A Comprehensive Framework for Marriage Education*

By Hawkins, Alan J.; Carroll, Jason S. et al. | Family Relations, October 2004 | Go to article overview

A Comprehensive Framework for Marriage Education*


Hawkins, Alan J., Carroll, Jason S., Doherty, William J., Willoughby, Brian, Family Relations


We offer a framework to help marriage educators think more thoroughly, systematically, and creatively about intervention opportunities to strengthen marriage. We draw attention to the educational dimensions of content, intensity, methods, timing, setting, target, and delivery, and their implications for marriage education. Our discussion points out the potential value of developing marriage education with greater specificity in content, timing, and target. We call for intervention that embeds marriage education in diverse institutional settings and provides access to couples across the socioeconomic spectrum. In the end, we address the need to take marriage education beyond a valuable helping profession and an expanding educational service to a vibrant social movement.

Key Words: education, family life education, marriage, marriage movement.

In a progressive society such as the United States, we usually take problems, such as high divorce and nonmarital childbearing rates, as a cause for action rather than a reason for resignation. Thus, it should surprise no one that the beginnings of a marriage movement have emerged in the United States over the last decade (Gallagher, 2000). A prominent part of this emerging movement has been a wide array of educational initiatives; however, to date there has been no formal effort to develop an integrative conceptual framework of marriage education. Some efforts to articulate the overarching paradigm of the marriage movement have occurred (Gallagher; Doherty, & Carroll, 2002), but there has been less emphasis on the development of theoretical models or heuristics to organize marriage education.

In this article, we attempt to provide marriage educators with a set of concepts to help them better understand their craft and discover unseen possibilities. Too often, educators have only a narrow view of the breadth of what marriage education actually might encompass. We offer a map or framework, depicted in Figure 1, to help marriage educators think more thoroughly, systematically, broadly, and creatively about opportunities to strengthen marriage. We draw attention to the elements of content, intensity, method, timing, setting, target, and delivery in marriage education. We note that we have much to learn about marriage education for lower income couples who potentially have the most to benefit from educational initiatives. We emphasize the value of developing marriage education with greater specificity in content, timing, and target, and we call for intervention that embeds marriage education in diverse institutional settings with access to couples across the socioeconomic spectrum. We end by addressing the need to take marriage education beyond a valuable helping profession-and even an expanding educational service integrated into the human services-to a vibrant social movement.

First, we highlight a few caveats. The focus of our framework is educational intervention. Although we value other forms of intervention that seek to strengthen marriage, such as therapy and policy, our focus here is on education. Our framework stresses possibilities for marriage education more than description, because the field remains open to creative effort. We use the term marriage education here rather than relationship education to capture both the relational and institutional dimensions of marriage with a life course perspective to facilitate covering issues of importance to youth and unmarried adults. We acknowledge our positive bias toward marriage education. We also acknowledge the need for more data to confirm the general efficacy of marriage education, especially for low-income and minority couples. While we wait for those data to accumulate, however, we believe that enough is known to continue the work that has begun. Finally, we clarify that our use of the word marriage is short-hand for healthy marriage-a generous, respectful, equal partnership free of abuse.

Dimensions of Marriage Education

Dimension I: Content-What Is Taught? …

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A Comprehensive Framework for Marriage Education*
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