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

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. Results found high-risk program couples, relative to high-risk control couples, to report higher levels of communication (1 year post-treatment) and relationship satisfaction (4 years post-treatment). Low-risk program couples, however, showed no differences in communication or satisfaction in comparison to their respective control group. The authors concluded that relationship education may be most efficacious for high-risk couples, though cautioned rigid interpretation given low statistical power (Halford et al., 2001). However, in a later study employing the same risk classification, couple risk-level did not predict trajectories of relationship satisfaction over the 4 years following treatment, with both high- and low-risk program couples exhibiting a similar decline in satisfaction over those 4 years, though the decline was steeper for women (Halford & Wilson, 2009). …

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