Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

A Literature Review of the Strengths and Limitations of Premarital Preparation: Implications for a Canadian Context/Un Recensement De la Littérature Sur Les Forces et Les Limites De la Préparation Au Mariage et Les Implications Pour le Contexte Canadien

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

A Literature Review of the Strengths and Limitations of Premarital Preparation: Implications for a Canadian Context/Un Recensement De la Littérature Sur Les Forces et Les Limites De la Préparation Au Mariage et Les Implications Pour le Contexte Canadien

Article excerpt

A recent study of 5,500 Canadian adolescents revealed that 90% expected to marry and stay with the same partner for life (Bibby, 2009). However, Statistics Canada (2005) estimates that 38% of marriages will end in divorce before the couples' 30th wedding anniversary Divorce rates in the United States are even higher, approximated at closer to 50% (Amato, 2010). The substantial financial costs associated with marital distress and breakdown has led several political leaders in the U.S. to advocate for what Stanley (2001, p. 272) calls a "marriage movement." This movement centres on providing efforts to avert divorce and unmarried child bearing. In fact, U.S. federal policy makers in 2006 designated $500 million to support premarital and marital education programs (Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2008), and many state governments currently offer incentives, such as discounted marriage licenses, for couples to partake in premarital preparation (Carroll & Doherty, 2003).

Although the Canadian government does not currently support such initiatives, Canadian couples, similar to their American neighbours, may pay hundreds of dollars to receive premarital preparation. In light of substantial public and private spending on premarital preparation, programs should be able to demonstrate their effectiveness. Although several studies on premarital programs have been conducted in the U.S., current research investigating the effectiveness of premarital preparation from a Canadian perspective is nearly nonexistent. This article will briefly outline the types of premarital preparation used in Canada and the U.S. and will critically examine the contributions and limitations of premarital preparation from international research to shed light on their effectiveness for couples in general. Based on this examination, implications for a Canadian context and next steps for Canadian researchers and practitioners will be offered.

TYPES OF PREMARITAL PREPARATION

Premarital preparation in North America can be dated back to the 1930s, with the earliest interventions being administered through churches (Duncan, Childs, & Larson, 2010). Currently, the vast majority of premarital preparation is provided in a religious context (Hart, 2003); thus, many of these funded programs directly or indirectly involve clergy participation (Doherty & Anderson, 2004; Johnson et al., 2002; Murray, 2005). However, premarital preparation is also administered by a wide range of professionals, such as mental health workers and nurses, in a number of different settings, such as private counselling practices and community mental health centres (Murray & Murray, 2004). Moreover, couples are increasingly accessing self-directed forms of premarital preparation, such as books, Internet sites, and online courses and inventories (Duncan et al., 2010).

Carroll and Doherty (2003) offer a definition of premarital education as "knowledge and skills-based training that provides couples with information on ways to sustain and improve their relationship once they are married" (p. 106). There are dozens of specific premarital education programs that are largely psychoeducational and skills-based and that follow a standardized curriculum (Bruun, 2010). Programs vary widely in their service delivery approach, content, and target population, and although some have been scientifically evaluated, many have never been researched (Dion, 2005). The best known and most researched of these premarital education programs is the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP; Markman, Stanley, Blumberg, Jenkins, & Whiteley, 2004).

A Canadian-developed curriculum is the Marriage Preparation Program. Although this program is based on the research of experts in the field, no research to date has examined the Marriage Preparation Program specifically.

Premarital counselling or therapy is fundamentally different from skills-based premarital education, involving more intensive work between couples and therapists and focusing on more specific personal problems (Duncan et al. …

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