Academic journal article Family Relations

Adolescents' Perceptions of Marriage and Premarital Couples Education

Academic journal article Family Relations

Adolescents' Perceptions of Marriage and Premarital Couples Education

Article excerpt

Adolescents in rural and small city high schools in the western United States (N = 159) reported their perceptions of marriage and marriage education. They considered preparation for marriage important, but expressed lower familiarity with and lower intentions to attend programs than college students assessed previously. Youth valued parents, peers, volunteer couples, and personal experience as sources of information on marriage and were most interested in a brief, low-cost program led by a volunteer couple that focused on communication and conflict-resolution skills and issues. Youth attitudes toward and expectations of marriage reflected some realistic but many unrealistic expectations, consistent with their developmental stage. Implications for programming, research, and policy are discussed.

Key Words: adolescence, education, marriage, perceptions, premarital counseling.

The effectiveness of premarital training in reducing marital distress and promoting marital adjustment has led advocates to recommend or mandate marriage and couples skills classes for high school students (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [U.S. DHHS], 2002). Over 75% of adolescents value and plan for marriage (Johnston, Bachman, & O'Malley, 2001), but most report (57.4%) feeling unprepared for marriage (Martin, Specter, Martin, & Martin, 2003). The purpose of our study was to replicate earlier research findings on young adults' perceptions of marriage and couples education (Silliman, Schumm, & Jurich, 1992) with a sample of high school youth. In addition, adolescents were surveyed about their attitudes toward and expectations of marriage relationships in order to better understand their conceptualization of marital relationships and ultimately design effective educational programs for them.

Review of Literature

Safe and stable marriages benefit adults, children, and communities (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). Over the past 2 decades, a good marriage has been an important goal for most adolescents (Johnston et al., 2001), including unmarried adolescent parents (Dion et al., 2003). Adolescents are aware of the negative effects of marital distress and divorce and of trends toward cohabitation and temporary liaisons, concurrent with later age of marriage, and thus, they are more ambivalent about marriage (Popenoe & Whitehead, 2003). Because many newlyweds are surprised by the stresses and declining satisfaction of the first 3 years of marriage (Berscheid, 1999; Kurdek, 1999; Morris & Carter, 1999), it is likely that adolescents generally are unaware of and unprepared for such adjustment. Moreover, contemporary expectations for a committed companionship type of marriage are difficult to fulfill even for the best prepared couples (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000; Stanley, 2001).

Many of the enduring vulnerabilities (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Linford & Carroll, 2001) and behavioral competencies (Conger, Cui, Bryant, & Elder, 2001) predictive of early marriage adjustment are evident in adolescence. Developmental theory points to adolescence as a period of physical, cognitive, and social maturation characterized by growth in personal identity and formative experiences of intimacy (Steinberg & Morris, 2001). Both delayed marriage and earlier adolescent parenthood are associated with discontinuity between developmental capacities and social role expectations among adolescents and with traits and behaviors associated with subsequent poor marital adjustment (e.g., cohabitation, multiple sexual liaisons, low economic self-sufficiency; Linford & Carroll). Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) predicts that adolescents who observe poor parental models or whose relationship experiences reinforce short-term, pragmatic and limited-commitment values and behaviors will be poorly prepared for long-term companionship in marriage. Social learning and family stress (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983) theories predict that experiences of distress (e. …

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