Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Changes Following Premarital Education for Couples with Differing Degrees of Future Marital Risk

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Changes Following Premarital Education for Couples with Differing Degrees of Future Marital Risk

Article excerpt

The present study explored changes in individuals' relationship cognitions and behaviors following premarital education for couples with different risk profiles. The sample consisted of 63 couples who completed the PREPARE program and were classified for future marital risk based on dyadic information. A significant interaction effect was found between risk and time, with individuals in relationships classified as high risk exhibiting greater change at 4 weeks postprogram compared to low-risk individuals. Perceived helpfulness of topics also varied by couple type. Findings provide support for adapting premarital education programs for high-risk couples and offer clinicians and educators specific insights for areas of emphasis when working with different types of couples.

Premarital education programs represent a commonly implemented and evaluated form of couple and relationship education (Halford, Markman & Stanley, 2008). Among family scholars, these programs have been both advocated (e.g., Stanley, 2001) and critiqued (e.g., Fawcett, Hawkins, Blanchard & Carroll, 2010). Meta-analyses on premarital education studies reveal generally positive findings, with improvements exhibited in participants' relationship satisfaction and conflict management (Carroll & Doherty, 2003) or just communication but not relationship satisfaction (Fawcett et al., 2010). Beyond general findings, however, a more robust understanding of the nature of impact of premarital education across different types of couples has been noted as a prominent area for growth (e.g., Stanley, 2001). The current study aims to address this issue by examining changes in relationship cognitions and behaviors following premarital education for couples varying in potential for future marital risk. Further, this risk status was determined from couple-level information, a nature of classification infrequently employed in previous research.


Though findings on the effectiveness of premarital education appear for couples broadly, less research has explored its impact by different types of couples. The majority of research on these programs has been conducted on samples reflecting young, White, middle-class, never-married individuals with higher levels of couple functioning. Despite the contribution that current levels of relationship functioning may have on program impact, there appear to be no studies exploring premarital education impact across couples that have been classified for risk-level based on dyadic information. Rather, assessments of risk in premarital education have largely focused on nonmalleable characteristics inherent to individual partners, such as demographic (e.g., race/ethnicity) or family of origin factors (e.g., parental divorce). However, as all relationships are demonstrably a function of individual and couple characteristics, any complete assessment of the differential impact of premarital education based on risk requires attention to both individual and couple-level factors.

Premarital Education and Individual-based Risk Factors

Individual-based risk factors-often reflecting demographic or family of origin characteristics- represent the predominant means of risk classification in premarital studies. Concerning impact based on demographic-based risk, a retrospective nationwide study found premarital education participation to be associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction irrespective of individuals' gender or demographic group membership, including demographics typically classified as at greater risk for instability (e.g., lower educated, economically disadvantaged, and certain racial and ethnic minorities; Stanley, Johnson, Amato & Markman, 2006).

In work illustrative of familial markers of risk, Halford, Sanders and Behrens (2001) classified high-risk premarital couples as those with either the female partner having divorced parents or the male partner having observed physical aggression between his parents. …

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