Marriage Education in the Workplace: Both Marriage and Work Are Based on Relationships, and Improving Workers' Skills in Nurturing Personal Relationships Can Pay Huge Dividends in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Millions of Americans experience marital distress, conflict, and divorce, and researchers are accumulating data showing that this marital discord and the resulting family fragmentation are associated with a broad spectrum of risks for adults and children. These risks include, but are not limited to, problems with mental health and individual adjustment, child behavior, physical health, and economic success and stability (Cole et al. 1993; Doherty et al. 2002; Forthofer et al. 1996; Halford and Bouma 1997; Markman 2004).

The links between marital functioning and a wide range of outcomes have led to a recognition that marriage has important public health consequences. As a result, policy makers have become much more determined in recent years to implement public sector programs that can help couples--especially high-risk couples--achieve their marital aspirations (for examples of trends and issues, see Markman, Stanley, and Kline 2003).

For the past 25 years, the authors have focused some of their research efforts on the development, evaluation, and dissemination of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP), supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health. We are delighted that a lot of attention is now being paid on federal and state levels to implementing marriage education programs, in which couples are taught skills and principles that research shows underlie healthy marriages.

In part, such efforts have accelerated because of evidence from ongoing NIH-funded research (Markman et al. 2003) that couples can learn these skills and principles, that these skills can be taught in a variety of settings by a variety of service providers (e.g., counselors, clergy, community leaders), and that couples who learn these skills can maintain them over time and may enjoy increased relationship stability Thanks partly to this research, $150 million is being allocated each year for the next five years by the federal government to help low-income couples and individuals who desire to have healthy, happy marriages participate in a research-based marriage education program.

In this article, we propose that marriage education programs can and should be incorporated into the workplace, using examples from two programs based on PREP: Love Your Relationship and Win at Work without losing at home (WIN). Love Your Relationship is a program for couples offered as a weekend retreat or a one-day workshop, while WIN is a program for employers and employees and is presented in the workplace.

Although Love Your Relationship is not workplace-based, partners who participate in the program should not only have better marriages at home but also be able to apply the skills they learn to their work and become more productive, suffer fewer accidents, and use employee assistance program (EAP) services at lower rates. The reverse is true for WIN: married workers (or workers in committed relationships) should not only be more productive, suffer fewer accidents, and use EAP services at lower rates, they should also be able to apply the skills they learn to produce happier marriages and relationships at home.

EMPIRICAL FOUNDATIONS

One strength of the PREP/Love Your Relationship/WIN programs is that they teach individuals and couples the skills to handle difficult situations without engaging in destructive, negative interactions. This focus is based on the fact that negative interactions (such as escalation, criticism, invalidation, and demand-withdraw) have been empirically documented as generic risk factors for both marital and mental distress (Coie et al. 1993; Markman et al. 2003).

Some of the earliest work on this issue served as a foundation of PREP, as Markman (1981) demonstrated in a longitudinal study which showed that destructive communication patterns predicted the development of marital distress and divorce. Based on this research, Markman and his colleagues developed PREP (see Markman 2004 for a review) to focus on--

* Improving communication and conflict management skills (e. …