When people hear of marriage counseling or training, they almost always think of relationships that are already showing signs of trouble.
However, recently, there have been outbreaks of so-called “skills training” classes for new couples to undergo. In a published study, the results have shown that while the overall divorce rate for “trained” couples is not any lower, the overwhelming results were that couples were less likely to report their marriages as in trouble.
Given how the divorce rate was unchanged, those results point to couples who are overall happier spending time together, even while undergoing a separation.
According to Seth Eisenberg, President and CEO of the PAIRS Foundation, the results show “more evidence that our work is to help people develop competence in skills that are most effective to sustaining intimacy, while respecting that every person makes their own deeply personal decisions about whether to get married or stay married.”
It is undeniable that undergoing a divorce is an extremely emotional experience, these results show a fascinating trend that trained couples are able to stay amicable and friendly even as they come to the realization that they would both be better off alone.
The odds for a newly married couple in the United States staying together is only about 50 percent. Many of those couples who do stay together have unhappy marriages, which, according to researchers, is a risk factor for poorer mental and physical health and also is associated with an increased risk for aggression developing in a relationship. Research, however, also shows that marital education programs are effective in aiding couples in staying together and making unhappy marriages more satisfying and successful.
Researchers found the quality of interaction between husbands and wives was highly predictive of marital distress or divorce. Those couples who interacted more negatively than other couples had marriages that were in trouble or predicted future marital distress. However, researchers say that negativity between couples is a dynamic behavior that couples can change to improve their odds of staying together.
A program created to focus on the dynamic factors that have been proven to strengthen marriages is the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP), which was created by Dr. Markham and his associates at the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies. PREP teaches couples those communication and problem solving skills that have been found to help marital functioning. The skills taught are ground rules for handling conflict, forgiveness, speaker/listener techniques, and how to preserve and enhance fun, friendship and sensuality. Those couples that have participated in PREP are less likely to get divorced and have significantly higher levels of marital satisfaction. Those couples who took the course before marriage had less negative and more positive interaction and lower rates of breakup or divorce.
There are other research-based marital therapy programs that are strengthening marriages as well as PREP. These programs include Couples Communication and PAIRS. Couples Communication Program focuses on how couples interact and involves the use of an “awareness wheel” and “listening wheel.” These allow couples to map out issues and assists them in becoming active listeners. This is also an effective program with over 600,000 couples worldwide participating in the program since its development.
The PAIRS program (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) focuses on emotional issues from a couple’s past, which have shaped the way they act in relationships. PAIRS has programs for children and youth as well as adults. This program teaches speaking, listening and problem solving skills and has been shown to be effective in all populations for which it has been adapted.
Perhaps if all couples would participate in marital therapy programs such as these before marriage, the divorce rate in this country would be much lower and the marriage satisfaction rate would be much higher.