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Do marriage prep classes really work?

Before they take the plunge, many engaged couples may wonder if a marriage preparation class is worthwhile.

Some Brigham Young University professors asked the same question, and what they found might surprise you: yes and no.

The yes: Marriage prep classes significantly increased couples’ communication quality.

“We found that classes can improve couples’ communication skills,” said Alan Hawkins, who teaches in BYU’s School of Family Life. “That’s a big part of what pre-marital education does.”

The no: Prep classes didn’t affect couples’ relationship quality or satisfaction.

The researchers weren’t too surprised by this because of the possible “ceiling effect” of engagement.

“Engaged couples are so in love that they can’t be more satisfied,” said Hawkins, one of the study authors. “Their heads are bumping against the ceiling.”

The study, appearing this month in Family Relations, used a sample of nearly 50 marriage prep classes in different parts of the country (none from BYU). The classes covered broad marriage-related topics under a set curriculum and were not considered therapy.

Although the classes didn’t improve couples’ satisfaction, they did improve one of the major factors in a marriage’s success – communication. Increasing communication skills may save some marriages from future disaster.

“Most couples who seek therapy identify communication problems as their primary concern,” said Elizabeth Fawcett, lead author on the study and a visiting professor at BYU. “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.”

As a result of the study, the researchers feel some improvements in pre-marital education are needed, such as educating engaged couples on the institution of marriage, including what its cultural and social implications are.

Marriage prep classes are predominantly offered by religious organizations, as well as some state agencies and non-profits. The researchers would like to see these kinds of services become available to more couples, especially those with divorced parents.

“It’s good for all couples to use it, at least as a check,” Hawkins said. “It’s particularly useful for those who haven’t been blessed with growing up in a home with a healthy marriage because, on average, they are at greater risk for divorce.”

BYU graduate Victoria Blanchard is a co-author on the study along with BYU professor Jason Carroll.

Many BYU students and alumni have taken a marriage prep class. From your class experience, what were the most helpful or memorable lessons you learned?

Return to BYU News page.

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It's Good to Prepare
  7/20/2010 12:34 AM by Briana

I took a Marriage-prep class before I met my husband, and if anything it helped me feel more confident and able to commit. I felt I learned tools to make a working relationship, and marriage was no longer such a scary thing. Now after two years of marriage, I can see that the class really did prepare me for some of the basic challenges that come with this new way of life. I'd recommend any and all marriage/family development classes available.

Excellent class, even for the un-engaged
  7/18/2010 1:15 AM by Kathryn

I am currently unmarried, but I did take a marriage prep class my second semester at BYU and loved it. The class went in-depth into LDS doctrine about dating, courtship, marriage and parenting as well as social issues and practical advice. It gave me a clearer look at how men and women communicate and interact, and some of the strengths and weaknesses of each gender in a healthy relationship. I've been able to apply the things I learned in my dating and friendship interactions, and I expect that it will be conducive to building a strong, healthy, Christ-centered relationship with my future spouse. I highly recommend it (Rel C 234).

Photo First Impressions.
  7/16/2010 10:22 PM by Jakob

Maybe it's just me, but I think that the photographer ought to have placed a bracelet or some other object on the arm of the woman. Currently the messaging is a bit unclear.

Story Highlights

  • Study involved marriage prep classes in different parts of the country (none from BYU)
  • After participating in marriage education programs, couples were significantly better at communicating
  • The study did not find a link between the classes and relationship quality
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