Should We Institute Relationship Education for Youth?

“We are failing to equip our youth with the ideas, tools, and practices to know how to negotiate their romantic and sexual lives in healthy, nondestructive ways that prepare them to achieve the happy, functional marriages and families that most of them say they want in future years,” said Christian Smith and his co-authors in their book Lost in Transition: The Darker Side of Emerging Adulthood. Professor Alan Hawkins, in our School of Family Life, agrees. He proposes, in fact, that an institutionalization of better relationship education for youth (YRE) is the answer. He provides an argument for it in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.

couple 2“The road that links adolescence to adult family life is not a paved interstate,” he says, “with efficient on- and off-ramps, helpful guideposts, and numerous safety features to prevent or cushion mistakes. Youth navigate [it] alone for the most part. In contrast to a few generations ago, society generally takes a hands-off approach to regulating adolescent and young adult romantic relationships. Not surprisingly, then, many young people arrive at their family destinations battered and bruised.

The Facts

According to Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families, 80% of young adults surveyed want to get married. However, young adults in general have some of the highest rates of divorce, according to marriage scholar Nick Wolfington.

“Intervening earlier in relationship development, before individuals are committed or perhaps even partnered, has the potential to have an even greater impact on improving relationship quality, reducing divorce rates, and, perhaps most importantly, supporting stable unions for children to grow up in,” said Galena Rhoades and Scott Stanley in their analysis of relationship education.

Hawkins supported this by citing a 2011 study on the evidence of relationship education on high school aged youth: “Overall, [the research] found significant, positive change in students’ relationship skills. These changes were moderated, however, by a number of factors: students in two-parent families showed stronger gains; those in severely economically disadvantaged areas showed little gain; mandated classes produced stronger gains than self-selected classes,” said Hawkins.

Why and How?

effect-1772035_960_720Statistics Hawkins cites demonstrate overwhelmingly that teens’ relationship problems often start early. “Prominent scholars argue,” he says, “that romantic relationships in youth are neither transitory nor trivial, but instead have real effects, positive and negative, on adolescent development.” Youth relationship education has the potential to reduce problematic pathways to marriage (e.g., cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth) and increase the success of their relationships, and thus their happiness.

So, if the need is apparent, how does one implement YRE? Hawkins offers the following suggestions:

  • Private funders and government entities need to invest more in YRE
  • Schools need to be more proactive in providing YRE and must be able to teach all of their students. This can be done by assimilating YRE into required health classes, which have a large reach, as opposed to elective Family and Consumer Science classes
  • Religious settings in conjunction with parental involvement are a good place to suggest YRE
  • Community programs can incorporate YRE into existing youth programs.

Of Paramount Importance

If the only thing that you have to offer in a relationship or marriage is your physical appearance, then you are definitely walking on a very thin line,” said Edmond Mbiaka. It takes more than physical beauty to sustain a healthy relationship or marriage.”  While there are limits to YRE, statistics show the effectiveness of teaching youth how to form healthy relationships, Hawkins says. Finally, Hawkins suggests that instead of differentiating between YRE and CRE (couple relationship education), people refer to them collectively as simply, RE- relationship education: “Removing the C from CRE clarifies that the field is much broader than providing valued relationship education to intact couples; it encompasses the important work of individually-oriented relationship literacy education for youth and young adults. Perhaps this small change in how we refer to the field will spur greater attention to the need to allocate a greater proportion of our resources to healthy relationship formation for young people, to help them better navigate the challenging roads to forming healthy relationships and stable marriages.”

Do you think we should institute YRE?

 

Hope is Essential to Relationships, says SFL Professor

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for,” said Tom Bodett, an American author, voice actor, and radio host. In a forthcoming study, School of Family Life professor Alan Hawkins demonstrates that love and hope are inexorably connected. The study focused on how hope plays an integral role in the ability of couples to fix their relationships.

The Study

“Relationship hope is what it sounds like: hope for the future of the relationship,” says Dr. Hawkins, “hope that you have the knowledge and skills to make the relationship strong in the future, even if you are experiencing challenging problems now.” One-hundred eight-two married and unmarried, low-income couples took part in Family Expectations, a psycho-educational intervention in Oklahoma City that lasted 30 hours. They completed a pretest and an exit interview; the researchers used these assessments to study how relationship hope had affected what they got out of their sessions and whether hope increased as a result of their participation.

divorce-separation-marriage-breakup-split-39483-mediumDr. Hawkins found that those with the lowest amount of hope at their pretest were the ones who benefited the most from the intervention. “Those who are lowest have the most room to grow,” he said. “But also, these are the ones who possibly come to these programs with the most ‘pain’ and the most motivation to change. They sense that without help and change their relationship will fall apart.” Interestingly, he found that women’s relationship hope increased the most when their partner exhibited growth in positive relationship skills. “Previous research has shown that women are more sensitive to the overall quality of the relationship and monitor the ‘health’ of the relationship more than men. I think they are more attuned to changes in their partners than are men. And when they see positive change, it really means a lot to them. Women are just more relationship-oriented.”        

Impetus

What was the impetus behind the study? Dr. Hawkins serves as a member of the Research Advisory Group for Project Relate, an Oklahoma-based organization supporting relationship education services in the U.S. It is one of two state-government-supported organizations providing relationship education services. “I was excited to evaluate their flagship program, ‘Family Expectations,’ said Hawkins. “[It] serves hundreds of low-income married and unmarried couples every year. Moreover, I wanted to test explicitly the role of relationship hope in relationship education.”

