Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Problematic Issues in the Early Years of Marriage: Content for Premarital Education

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Problematic Issues in the Early Years of Marriage: Content for Premarital Education

Article excerpt

This article presents findings about problematic issues from a national study of couples married five years or less. It argues that the top 10 issues identified as problematic suggest key content areas for premarital education and makes suggestions for both program development and existing program evaluation. The top three issues reported by this sample are balancing job and family, frequency of sexual relations, and financial issues. For each of the 10 issues, comparisons by gender, parental status, cohabitation status, and age are also reported.


Statistics indicate that approximately 40% of first marriages end in divorce, one-fifth of first marriages end within 5 years, and one-third end within 10 years (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001). Equally troubling is that divorce in one generation increases the likelihood of divorce in the next (Amato, 2000; Amato & Booth, 1997; Kiernan & Cherlin, 1999). There is evidence that divorce in highly conflicted marriages is better for children than maintaining the marriage (Amato & Booth, 1997; Jekielek, 1996; Waite & Gallagher, 2000; Wheaton, 1990), but the immediate and long-term personal and social costs of marital failure are well-documented (Bachrach, Hindin & Thomson, 2000; Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale & McRae, 1998; Waite, 2000; Waite & Gallagher, 2000; Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee, 2000). A response to this situation is the call for premarital education, the content of which is relevant to the needs of contemporary couples. We suggest that such programs have multiple goals:

1. They communicate to couples that marriage matters, not only to them as a primary interpersonal relationship but also to the multiple organizations in which they live as a basic social and religious institution.

2. They help couples examine, and either confirm or alter, their decision to marry this person at this time. An important pre-effect of premarital education is that about five to fifteen percent of couples who go through a program decide not to marry (McCord, 1997).

3. They help couples explore various models of marriage and identify and discuss crucial, possibly problematic, areas of their life together.

4. They teach couples skills in dealing with those problematic issues.

5. They inform couples of educational and counseling options and predispose them to seek those options if they are needed later in their marriages. This post-marital effect of premarital education can be very important later in times of marital stress.

6. They may reduce the risk of marital dissatisfaction and instability. This effect of premarital education is ongoing.

In light of these goals, and data suggesting the importance of the early years of marriage, the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University conducted a study of the first five years of marriage to develop a profile of couples married five years or less, to uncover the issues they find problematic, and to provide data that will be useful for both married couples and practitioners who work with them (Center for Marriage and Family, 2000). This article reports on that part of the study that identified problematic issues in the first five years of marriage. Our contention is that issues consistently identified as problematic by couples in this national sample will suggest key content areas for premarital education.

Literature Review

Marriage preparation programs have been used by practitioners and couples for decades, but increasingly so over the past 25 years. Generally speaking, programs aim to enhance the quality and stability of marriages and, therefore, their content is chosen with this goal in mind. This literature review focuses solely on the content of marriage preparation programs. For a recent review of marriage preparation programs see Silliman and Schumm, 2000; for further discussion of marriage preparation see Berger and DeMaria, 1999; Stanley et al. …

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