Sharpening Our Focus on Family Life Education: Evidence-Based Curricula for Strengthening Close Relationships

By Randall, G. Kevin | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Sharpening Our Focus on Family Life Education: Evidence-Based Curricula for Strengthening Close Relationships


Randall, G. Kevin, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


In the past 40 years, individuals' close relationships, marriages, and families have undergone dramatic changes. The development and maintenance of strong interpersonal relationships, particularly close romantic relationships, are known to associate strongly and positively with physiological and psychological measures of well-being across the human lifespan. The purpose of this article is to encourage family and consumer sciences (FCS) and other family-life educators to incorporate evidence-based curricula and materials to improve students' and constituents' close relationships. In light of today's need to help improve individuals' relationship quality, implementing what we know from the research knowledge base regarding this crucial focus of FCS-healthy close relationships-is not necessarily costly in terms of personnel or facilities. FCS leaders may find this a defining opportunity to showcase evidence-based relationship education as a critical component of the FCS curricula, one that is very cost-effective and timely.

From 1976 to 1980, ABC aired the television drama series, Family, portraying numerous "special episodes" - situations dealing with serious or controversial social issues. This "average" family portrayed prescient predicaments that significantly influenced the well-being of close relationships (Hendrick & Hendrick, 2000) and highlighted the deleterious effects of family fragmentation or dissolution. Scholarly reviews over the ensuing decades (Amato, 2000, 2010; Kelly, 2000; Kitson & Morgan, 1990) and recent empirical investigations have explored the association of divorce and numerous outcomes including the long-term wellbeing of family members (Amato & Sobolewski, 2001; Barrett, 2000), child and adolescent school performance (Frisco, Müller, & Frank, 2007; Sun & Li, 2001), midlife health (Hughes & Waite, 2009; Lorenz, Wickrama, Conger, & Elder, 2006), physical health (Williams & Umberson, 2004), psychological well-being (Strohschein, 2005; Wade & Pevalin, 2004), infidelity (Previti & Amato, 2004), premarital sex and cohabitation (Teachman, 2003), and economic well-being (Rogers, 2004). As a result, efforts have been made to improve outcomes for romantic relationships, marriages, and families with children, and they often involve the couple, the children, and the courts (Schepard, 2004). The purpose of this article is to remind readers of the need for family life education and to review evidencebased relationship curricula, encouraging family life educators in their task of improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities (i.e., the vision of AAFCS).

However, since the mid1990s, educators and researchers have made strides toward engaging students in active learning assignments that introduce them to factors positively influencing close personal relationships; some of these practices, discussed and highlighted in this journal, included field interviews (Phillips, Wilmoth, & Staier, 2009), varied teaching techniques in the classroom (Bass, Drake, & Linney, 2007), and another in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education that is focused on the utilization of movies portraying dating and marriage in the classroom (Miller & Adams, 2001). Importantly, applied research has seen an increase in the examination of the effectiveness of premarital and marital education (Arcus, 1995), with a view toward evidence-based programming of preventive interventions or marriage education (Jakubowski, Milne, Brunner, & Miller, 2004). Describing marital education or enrichment, Larson (2004) wrote, "This refers to working with couples before problems become too serious and entrenched and focuses on an educational and preventive rather than a remedial approach to helping couples" (p. 421). Stanley (2001) presented four arguments supporting the premise that premarital preventive education would benefit couples, strengthening relationship quality and stability and mitigating marital stress and subsequent termination.

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