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?