem solving), information (understanding issues such as sex, money, parenting), and insight (appreciating dilemmas of personality, commitment, balancing work and family). Interactive skills help couples talk and listen more effectively, especially under stress. Information about issues enhances understanding and decision making. Insight about self, others, and relationships leads to improved perspective and maturity regarding core values and goals for marriage. No one component is sufficient for a strong marriage, but each complements the others. Experiential learning activities such as discussions, role-play, projects, and simulation games produce more effective learning and practice than lecture or classroom instruction. Activities that help couples help themselves, including quality time together, regular study of issues, knowledge and skill application, sharing in support networks, and celebrating commitments promote expectations of lifelong learning.
  • Intensive and extensive. The traditional oneor two-session meeting of clergy and couple to make wedding arrangements can hardly be expected to produce long-term marital adjustment. Even a three- or four-session lecture or video training typically has little impact on attitudes and behaviors. Ironically, these limited efforts may imply that conforming to social ceremony or popular norms rather than lifelong learning, is enough to enjoy lifetime happiness. Research indicates that at least twelve hours, and ideally twenty-four to thirty hours, of intensive training with quality curricula and well-trained staff is needed for couples to understand and master basic skills for marital interaction (communication, conflict resolution, problem solving). A variety of methods better serves a wider variety of experience levels and learning styles. Repetition and rehearsal help couples to reverse old habits and teach healthy new patterns. One-on-one coaching is the most desired and effective skill training. In combination with peer coaching, lecture-discussion, and guided couple learning (e.g., workbook or audio/videotape), coaching can be cost-effective. Homework such as additional reading, mentoring with experienced couples, discussion of issues, or interpersonal skill application, tailored to couple needs and interests, can reinforce and extend learning in workshops. Booster sessions, reteaching and extending lessons throughout the first three years of marriage, can reduce post-honeymoon disillusionment and help couples deal with real-life adjustments (Renick, Blumberg, and Markman 1992). Couples can benefit from education and enrichment at any point but gain most when they begin earlier and rehearse learning often.
  • Culturally appropriate. Most marriage education is developed for Western audiences with companionate marriage ideals. However, expectations and interaction in marriage continue to be shaped by traditional ideas as well as diverse expressions of romantic love within ethnic, social, and age groups. Prevention-oriented programs funded by welfare reform and family support funds in the United States (see Oklahoma Marriage Iniative [2001]), Britain (see The Lord Chancellor Department [1998]), and Australia (see Commonwealth of Australia [2002]) typically assist community and religious organizations to reach specific populations of couples. Comprehensive reports on content, delivery, and impact are not available but online summaries suggest several thousand participants receive skill-based training adapted for setting and culture from models such as PREP (see below). Because males tend to be less interpersonally skilled, they tend to gain most from skill training. Differences in maturity, family background, and personal experience create cultural gaps even within social groups that are best bridged by programs that foster openness, dialogue, and skill application.
  • Outcome-focused. Effective programs make a practical difference in the lives of participants. Problem solving, conflict resolution, and communication represent teachable skills that translate into everyday behaviors (e.g., mutual respect, cooperation) and perceptions (e.g., marital satisfaction and commitment). Knowledge of sexuality, finances, stress management, and other topics may indirectly improve couple life by shaping attitudes and choices. One-time programs can produce life-long attitude and behavior changes (Stanley et al. 2001), but positive differences more often result from consistent training and self-growth, adapted to developmental needs.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsMarriage Preparation - Historical Context, Components Of Successful Programs, Sample Programs, Other Factors Influencing Marriage Preparation Success