Implications

What are the implications of these findings? Hawkins believes that a possible implication is that, if counseling program developers ensure that their processes are aligned well with men’s interests and learning styles, they will be more successful. As to where his research will go next, he says: pexels-photo-168426“I hope to spur more researchers in the relationship education field to focus on…relationship hope. Also, I think the construct of relationship hope in a particular relationship is important, but I think it is also important for youth/young adults to have a general hope that they can achieve a healthy, stable relationship and marriage. So I may play with broadening the concept to general relationship hope (not hope about a specific relationship).”

 “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. In a relationship, such hope is crucial. Through his research, Dr. Hawkins expertly reinforced this truth.

BYU Professor Talks About the Importance of Marriage Education

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. divorce-separation-marriage-breakup-split-39483-medium“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.  pexels-photo-70737-medium“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.”

For more information on relationship education classes, visit http://strongermarriage.org/  and http://yourdivorcequestions.org/ 

Do You Think Relationship Education is Important?

Have You Thought About Divorce? Read This.

 

Why do people start thinking about divorce? Do thoughts of divorce always lead to divorce? Findings from The National Divorce Decision-Making Project give insight to these questions and others regarding the threshold of what the researchers labeled “divorce ideations” and the patterns that emerge. Their goal is “to increase awareness of the negative impact of divorce, and encourage discussion and debate about the effect of divorce on our culture, as well as the cost to taxpayers.” The project is a collaboration among researchers at six universities including Brigham Young University. Alan J. Hawkins (director) and Sage E. Allen are the researchers from BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

As stated in the project report, “Divorce is a scary thing to think about so we tend to assume there is a high personal tolerance of marital problems before people start having such thoughts. But maybe in a culture with high divorce rates and widespread concerns about the fragility of marriage, it is hard not to have some thoughts about divorce when problems and disappointments exist in the marriage.”

The report states that one in four spouses in the survey had had thoughts about divorce in the last six months. Divorce ideation was not found to be especially common in one demographic subgroup over another. For example, women reported having ideations only slightly more than men (27% vs. 22%), parents with minor children were a little higher than those without (27% vs. 21%), and there was almost no difference between those who said religion was an important part of their lives and those who said it was not (24% vs. 25%).

argument-238529_1920Research was conducted through a national survey of 3,000 individuals. Participants were married people ages 25-50 who had been married for at least one year. Survey participants who reported having recent divorce ideations were asked about the frequency of these thoughts. The majority (70%) reported that they were not frequent. They were also asked about the level of seriousness in their thoughts. Using both qualitative and quantitative responses, a statistical analysis suggested to the researchers that fifty-three percent of those thinking about divorce recently were soft thinkers, or not serious, and forty-seven percent were serious thinkers.

The researchers stated, “While thoughts about divorce are common, both recently and in the past, it is clear that most people are committed to their marriages, patient with their problems, and often able to work through their challenges.”

Survey participants were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “I would feel like a failure if my marriage were to end.” Over half of the participants (55%) agreed. The percentage of disagreement was much lower (25%) and the remaining (20%) were caught between the two options.

Those who reported recent divorce ideations were asked to identify the marital problems they were experiencing from a list of sixteen potential problems. This list included more intense problems (infidelity, alcohol/drug abuse, physical or emotional abuse), moderately intense problems (mental health problems, arguing too much, sexual relationship problems, handling money), and less intense problems (personal habits, working too much, dividing domestic labor, unable to talk together, losing romantic feelings, not committed enough). As expected, the majority of those who reported experiencing the less intense problems also reported that they had only thought about divorce a few times. Interestingly, a less expected trend was also discovered. “Of those who were thinking a lot about divorce, most had at least one of the more intense problems. But even among those reporting at least one of the more intense problems, a majority said that they had only thought about divorce a few times recently.”

The researchers clarified some of their findings:

Does this mean that soft thinkers are not at risk for divorce? Probably not. Thoughts are different from actions but they clearly can influence them over time. Even soft, occasional thoughts about divorce can color perceptions of a relationship, shaping feelings in more negative ways that can make marriages less satisfying and more fragile … [but] we also know that many people go through tough times in their marriage and not only survive but thrive. In fact, our survey found that more than one in four respondents (28%) had thought their marriage was in serious trouble at some point in the past but not recently. And nearly 90% of them said they were glad they were still married; less than 1% were not glad to be together.

Survey participants were asked about what had helped their marriage improve from times of serious trouble. A high number of participants reported that they or their spouse had adjusted their attitude. They also reported highly that they or their spouse had worked at fixing problems and improving the relationship.

couple-791461_1920

The researchers are optimistic about their findings: “Our study suggests that thoughts about divorce don’t have to be a sign of impending marital doom. And maybe thoughts about divorce can even be the motivation needed to take some action to try to strengthen or repair a relationship.”

The project was also sponsored by BYU’s Family Studies Center.

More information is provided in the full report. Read it here: https://familystudiescenter.byu.edu/Documents/Reports/What%20are%20they%20thinking%20FINAL%20digital.pdf

What tips would you provide to someone who is thinking about divorce?