Evaluation of the Connections: Relationships and Marriage Curriculum*

By Gardner, Scott P.; Giese, Kelly et al. | Family Relations, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Evaluation of the Connections: Relationships and Marriage Curriculum*


Gardner, Scott P., Giese, Kelly, Parrott, Suzanne M., Family Relations


Connections: Relationships and Marriage is a high school marriage education curriculum designed to teach students how to develop healthy relationships and marriages. This study evaluated the effectiveness of this curriculum with 410 high school students who were in Connections or a control group. Although the effects were relatively small, findings suggest that the curriculum increases knowledge of relationship concepts, decreases violence in dating relationships, decreases risk factors for adolescent pregnancy, and positively impacts attitudes related to future successful marriage. Implications for further development of the curriculum and other implications for practitioners are discussed.

Key Words: education, marriage, preparation, youth relationships.

Marital distress negatively affects children, adults, and the community. Marital distress is linked to manifestations of stress in children, including internalizing and externalizing behavior problems (Buehler et al., 1998), conduct disorders (Coie et al., 1991), poor academic performance, low self-esteem (Goldberg, 1993), youth crimes (e.g., theft, robbery, violence, gambling, sexual crimes; Hooper, 1985), social and emotional disturbance in school (Mattison, Morales, & Bauer, 1992), and adolescent suicide (Nelson, Farberow, & Litman, 1988). Marital distress also has been linked to adult manifestations of stress, including substance abuse, criminal activity, eating disorders (Goldberg), psychopathology (Brown, 1996), marital battering and domestic violence (Goldberg; Markman, Floyd, Stanley, & Storaasli, 1988), depression (Horwitz, White, & Howell-White, 1996; Klerman & Weissman, 1990), and suicide (Nelson et al.). Further, marital distress is related to problems in the workplace, such as decreased work productivity and increased absenteeism (Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley & Kessler, 1996; Goldberg; Thomas & Caverly, 1998). In fact, Gottman (1998) estimated that 30% of absenteeism is due to marital distress, costing $8 billion per year in the United States.

The effectiveness of premarital prevention programs in reducing future marital distress is well documented (see Carroll & Doherty, 2003, for a recent review). However, Gardner and Howlett (2000) argued that more effort should be placed on teaching marriage and relationship skills to youth while they are in school. Many relationship attitudes and behavior patterns are developed well before young adulthood and engagement, when most couples attend premarital prevention programs. Durlak (1995) calculated that up to one half of our nation's young people are at risk for later life adjustment problems, thus emphasizing the need for primary prevention (prevention aimed at everyone, not just those who are most at risk).

With the recent resurgence of interest in the well-being of marriage in general (see Doherty & Johnson, 2004), many new and established enrichment programs enjoy increased attention. Among the new programs are specialized curricula that target marriage and relationship education in the secondary schools. Although much energy, hope, and enthusiasm exist for these new curricula, they generally have yet to be studied empirically.

Currently, seven such programs are available nationally for use with school children (Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, 2003). These programs include: The Art of Loving Well (Ellenwood, McLaren, Goldman, & Ryan, 1993), Building Relationships (Olson, DeFrain, & Olson, 1999), EQ (Hannah & Marrone, 2000), Connections (Connections: Relationships and Marriage, Connections +PREP, and Connections: Dating and Emotions; Kamper, 1996), PAIRS for Peers (Gordon, 2000), Partners (American Bar Association, Section of Family Law, 1999), and RQ: Building Relationship Intelligence (Panzer, 1999). More detailed information about each curriculum is available in a report by the National Marriage Project (Pearson, 2000). …

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