A Pound of Prevention: Is Formal Marriage Preparation Education Worthwhile?

June 28th, 2011

So you are now engaged and you’re absolutely head over heels for each other. Your partner can do no wrong! They are absolutely perfect in every way. So it seems…

You will then get married and go off on a fabulous honeymoon all while thinking everything is just perfect. Weeks, maybe even months, pass and the honeymoon phase starts to wear off. You can’t help but notice all the tiny flaws in your partner. His dirty socks are all over the floor. Or her make-up is on the sink. Or how the other always seems to forget to wash his or her dish after using it.I’m pretty sure this didn’t just happen to me. In fact, I know couples all over the country are experiencing this same thing every day. According to marriage scholar Dr. Jeffrey Larson, most marriages go through three stages: 1. Romantic love, 2. Disillusionment and distraction, and 3. Dissolution, adjustment with resignation, or adjustment with contentment. In the first stage, couples are so caught up in the love and passion of their relationship that they tend not to deal with issues like expectations, sacrifices, or selfishness. But once the honeymoon stage starts to wear off, life’s daily problems and people’s personal flaws can start to take its toll and require expectations to be adjusted, sacrifices to be made, and selfishness to be eliminated leading to disillusionment and distraction. So how can we prevent the tiny flaws becoming huge conflicts in our marriages?

Recent research reviewing 50 studies evaluating the effectiveness of marriage preparation classes throughout the United States shows that taking formal marriage preparation courses help couples have better communication skills, especially in terms of conflict resolution. While these classes generally don’t increase feelings of relationship satisfaction—it’s hard to improve this when they are already wildly happy!—they can help you build the skills needed to work out the inevitable little problems that emerge early on in a marriage—and beyond. This important skill may help to save some marriages from future divorce. In addition, the research also shows that about 15% of couples who go through formal premarital education decide not to get married, feeling that they are not ready or discovering weaknesses in the relationship that could lead to serious problems.

Dr. Elizabeth Fawcett, director of the marriage and family therapy program at Argosy University in Salt Lake City and lead author in the study, said, “Most couples who seek therapy identify communication problems as their primary concern. If marriage prep classes can teach couples communication skills that will help them avoid divorce or marital distress, then these communication-based classes could be very helpful to a large number of couples.”

My husband and I took a marriage prep course during our engagement. Though our communication skills still aren’t perfect, we were able to figure out before we got married what each other’s conflict styles were and what the best way was for us to try and resolve issues. Even after 2 years of marriage we still bring up what we learned in our class and how much it has helped us.

Some couples may feel like they are too busy with wedding planning to take a marriage prep class. Or that living together is enough preparation for marriage and will teach you more than a formal class. However, all couples can benefit from marriage prep classes especially as it helps with better communication skills.

Marriage preparation courses are helpful tools that are available for dating and engaged couples. Many religious organizations offer marriage preparation classes for couples choosing to marry within their religious faith.  But there are many secular options, as well. Here in Utah StrongerMarriage.org has a page with resources to help engaged couples and links to community premarital education (strongermarriage.org/htm/engaged). You can also order the “Utah Marriage Handbook” for a great self-directed marriage preparation resource. A great website for engaged couples to check out is www.twoofus.org/engaged-couples-advice/index.aspx.

And what if you were recently married but didn’t take a premarital prep class? No worry. Go ahead and take one now. There are classes for married couples too listed at strongermarriage.org.