Academic journal article Family Relations

Making a Case for Premarital Education

Academic journal article Family Relations

Making a Case for Premarital Education

Article excerpt

Making A Case for Premarital Education*

This article advances the argument that engaging in broadly applied premarital education efforts can reduce marital distress and divorce. Because of the complexity of design issues and difficulties inherent in outcome studies, researchers will reasonably continue to debate the effectiveness of premarital education regimens. Furthermore, there is a great deal more to be discovered that will guide prevention efforts in ways that will improve the effectiveness of those efforts in the future. Using a combination of rational argument and empirical findings, 4 key benefits of premarital education are discussed: (a) it can slow couples down to foster deliberation, (b) it sends a message that marriage matters, (c) it can help couples learn of options if they need help later, and (d) there is evidence that providing some couples with some types of premarital training, for example, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP), can lower their risks for subsequent marital distress or termination.

Key Words: marriage, divorce, premarital, prevention.

It is estimated that approximately 40% or more of new marriages among the younger generation will eventually end in divorce (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992, p. 5). Not only many marriages end in divorce, but current evidence also suggests that marital distress negatively affects physical health (e.g., Bur-man & Margolin, 1992), mental well-being (see Halford & Bouma, 1997 for a review), and work productivity (e.g., Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley, & Kessler, 1996). The staggering costs of marital failure have led many political leaders, religious leaders, persons in the media, and public policy advocates to issue calls to "do something," with something of a "marriage movement" gaining momentum in the U.S. This movement is reflected in many activities. For example, various private organizations have become active in sounding the alarm about marital and family breakdown (e.g., the annual Smart Marriages, Smart Families conference in the U.S., the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment, the Institute for American Values, and the Family Life Educator initiative of the National Council on Family Relations). These particular efforts reflect growing acceptance of a prevention mindset.

One of the more prominent calls within the broader marriage movement is for couples to undergo premarital education (e.g., McManus, 1993; Parrott & Parrott, 1995a; Stahmann & Hiebert, 1997; Stanley, 1997). Although these calls have historically been answered within religious organizations, there are also substantial efforts in various state governments to prevent marital distress and divorce. To be clear, "prevent" is a bit of a misnomer here. It is more realistic to aim for significantly reducing risk factors and the resulting harmful impacts, thereby improving the quality of life for adults and children alike. A society cannot prevent divorce and marital distress in any absolute sense, but it is a worthy goal to attempt to reduce such negative outcomes at cultural and couple levels. That is what is meant here by prevention.

State-level initiatives aimed toward prevention include efforts to establish covenant marriage as an option (e.g., Louisiana and Arizona; Spaht, 2000), to encourage couples to undergo premarital education (e.g., Florida and Texas), or to initiate a broadbased, large-scale effort to strengthen marital and family relationships (e.g., Oklahoma). Despite various efforts aimed at increasing the availability of premarital education to couples, many questions remain unanswered:

* Is premarital education generally effective?

* Is it effective for all couples?

* Are we able to reach couples at higher risks for marital failure?

* Are some forms of premarital education more effective (or plausibly so) than others?

* Are some forms of premarital education more effective for some types of couples than others? …

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