Academic journal article Family Relations

Marriage 101: An Integrated Academic and Experiential Undergraduate Marriage Education Course*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Marriage 101: An Integrated Academic and Experiential Undergraduate Marriage Education Course*

Article excerpt

We describe "Marriage 101 : Building Loving and Lasting Partnerships," an innovative, far-credit undergraduate course at a large, religiously unaffiliated research university. Marriage 101 engages students in the scientific literature and discourse in the psychology and sociology of marriage and marital success. The course has the additional explicitly practical goals of preparing students to choose compatible partners, to face inevitable challenges, and to experience greater marital and relationship satisfaction. To achieve these goals, Marriage 101 integrates traditional academic methods with experiential and self-discovery assignments. Four years of experience with 150 students has found students eager to learn and able to do so, gaining considerable insight about themselves and the challenges of intimate relationships.

Key Words: college, divorce, marital discord, marriage, relationship education.

The vast majority of marriage preparation courses are designed either for high school students or for couples who have already decided to marry. Little work has targeted college students, a group old enough to have had substantial dating experience but not yet committed to a particular partner. Most college-level courses concerning marriage and intimate relationships are purely academic and lack "marriage preparation" goals (Lowe, 2003). The course described here aims to fill this gap-to be simultaneously a rigorous academic course and a state-of-the-art marriage preparation program. In this article, we address the rationale, development, objectives, content, administration, evaluation, and future directions of the course: "Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Partnerships."

Marriage 101 is taught at Northwestern University, a large, private, nonsectarian research university, by faculty of the Family Institute at Northwestern University (an independent not-for-profit institution affiliated with the university). All faculty members are practicing couples therapists who hold clinical faculty appointments at the university. Marriage 101 meets once weekly for 2.5 hours during an 11-week academic quarter.

Each week, students explore an important topic through assigned readings, a large lecture, experiential exercises and discussion in small groups, and self-inquiry questions in a private, ungraded journal. Additional outside class assignments include interviewing two couples about their marriages (a married "mentor couple" from the community and the student's parents) and three other exercises that promote understanding of marital challenges. A final term paper is required.

We have taught four separate quarters to a total of 150 students, with a current class size of 50. Student enthusiasm and involvement have been strong, and a variety of measures of educational success show favorable changes.

Rationale and Development of the Course

Desirability and Importance of Marital Success Versus High Failure Rates

About 90% of Americans will marry at some point during their lives (Whitehead & Popenoe, 2002), a number consistent with the high value that Americans place on marriage. Waite and Gallagher (2000) noted that "Ninety-three percent of Americans rate 'having a happy marriage' as either one of the most important, or a very important objective" (pp. 3-4). Regarding college students, Levine and Cureton (1998) summarized recent attitudinal research and concluded, "They are desperate to have only one marriage, and they want it to be happy. They don't know whether this is possible anymore" (p. 95, quoted in Waite & Gallagher, p. 3). Such doubts are understandable, because the current divorce rate for first marriages ranges from 40% to 50%, whereas overall divorce rates in the United States and Europe in the last half of the 20th century climbed steeply to close to 50% (Pinsof, 2002b).

Research on the effects of marriage and divorce consistently shows that for those couples who achieve it, marital success is beneficial (Nock, 1998; Waite & Gallagher, 2002), whereas high-conflict married life or divorce and its aftermath can be hurtful, though not always permanently harmful (Hetherington, 2003; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee, 2000). …

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