Healthy Marriage

The formal organization of relationship education in the USA began in the late-1970s by a diverse group of professionals concerned that the results of traditional marriage therapy resulted in no appreciable reduction in the elevated rate of divorce and out-of-wedlock births. The motivation for relationship education was found in observations of the elevated rates of marital and family breakdown, school drop-outs, incarceration, drug addiction, unemployment, and other negative social factors when either or both divorce or out-of-wedlock pregnancy were noted. In all negative categories mentioned above, statistical over-representation of adults whose childhood did not involve both of their parents was present. One of the first comprehensive relationship education classes, PAIRS® (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills developed by Marriage and Family Therapist Lori Heyman Gordon) began as a semester-long course for graduate students in the counseling program at American University in Washington, D.C. in 1977. Like several other relationship education programs initiated in the same period, including Stanley and Markman's PREP program and Bernard Guerney's Relationship Enhancement courses, PAIRS today offers a range of classes nationwide for singles and couples in all stages of relationship. More information on PAIRS along with a directory of trained professionals and calendar of upcoming classes is available online.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began funding significant multi-year demonstration projects through the Administration for Children and Families to expand the availability of marriage education classes in more than 100 communities nationwide. This project, known as the "Healthy Marriage Initiative," is designed to improve the well-being of children by providing tools and education to strengthen marriages and families. More information is available online.

Initial planning for the field of relationship education involved the participation of psychologists, counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, clergy from various faith traditions, policy makers, academicians in the fields of social science, attorneys, judges, and lay persons. The goal was to seek the broadest possible dispersal of research and marriage education skills courses which could improve interpersonal relationship functioning, especially with married and pre-marital couples.

Marriage Education Movement
The relationship and marriage education movement came together under the umbrella of "The Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education," founded and directed by Diane Sollee, a former director of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). Their first national conference, "Smart Marriages®" was held in 1997, near their office in Washington, D.C. The annual Smart Marriages® conferences are attended by as many as 2,500 persons from all fifty states and dozens of countries. Participants find that instruction in relationship skills, combined with information about the benefits of marriage and guidelines about what to expect in marriage, will not only increase the marriage rate and reduce the divorce rate but will provide for other social benefits, as well. The programs and methods to teach relationship skills are varied and are often modified specifically to various individual and cultural milieu. The majority of clinical practitioners who participate in the Coalition find within it a positive means to directly and quickly effect positive change for individuals and couples in circumstances where the DSM-IV may not be an appropriate tool. Their internet site, provides information on community and national programs along with useful information on the field of marriage education.

Early contributors who remain active in the Coalition are Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, University of Denver; Bill Doherty, University of Minnesota; Linda Waite, University of Chicago; David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, National Marriage Project; David Olson, Life Innovations; Lori Gordon, PAIRS Foundation; Sherod Miller, ICP; Jon Carlson, Governors State University, and John Gottman University of Washington.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Marriage. The Official Guide to Marriage is Margaret Paul. Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is an expert on marriage and relationships, and the co-creator of Inner Bonding, a transformational six-step spiritual healing process.

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