Academic journal article Family Relations

Community-Based Premarital Prevention: Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines

Academic journal article Family Relations

Community-Based Premarital Prevention: Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines

Article excerpt

Community-Based Premarital Prevention: Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines*

This study reports on the results of the dissemination of an empirically-based, premarital education program within religious organizations. The following major results are discussed with respect to premarital prevention: (a) Clergy and lay leaders were as effective in the short run as our university staff, (b) couples taking the more skills-oriented intervention showed advantages over couples receiving naturally occurring services on interaction quality; and (c) couples reported that the communication skills components of premarital education were the most helpful.

The staggering costs of marital failure have led religious, political, and policy leaders to call for a variety of efforts to strengthen marriages, a key example being calls for couples to undergo preventive premarital training (e.g., McManus, 1993; Parrott & Parrott, 1995). But will such calls to "do something" be answered with wisely guided interventions based on empirical data? This report is part of a project designed to help to answer relevant questions: Who is best poised to provide prevention services to couples premaritally? How effective can the services be when provided in the community? What factors affect the adoption and ongoing implementation of prevention services in community-based settings?

With roughly 75% of first marriages occurring in religious organizations (ROs), religious leaders are a logical point of action for broad-based, premarital prevention efforts. Although there is a compelling rationale for the role religious leaders can play in prevention efforts (Stanley, Markman, St. Peters, & Leber, 1995), less than half of religious organizations currently provide premarital services of any consequence (Trathen, 1995). Additionally, researchers have raised concerns about the effectiveness of much of the premarital training that currently is provided to couples (Schumm & Silliman, 1997; Sullivan & Bradbury, 1997). As part of a larger project, this report presents shortterm outcomes for couples receiving either conventional premarital services from their religious organizations or PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program; e.g., Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994).

The goal of this study was to assess the degree to which a program that has demonstrated promising preventive efficacy in university settings (clinical trials) could yield similar results in more natural, community-based settings. As such, this research is designed to test the effectiveness of dissemination in the community by assessing the extent to which clergy and lay leaders can readily and successfully implement the program in their settings. Furthermore, this design addresses weaknesses found in some other studies on PREP (and other programs), for example, weaknesses due to possible selection effects, lack of random assignment, and measurement quality. To be clear, however, this study is community-based research, focused on the effectiveness of the intervention when transported into religious organizations, not a tightly controlled laboratory study of program efficacy. Religious organizations were recruited for participation and then randomly assigned to one of three tracks: (a) PREP delivered by trained religious leaders (RO PREP); (b) PREP delivered by our University of Denver team (DU PREP); and (c) naturally occurring premarital intervention services (NO), wherein the ROs employed whatever premarital services they normally use. Because less than half of ROs provide any premarital counseling, this track where ROs do provide training reflects better than average prevention efforts across the universe of ROs (adding to external validity for this design).

Brief Review of Research on PREP

The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program was designed as a program to prevent marital distress and divorce, based on an empirical analysis of risk factors (see overviews in Floyd, Markman, Kelly, Blumberg, & Stanley, 1996; Stanley, Blumberg, & Markman, 1999). …

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