Family and Consumer Sciences

College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources

LIFE - Individual Growth and Development


Marriage preparation refers to a variety of formal and informal efforts by which persons become ready for the roles and responsibilities of marriage. Rapid technological and social changes over the past two centuries has increased the need for individuals, families, and societies to enhance partners' therapeutic and decision-making skills and reinterpret the meaning of commitment, as well as maintain support for their economic self-sufficiency and emotional stability. Rising rates of divorce and family violence and falling indices of marital satisfaction and time together suggest that couples are inadequately prepared for (or supported in) the challenges of marriage. Yet the number of stable, satisfying, and growing marriages--amid personal and social pressures and in spite of limited preparation and support--suggests that many partners are seeking to build strong marriages. Likewise, enrollment increases in relationship skills courses at high school, college, and community settings perhaps signal a growing desire to invest in the success (or avoid the distress) of intimate relationships.

Rationale for Intervention

Demographers expect a continuation of the trend whereby over 90% of the population marry, although many are cohabiting before marriage and most are marrying later. Marital distress and breakup are cited prominently in the literature on adult economic and mental health problems as well as in their effects on child adjustment. Divorced and distressed partners surveyed often mention lack of knowledge or skills as reasons for poor mate selection or interaction. Research on assessment instruments and relationship enhancement programs are suggesting that distress "warning signs" can be identified and addressed and interaction patterns improved early, with positive results. Each and all of these developments recommends additional efforts in preparation, enrichment, and support.


Families and the church are traditional socialization agents, via modeling, direct and indirect teaching. However, during the 19th century, extra-familial sources such as magazines became popular as role changes outpaced parent experience and mobile young adults were more often at a distance from family. College and community-based classes formalized such training in the 1920s and 1930s. Courses more often emphasized role fulfillment, personalities, personal and practical issues than interactive skills. The growth of pastoral counseling and family therapy after World War II added to the frequency, length, and depth of "premarital counseling." Changing roles, skyrocketing divorce rates, and the transition of a large Baby Boom cohort into marriage spurred program expansion and research in the 1970s and 1980s. Programs for remarrying couples emerged during these decades. Education and promoting couple/family strengths began to gain prominence over counseling and the focus on couple/family problems. Despite evidence for the effectiveness of lab-based programs, relatively few couples receive any formal training.While early marriage is a critical formative period for partners and future parents, couples receive relatively little support or education to enhance bonding and coping skills. Efforts to translate and extend insights of a few programs into community- based initiatives serving a majority of couples are critically needed.


The majority of providers (primarily counselors and clergy) use a variety of self-selected materials, individualizing their approach to fit their background, audience, and setting. Thus typical resources and practices are largely unreported in popular, ecclesiastical, or research and professional journals. Research- and/or scientifically evaluated assessments and training programs which seem to have positive effects, include:


PREPARE/ENRICH: A 125-item questionnaire covering attitudes and behaviors in 14 marital issues and 2 family-of-origin factors, completed separately by both partners, and scored electronically to yield strengths and work areas (which can be used in provider- couple dialogue), based on couple compatibility and comparison to a well-adjusted reference group. For more information, contact:

PREPARE/ENRICH, P.O. Box 190, Minneapolis, MN 55440-0190; 1-800-331-1661.

PREP-M: A 206-item survey, assessing 5 areas of readiness and background factors completed by individuals (in class or counseling settings), scored electronically, and used as a guide to discuss relationship strengths and work areas. For more information, contact: The Marriage Consortium, 1000 SWKT, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602; (802) 378-6419.

PreMarital Inventory Profile: A 170-item questionnaire developed by the Roman Catholic Church covering a variety of marital issues. Individual responses are completed and compared as a context for education. For more information, contact: Intercommunications Publishing, Inc., 52-A Dogwood Acres Dr., Chapel Hill, NC 22516; (919) 968-0680.

FOCCUS, a 156-item inventory on 11 marital and faith issues (+ demographics) developed by the Roman Catholic Church, is completed by each partner, with responses used to guide discussion in couple and small group sessions. For more information, contact: Barbara Markey and James Healy. (1995). Marriage preparation in the Catholic Church: Getting it right. Omaha, NE: Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family; 1-800-637-4279.

Evaluation for Marriage, a 275-item inventory developed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, examines 10 marital issues (+ demographics), tapping individual responses and couple patterns which can be used to guide educational experiences. For more information, contact: Cleveland Diocese Evaluation for Marriage, 2392 S. Belvoir Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44118. Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis, a 180-item self/partner survey of 9 bipolar personality traits is widely used as a context for provider-couple discussion of compatibility and interaction issues. For more information, contact: Psychological Publications, Inc., 5300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027.


Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) developed from cognitive behavioral theory by clinical psychologists, uses a variety of formats (12-20 hrs.) to talk about commitment and realistic expectations and facilitate practice of communication and problem solving skills by for dating, cohabiting, engaged, and married couples. Extensive research shows significant improvement on communication skills short-term and long-term differences in satisfaction, conflict/communication skills, violence, and divorce rates between participant and control group couples. For more information, contact: PREP Educational Products, Inc., 1780 S. Bellaire St., Suite 621, Denver, CO 80222; (303) 750-8798.

