Culture & Society

  • Issue 104 / March - April 2015



    Pre-marital Counseling for Prosperous Marriages

    Esranur Aslan Topaloglu

    Marriage is a common and significant life event that has serious ramifications for prosperity. Since it is a more complex phenomenon than it looks, a significant percentage of marriages end with a divorce. Even though, recent statistics show that divorce rates are going down in the United States, this is due to the fact that young couples, unfortunately, are no longer taking the oath of commitment, resulting in distorted familial structures in our society. To combat this issue, scholars have put forth premarital education programs that dramatically contribute to healthy marriages and decrease the likelihood of divorce. Researchers report that “premarital education is significantly correlated with higher levels of marital quality, lower levels of marital conflict, and lower divorce rates” (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, 2009).

    As mentioned, spending a life with a stranger, and more importantly, cooperating with him or her to fulfill the promise of being a human is a much more complex task than it looks. Individuals take on much longer preparations for far simpler undertakings, such as getting a driver's license or taking a college test. Thus, it is only fitting that couples seek premarital counseling before stepping into one of the more intricate roles in their life. One of the documented benefits of these premarital education programs is improving partners' communication skills. Most of the marital problems stem from lack of awareness between couples, which can be improved with better communication. Because communication is a soft skill, it is often taken for granted and individuals do not take time to fine tune their communication skills. Pre-marital education programs partly focus on couple’s ability to communicate. When each partner is aware of the other’s needs and character, communication improves. According to a recent study analyzing 23 studies on the effectiveness of premarital counseling over the past 30 years, couples receiving counseling scored 30 percent higher on tests that rated communication effectiveness and marriage satisfaction (Carroll and Doherty 2003).

    Based on the existent literature, the ultimate goal of premarital education is to guide youth and adults before they decide on marrying someone. That is, once a person contemplates on the idea of marriage and before deciding on the candidate, he or she should start meeting with a counselor. The completion of the education program will further help candidates in shaping their thoughts about the necessary commitments for a considerate marriage. Young people should consider both their hearts and minds when seeking a life partner. The individual’s choice of partner’s values is crucial to know and to take into consideration in this important decision process. Also, counseling could certainly enhance the characteristics needed in the marriage such as trust, loyalty, and faithfulness.

    Another benefit of premarital counseling education is that individuals gain a better understanding of how to deal with conflicts that will inevitably occur in a marriage. For instance, economic and emotional difficulties are often probable and cause problems for couples. If young adults are educated beforehand and throughout the marriage process, relationship deterioration can be prevented in the long run.

    Religious perspectives on marriage
    From a religious perspective, marriage could be seen as one of the most important stages in a person’s life. For instance, many Muslims believe that marriage is essential and a strong tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Some even say that "marriage is half the religion" (Maqsood, 2000).

    The value of marriage is emphasized in the Qur’an as follows: “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace and tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect” (Qur’an 30:21). In this divine remark, not only is the power of marriage highlighted, but so is the equality of humans. In order to have a peaceful marriage, both partners need to be aware that they are created from the same source, and each partner has their own responsibilities to build a long-term union. Thus, verses in the Qur’an, and the main principles signified in other Holy Books, provide a foundation for prosperous marriages. The Bible also reflects the value of marriage in the following verse: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

    Different forms of premarital counseling
    There are many approaches to premarital education, but as Madison and Madison (2003) mention in their research, good premarital education should include 16 levels: life style expectations, friends and interests, personality match, communication, personal issues, religion/spirituality/values, problem solving, parenting, sexuality, extended family, financial issues, readiness, covenant/commitment, key problem indicators, families of origin, and dual careers.

    The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program and Relationship Evaluation Questionnaire is a great example of a resource that helps enable partners to carry out successful marriages (PREP; Stanley et al. 1999). The authors surveyed 400 churches about marriage preparation. The counselor meets the clients privately and applied four personality scales which included assertiveness, self-confidence, avoidance, and dominance. Participants in this study also answered questions regarding the quality of their parents’ marriages. The results showed that conflicted couples are reported to have the highest divorce rate (Fowers et al. 1996).

    In another study, couples completed the PREPARE assessment and ended up with greater improvement in relationship satisfaction (Druckman et. al. 1979). The studies all show that couples who applied their skills learned in premarital counseling had healthier marriages. As a result, educated couples experience less issues with miscommunication and are also not as prone to divorce.

    The selected studies provide three important implications for counselors to emphasize in premarital programs. Accompanied with these programs, couples are given the opportunity to improve the communication skills necessary in problem solving, working as a team, and learning to forgive one another. Men and women could also bring these communication skills to their daily lives. Such programs can also help participants focus on the ultimate purpose of marriage. Often times, especially in the modern era, young people marry for purely physical reasons. But physical considerations alone are not sufficient to sustain a long lasting, healthy relationship. And, the ultimate purpose of marriage should be helping each other to fulfill the ultimate purpose of life, which is connecting with the Creator, knowing and worshiping Him. In conclusion, couples need to dedicate themselves to work together as a team, and work on the important milestones to strengthen their marriage. Comprehensive premarital counseling can help prepare them to do this work.

    References
    Carroll, J. S. and Doherty, W. J. (2003), Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research. Family Relations, 52: 105–118.
    Druckman J. M., Fournier, D. G., Robinson, B., & Olson, D. H. (1979). Effectiveness of five types of premarital preparation programs. St. Paul, MN: Family Social Science, University of Minnesota.
    Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Johnson, C. A. (2009) Differential use of premarital education in first and second marriages. Journal of Family Psychology,23, 268-273.
    Fowers, B. J., Montel, K. H., & Olson, D. H. (1996). Predicting marital success for premarital couple types based on PREPARE. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 22(1), 103-119.
    Genesis 2:24
    Madison, James K. and Lynda S. Madison, (2013). A review of Research-Based Interventions on Marriage Preparation. NY, 2013
    Maqsood, R. W. (2000). The Muslim marriage guide. Beltsville, MD:Amana Publications.
    Quran, 30:21.
    Stanley, S. M., Bloomberg, S. L., & Markman, H. J. (1999). Helping couples fight for their marriages: The PREP approach. In M. T. Hannah (Ed.). Preventive approaches in couples therapy (pp. 279-303). Philadelphia, PA, US: Brunner/Mazel.

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