There continues to be considerable debate as to whether there are practical benefits to premarital/remarital counseling. The question further arises as to if premarital/remarital counseling is effective. According to Wright (1992), the institution of marriage is the closest bond that can develop between two people. That said, as many couples progress towards marriage, perceptions and expectations as to what constitutes marriage vary considerably. In this regard, Wright (1992) contends that, “Unrealistic expectations and fantasies create a gulf between the partners and cause disappointments” (p. 11).
Fawcett, Hawkins, Blanchard and Carroll (2010) contend that promoting healthy marriages and relationships now engages greater attention from principal stakeholders and requires considerable commitment and resources. A 2006 household survey conducted reported that “premarital education is significantly correlated to higher levels of marital quality, lower levels of marital conflict, and lower divorce rates” (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markham, 2006, p. 232).
The findings derived from this 2006 study lend support to the theory that premarital counseling may be effective (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 19:20-21).
There are numerous approaches employed in premarital counseling. One such interesting paradigm is solution-focused premarital counseling. According to Murray and Murray (2004), “Solution-focused therapy is a brief therapy approach that emphasizes clients’ strengths and attempts to produce desirable solutions to clients’ presenting problems” (p. 350). This specific approach takes on relevance because of the rapidity with which contemporary culture continues to undergo change.
Solution-focused premarital counseling may also be an effective option by some scholars because of: (a) its constructivist and postmodern paradigm, (b) its emphasis on clients’ perception of truth and (c) clients’ interpretations of their personal life experiences, interpersonal relationships coupled with their personal goals and aspirations (Murray & Murray, 2004). At the corpus of the effectiveness of solution-focused premarital counseling is: (a) clients’ recognition that change is needed and (b) clients’ commitment to work with their therapist to implement mutually agreeable and sustainable change. “The solution-oriented theoretical framework provides a foundation for expanding the delivery of premarital counseling programs to engaged couples” (p. 356).
Is premarital counseling an effective tool for couples who are about to get married for the first time? Can it be equally effective for others to reconsider marriage after having experienced a failed marriage or failed marriages? In another meta-analytic study, consisting of 14 studies spanning four decades, Lucier-Greer and Adler-Baeder (2012) concluded that couple and relationship education “(CRE) programs that target participants in stepfamilies, both married and nonmarried, are modestly effective in influencing overall participant functioning as well as specific target outcomes, including family functioning and parenting, and appear worthy of support” (p. 765). In other words, there is some level of evidenced-based support to suggest that remarital counseling may also be well supported with the appropriate and meticulously conceptualized educational and/or enrichment programs.
The dynamic of stepfamilies introduced above connotes that some couples may be considered at higher risks for marital problems in the future than others. If this postulation is in fact true, the question arises as to what may be some of the other contributory factors that put some couples at higher marital risks. In an Australian study conducted by Halford, O’Donnell, Lizzio, and Wilson, (2006), 374 newly married couples were tested for the hypothesis that: “religious service attendance, income, age, education, female parental divorce, male parental aggression, cohabitation before marriage, forming a stepfamily, relationship aggression, or low relationship satisfaction predicts attendance at marriage education” (p. 161).
Attendance to premarital education programs was reliably associated with attendance to religious services and not cohabiting before marriage, “but not reliably associated with the risk factors” (p. 161). There was also a “lack of reliable association of education attendance with relationship aggression and/or satisfaction or negative family-of origin experiences” (p. 162). In addition, this study reported that, “income, education, age, prior marriage, and forming a stepfamily were not reliably related to attendance” (p. 162).
The study also revealed that many non-religious couples were not aware that premarital education was a resource available to them and that strategic marketing should be employed to heighten mainstream population awareness.
There are obvious complexities, attending variables and nuances associated with both premarital and remarital counseling. As such, I posit that there is a need for ongoing research to explore a plethora of relevant variables.
Some of the evaluating factors that may affect couple and relationship study outcomes include: (a) the context of the study’s setting, (b) ethnicity, (c) economic status, (d) family functionality, and (e) parenting styles just to mention a few. Given the liberal marital approaches that continue to evolve in today’s postmodern culture, additional considerations should also be examined such as: (a) how many marriages has each individual been involved in prior to embarking on an educational program, (b) are the individuals cohabiting or are they living apart, (c) if married, at what stage of the marriage are the couple prepared to engage in a CRE program (Lucier-Greer & Adler-Baeder, 2012).
In summary, there is empirical data which suggests that couple and relationship programs in various contexts have met with favorable outcomes, yet there remains a need for research that incorporates additional contextual diversity. Lucier-Greer and Adler-Baeder (2012) succinctly surmise this perspective noting that, “quality research designs framed with an ecocultural lens using control groups and long-term follow-up procedures are needed” (p. 766).
Fawcett, E. B., Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., & Carroll, J. S. (2010). Do premarital education programs work? A meta-analytic study. Family Relations, 59(3), 232-239. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00598.x
Halford, W. K., O’Donnell, C., Lizzio, A., & Wilson, K. L. (2006). Do couples at high risk of relationship problems attend premarriage education? Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 160-163. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-318.104.22.168
Lucier-Greer, M. & Adler-Baeder, F. (2012). Does couple and relationship education work for individuals in stepfamilies? A meta-analytic study. Family Relations, 61(5), 756-769. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3279.2012.00728.x
Murray, C. E. & Murray, T. L. (2004). Solution-focused premarital counseling: Helping couples build a vision for their marriage. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30(3), 349-358. Retrieved from Psy Articles
Stanley, S. M., Amato, P. R., Johnson, C. A. & Markham, H. J. (2006). Premarital education, marital quality, and marital stability: Findings from a large, random household survey. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 117-126. Retrieved from https://doi.org/ 10.1037/0893-322.214.171.124
Wright, H. N. (1992). The premarital counseling handbook. Chicago: Moody Publishers.