Relationship Enhancement (RE), created by humanistic clinical psychologists, focuses (via 8 3-hr. small group sessions) on self-disclosure, empathy, problem solving skills. Research, primarily with college students, documents increases in positive/decreases in negative relationship skills (vs. lecture group), sustained over a short term (6 mo.). Relationship Enhancement Training, c/o Individual and Family Consultation Center, Beecher- Dock House, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802; (814) 865-1715.

B.C. Council Marriage Preparation Program, a knowledge and communication training using an eclectic/systems framework in a 10 hr. large-group format with married and remarrying couples reports high satisfaction as well as gains in knowledge and interpersonal skills, especially among older couples and those most near marriage. For more information, contact: B.C. Council for the Family, Suite 204, 2590 Granville St., Vancouver, BC V6H 3H1; (604) 660-0675.

Minnesota Couples Communication Program (MCCP), a self- and partner-awareness and communication skills program emerging from a developmental/systems perspective, MCCP's 12-18-hr. small group approach has been found effective in enhancing communication skills and relationship satisfaction in immediate and short-term (several weeks) tests. The principal author can be contacted at: Interpersonal Communications, Inc., 7201 S. Broadway, Littleton,CO 80122; (303) 794-1764.

Canadian Marriage Preparation, based on a developmental and systems framework by Bader, et al. (1980) offered pre- and post- marital small group sessions on 8 key issues and found positive short- and long-term (12 mo., 5 yrs.) gains in knowledge in several areas, increased use of social and helping networks, and sustained levels of communication and conflict resolution (as compared to declines in control group couples). For more information, consult 1980 Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, issue number 2.

A PREPARE workshop (6 2-hr. sessions) developed by Nichols, Fournier, & Nichols (1986) significantly increased knowledge and realistic expectations on communication, sex, children, religion, friends and increased individual and couple scores in some, but not all PREPARE issues. Both assessment and program components distinguished marrying and non-marrying participants. For more information, consult the October 1986 Family Relations journal. Premarital Assessment Program, developed from systems theory/ practice by Buckner & Salts (1985) focuses on couple self- examination, problem areas, rapport-building for a variety of marital issues and interactive skills in 5 major areas via 10-15 hr. individual/small and large group formats. Couples appreciated increased partner awareness and knowledge, desired more skill teaching. For more information, consult the October 1985 Family Relations journal.

Extension Roles

The Cooperative Extension Service can support marriage preparation in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Enhance public awareness on the challenges of marriage,strengths of successful relationships, consequences of distress and dissolution, significance of family and community support for partners (esp. newlyweds) and available resources for preparation, enrichment, and counseling.
  2. Consult with local and state officials on public policy implications of the abovementioned issues.
  3. Provide informational training on relationship issues and educational programming resources and options to existing and potential providers (clergy, teachers, counselors, etc.) of marriage preparation.
  4. Facilitate support groups for young marrieds and/or provide resources to workplaces, schools, churches, or community groups which might sponsor such groups.
  5. Develop community coalitions of professionals, organizations, and concerned citizens to aid in public awareness, cultivation of support networks, planning and sponsorship of formal training, resource and referral to local and statewide resources.
  6. Offer training and program evaluation with an established curriculum, in cooperation with community agencies.

References: A Place to Start Reading

Bader, et al. (1980). Do marriage preparation programs really work? A Canadian experiment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 6, (4), 171-179.

Fournier, David G.; & Olson, David H. (1986). Programs for premarital and newlywed couples. In Ronald J. Levant (Ed.). Psychoeducational approaches to family therapy and counseling. New York: Springer.

Larsen, Andrea S.; & David H. Olson. (1989). Predicting marital satisfaction using PREPARE: A replication study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 15, (3), 311-322.

Larson, Jeffry; & Thomas B. Holman. (1994). Premarital predictors of marital quality and stability. Family Relations, 43, (2), 228- 237.

Larson, Jeffry; Thomas B. Holman; David M. Klein; Dean M. Busby; Robert F. Stahmann; & Diane Peterson. (1995). A review of comprehensive questionnaires used in premarital education and counseling. Family Relations, 44, (3), 245-252.

Markman, Howard J; Scott M. Stanley; & Susan L. Blumberg. (1994). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, Sherrod; Daniel B. Wackman; Elam W. Nunnally. (1983). Couple communication: Equipping couples to be their own best problem solvers. The Counseling Psychologist, 11, (3), 73-77.

Ridley, Carl A.; & Ingrid E. Sladeczek. (1992). Premarital relationship enhancement: Its effects on needs to relate to others. Family Relations, 41, (2), 148-153.

Russell, Mary; & Rosanne Farnden. (1992). Marriage preparation: Factors associated with consumer satisfaction. Family Relations, 41, (4), 446-451.

Schumm, Walter R.; & Wallace Denton. (1979). Trends in premarital counseling. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 5, (4), 23-32.

Silliman, Benjamin; Walter R. Schumm; & Anthony P. Jurich. (1992). Young adults' preferences for premarital preparation program designs. Contemporary Family Therapy, 14, 89-100.

Stahmann, Robert F.; & William J. Hiebert. (1987). Premarital counseling: The professional's handbook. Second edition. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Stanley, Scott M.; Howard J. Markman; Michelle St.Peters; & B. Douglas Leber. (1995). Strengthening marriages and preventing divorce: New directions in prevention research. Family Relations, 44, (4), 392-401.

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