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Education

Do Premarital Education Programs Work?

When it comes to pre-marriage courses, success exists long term.

My first experience with premarital education programs was years ago when a friend of a close friend had gotten engaged to someone of the same religion (in her case, she was an Italian who practiced Roman Catholicism), and had enrolled in a weekend course with her soon-to-be spouse. I had never heard of anything of this sort, but the idea of a course to prepare one for marriage seemed thoughtful and I was intrigued: She explained that in order for her to marry her husband in her family church, she would have to complete a premarital course which included a religious component in order to have them deemed ready for marriage and in order for the priest himself to marry them.

When I got engaged earlier this year, I suddenly remembered her mention of the premarital education course, and did some digging: Was this something my fiancé and I should invest our time in, particularly as full time jobs and wedding event planning took up most of it? As a trained researcher, this led to my next question: Is there any research that suggests that premarital programs actually help relationships?

The answer I found: It depends.

A meta-analysis which looked at a number of different studies and was published in 2010 found that they were virtually no benefits for couples who took premarital education courses. The caveat here is that there’s only looked at short-term effects and also included nine unpublished studies, which did not have to pass peer review in order to be published. Alternatively, two studies which looked at long-term effects of premarital education programs found that couples who had completed them generally had more satisfying marriages in the long run.

In the meta-analysis, 47 studies on premarital education courses produced between 1975 and 2008 were examined. The criteria for a study being included were based on 28 codifying features, as well as having all programs set in either a university/clinical location or a religious setting, with participant ages ranging from 21 to 30 years and the majority of the participants having been in the relationship for less than two years. Another important feature: Nearly all studies evaluated non-distressed premarital samples and looked at middle-class, well-educated couples, with only a few exceptions. After applying various methods of statistical analysis, the researchers concluded: The overall effect of premarital education programs on relationship quality/satisfaction was small and non-significant and when looking at communication, premarital education programs “appear to be moderately effective,” depending on which measures were used.

According to two longer-term studies, however, there are positive effects of premarital education suggesting that married couples who had taken premarital education programs have higher levels of marital quality and a lower risk of divorce compared with couples who did not complete a program, even when controlling for many potential differences between those who had invested versus those who did not (Nock et al., 2008; Stanley etal., 2006).

For my now husband and I, we decided to take the wager: We reasoned that it would be better to take a premarital course that would cost us nothing but our time which had the potential of either no benefit, or the benefit of learning more about each other and possibly improving our communication skills. In the long run, if that meant greater satisfaction, we would happily oblige. In the end, we signed up for a five-session premarital course which included mentoring from a couple who had recently celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. We found the course was not just informational, but enjoyable.

References

Fawcett, E. B., Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., & Carroll, J. S. (2010). Do premarital education programs really work? A meta‐analytic study. Family Relations, 59(3), 232-239.

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