Academic journal article Family Relations

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research

Academic journal article Family Relations

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research

Article excerpt


We present a comprehensive, meta-analytic review and critical evaluation of outcome research pertaining to the effectiveness of premarital prevention programs. Results revealed that the mean effect size for premarital programs was .80, which means that the average person who participated in a premarital prevention program was significantly better off afterwards than 79% of people who did not participate. Stated differently, the average participant in a premarital program tends to experience about a 30% increase in measures of outcome success. Our findings suggest that premarital prevention programs are generally effective in producing immediate and short-term gains in interpersonal skills and overall relationship quality and that these improvements are significantly better than nonintervention couples in these areas. However, because of a lack of extended follow-up research, conclusions about long-term effectiveness remain elusive. We propose implications for future research, education, and policy.

Key Words: counseling, outcome research, premarital, prevention, relationships.

Successful marriage is a highly valued goal for the majority of Americans. In fact, 93% of Americans rate "having a happy marriage" as one of their most important objectives in life, and more than 70% believe that marriage involves a lifelong commitment that should only be ended under extreme circumstances (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). However. despite these desires for successful, life-long marriage, couples marrying for the first time in the United States continue to face a 40-50% chance of divorcing during their lifetime, with approximately two-thirds of these divorces occurring within the first 10 years of marriage (Clark, 1995). These trends are compounded in that many distressed couples never divorce, remaining in nonsatisfying relationships, conflictual relationships, or both (Notarius & Markman, 1993). The current state of marriage in the United States is troublesome, because a growing body of research shows that successful marriages promote mental, physical, and family health, whereas conflicted and unstable marriages undermine well-being and incur large social and financial costs for communities (see Waite & Gallagher, 2000, for a review).

In an effort to reduce the current rates of marital distress and divorce, scholars and educators have advocated for the development and implementation of premarital prevention programs (e.g., Markman, Floyd, Stanley, & Storaasli, 1988; Stahmann & Salts, 1993). Premarital programs also have become a focus of both national and international public policy, as several states (Ooms, 1998) and countries (Stahmann, 2000) have proposed or enacted legislation that requires or offers incentives for couples to participate in premarital education. In fact, although debate continues about current divorce rates and whether they should be viewed neutrally, as a by-product of contemporary social and family norms, or as a serious problem (Doherty & Carroll, 2002), most family scholars and professionals advocate for better preparation for marriage. Despite this widespread support for marriage preparation programs, valid questions remain regarding their effectiveness in strengthening marriages and preventing divorce (Stanley, 2000; Sullivan & Bradbury, 1997). Some of these questions include: "Is it generally effective?" "Is it effective for all couples?" "Are some forms of premarital prevention more effective than others?" and "Are premarital prevention programs reaching couples who are most at risk for marital problems?" Addressing these questions has become an issue of critical importance, because as policy and social discussion on premarital education increases, so does the need for sound research to determine its effectiveness.

Our purpose here is to provide a comprehensive, meta-analytic review and critical evaluation of the research literature on the effectiveness of premarital prevention programs in improving the quality of marriages and preventing divorce. …

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