Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Do You Need a Relationship Class?

Couples classes could save marriages—if they started early enough.

A newly proposed Colorado ballot initiative called the Marriage Education Act would require that anyone wishing to marry for the first time, or to remarry, first complete a pre-wedding marriage course—10 hours for first-time couples, 24 hours for people entering second marriages, and 30 hours for those going into a third. (Curiously, this act would not apply to civil unions, as if such couples don't have an equal need to learn about relationship issues.)

David Schel and Sharon Tekolian of the initiative's sponsoring group, Kids Against Divorce, told the Denver Post that the intended purpose of the act is to "better prepare individuals going into marriage to fulfill their new roles as spouse and potentially as parent, to furthermore protect children given that marriage is the foundation of a family unit." They will need to gather 86,105 valid signatures by August 4 to get their initiative on the state's November ballot. If they're successful, the group plans to propose similar initiatives across the country.

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When Should We Learn About Relationships?

This Marriage Education Act is well intentioned but it may be too little, too late. By the time a couple commits to marriage, their relationship is often already set in stone. They can see the finish line and aren't likely to let a little matter like a weekend seminar get in the way of their assumed eternal bliss. They have already made an irreversible emotional commitment—stopping the train at that point will cause a wreck.

A better solution might be to require the teaching of marriage, in whatever manner each state decides, starting in junior high. Social scientist Aimee Dorr's research has shown that adolescents are figurative sponges waiting to soak up information on topics in which they have great interest but little understanding—such as love, sex and marriage. This might be the perfect time to develop healthy habits of courtship and learn to relate to the opposite sex in a positive, life-affirming way.

In his book Persuasion and Influence, Charles Larson observed that, unlike our ancestors, who modeled themselves as husbands and wives from the people around them, children today learn about such roles from the mass media. Thus schools can play an important role in combating the often mindlessly irresponsible behavior that is portrayed on film, in music, and on television and the internet and often acted out by negative celebrity role models in real life.

Virginia Wexman, author of Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance, notes that "[I]n a society in which the choice of marriage partners is in theory at least completely free, marriage patterns will be influenced by cultural institutions." Our schools can become institutions for good by promoting a curriculum in the history of American marriage and its importance to the health of a nation. Schools could instruct adolescents on the difference between patriarchal and companionate marriages; contrast healthy and unhealthy courtship; and explain how to create mature, long-term relationships that may lead to marriage.

This would be much more constructive that trying to change the made-up minds of adults already standing so close to their goal of matrimony.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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