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Marriage Preparation

Sample Programs

Of the many popular or research-based programs available, the most widely tested approaches include:

  • Relationship Enhancement (RE). RE, using a humanistic model that teaches disclosure and empathy skills in a structured sixteen- to twenty-four-hour format, has shown short-term and sustained gains in empathy and problem solving among college students (Guerney and Maxson 1990). Structured training and practice focuses on speaking and listening processes known to be critical to positive interaction and satisfaction for couples. Expressive skills such as speaking for self, sharing negative emotions, and demonstrating affection are often "taken for granted" in relationships. Yet many partners experience difficulty in communicating love in an open, noncontrolling style due to childhood role models, personal maturity, or situational stress. Thus skills in active listening such as acknowledging feelings, clarifying ideas, and taking turns help couples defuse conflicts and demonstrate respect and good will. RE also teaches instrumental skills including problem solving and decision making, more effectively learned in a structured course than by personal experience. RE developed a training program by which lay couples as well as clinical psychologists could successfully teach skills.
  • Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). PREP is the most thoroughly tested marriage education model, offering twelve- to twenty-four-hour training workshops that build upon many of the communication behaviors taught in Relationship Enhancement. In addition, PREP couples are challenged to explore marital issues and the spiritual and personal roots of their commitment. Results with dating, engaged, and married couples in the United States show participants have much lower divorce and dissatisfaction rates than nonparticipants up to twelve years after training. PREP workshops in Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands show a similar pattern of significant gains in communication, conflict management, and satisfaction up to three years after training. (Stanley et al. 2001). Based on cognitive-behavioral theory, PREP focuses on thinking and interacting processes critical to negotiating problem solving and conflict resolution in moment-to-moment and year-to-year tasks of married life. Results of such model programs suggest that dating and marriage education is a wise investment of public or private organization funding (Ooms 1998).
  • Couples Communication Program (CCP). This family systems–based model helped couples develop better awareness of their own and partner emotions and ideas (Miller, Wackman, and Nunnally 1983). Although couple gains in CCP are not as dramatic as behavior-change programs, increased understanding of personal and partner ideas and feelings has been shown to improve communication and satisfaction among dating and married couples.
  • Safe Dates. An ecological model, incorporating individual skill training, peer monitoring, and community awareness enhanced the success of this program in preventing dating violence among at-risk and violent middle school students (Foshee et al. 1998). A theater production and ten-session curriculum analyzed consequences of dating violence, gender stereotyping, and conflict management skills. Community-level activities included a crisis line, support groups, resources for parents, and training for service providers.

Several research-based books also became bestsellers. Clinical psychologist John Gottman (1999) most recently summarized his ground-breaking research in Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The book provides quizzes, exercises, and illustrations to support building a positive history, fostering mutual admiration, engaging rather than withdrawing from conflict, accepting a partner's influence, coping with unresolvable conflicts, and creating shared meaning.

Many practitioners use the PREPARE survey (Olson, Fournier, and Druckman 1989), a 125-item inventory of each partner's attitudes and practices in fourteen issue areas (e.g., communication, sexuality, money, leisure, religion). PREPARE's profile (similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses relative to happily married couples) helps professionals coach couple discussion and skill learning. Like other widely used assessments such as FOCCUS (Williams and Jurich 1995) and RELATE (Busby, Holman, and Taniguchi 2001), couple participation in the process reduces the feeling of being analyzed and helps couples focus on issues perceived as relevant priorities.

Widely used approaches such as Caring Couples (Hunt and Hunt 1999), Marriage Enrichment (Dyer and Dyer 1999), and Saving Your Marriage before It Starts (Parrott and Parrott 1999) offer positive anecdotal reports but have not been systematically evaluated. For some couples, such insights and skills clearly enrich and revitalize, whereas for others information without intensive skill training may create unrealistic expectations and frustrated role performance (Berger and Hannah 1999).

Additional topics

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