Six years ago, four in ten Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that marriage is becoming obsolete. Of the many challenges facing that institution, those that come from within–different communication or parenting styles, for example–can often be the most difficult. Married couples, when they reach the point where they begin to consider divorce, have a variety of resources available to them if they want to, as do couples who are not yet married but who want to prepare. Marriage education being one of them. But many are not be aware of this resource, or its effectiveness. A recent BYU study, published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, found that through advertisements, couples were more likely to attend the relationship/marriage education classes.
Dr. Alan Hawkins, from the School of Family Life, noted a 20-percent rise in the participation rate of a Utah-based healthy marriages initiative, especially among minorities. “Scholars and therapists know a lot about how to form and sustain healthy relationships,” he says, “but we need to get that knowledge out of academia’s ivory towers and clinician’s wood-paneled offices to the public, especially to less educated young people who are at much greater risk for churning, unhealthy romantic relationships.”
What is marriage education? Professor Hawkins’ description of it, from his book The Forever Initiative: A Feasible Public Policy Agenda to Help Couples Form and Sustain Healthy Marriages and Relationships, is the government “…trying to build a better fence at the top of the cliff rather than funding more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff.” It is classes focused on helping couples learn to better communicate, solve problems, and have healthy relationships.
While there are various government-funded programs to help with unemployment, family planning, and the like, there is almost nothing related to marriage education. Only two states–Oklahoma and Utah–have government-funded, marriage education programs. “Forever is still the dream of virtually all Americans regardless of their social and economic circumstances,” says Dr. Hawkins. “But getting and staying on the road to forever is probably more challenging than it has ever been.”
That being said, Dr. Hawkins is optimistic about the future. Currently, the government of Utah is considering legislation that would aim to make it easier for couples to get relationship education. His book
- outlines an integrated set of feasible and affordable educational initiatives across the early life course, beginning in youth, continuing in early adulthood, during cohabitation, engagement, and through the early years of marriage, as well as for couples at the crossroads of divorce.
- reviews the early, encouraging evidence that these kinds of educational initiatives can help to strengthen relationships and increase family stability.
- argues that this public policy agenda of educational initiatives can make more young people today better drivers of their romantic relationships, more competent at avoiding destructive detours, and more capable of achieving their marital aspirations and destinations.
He says that “successful navigation of that road provides tremendous personal benefits for children and adults and strengthens the communities they live in.”