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References Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship
education work? A meta-analytic study. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 76(5), 723-734. doi:10.1037/a0012584
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Does Marriage and Relationship Education Work? A Meta-Analytic Study By: Alan J. Hawkins School of Family Life, Brigham Young University; Victoria L. Blanchard School of Family Life, Brigham Young University Scott A. Baldwin Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University Elizabeth B. Fawcett School of Family Life, Brigham Young University Acknowledgement: We thank Matt Stagner and the Urban Institute for their permission to use their database of marriage and relationship education studies.
The science of prevention of human problems continues to grow and show promise ( Flay et al., 2005; Rishel, 2007). In addition to the prevention of individual mental health problems, prevention efforts also include educational interventions to help romantic couples form and sustain healthy marriages and relationships. Marriage and relationship education (MRE) consists of two general components. The primary emphasis has been on developing better communication and problem-solving skills that are core to healthy, stable relationships, such as diminishing criticism and contempt and improving listening skills ( Gottman & Silver, 1999). Couples learn about the importance of these skills and usually practice them with some instructor guidance. A second component of MRE is didactic presentation of information that correlates with marital quality, such as aligning expectations and managing finances. Couples learn about and discuss these issues and often make specific plans for dealing with them more
effectively. Often within this component are discussions about important virtues related to relationship quality, such as commitment and forgiveness ( Fincham, Stanley, & Beach, 2007). While some MRE programs emphasize one component to the exclusion of the other, most combine the two, and most of these give more emphasis to communication skills training. While many couple therapists also provide MRE services, MRE is distinct from couple therapy. MRE does not provide intensive, one-on-one work between participants and professionals on specific personal problems, as therapy does. MRE provides “upstream” educational interventions to groups of couples and individuals before problems become too serious and entrenched ( J. H. Larson, 2004).
Over the last decade, MRE has grown beyond programs offered by private professional and lay practitioners to become a tool of public policy. For example, U.S. federal policy makers recently have supported MRE as a way to help couples—especially lower-income couples—form and sustain healthy marriages as an additional tool to reduce poverty and increase children’s well-being ( Administration for Children and Families, 2007; Dion & Hawkins, 2008). In 2006, federal legislation allocated $500 million over 5 years to support promising MRE programs and initiatives targeted primarily at lower-income couples. (See http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/hmabstracts/index.htm for a listing of funded programs.) In addition, a growing number of states have also allocated significant public funds to support MRE efforts ( Ooms, Bouchet, & Parke, 2004). For instance, Texas has dedicated more than $10 million a year to support MRE; Utah has dedicated $750,000 a year. With greater public support for MRE, however, comes greater public scrutiny ( Huston & Melz, 2004).