Thinking About Education to Strengthen Marriages

A successful marriage is about more than just making a good choice of whom to marry; it is also the result of applying specific skills. Marriage education classes are designed to teach communication and conflict-resolution skills in order to strengthen marriages. Marriage education is different from marriage counseling or therapy as it brings individuals and couples together, usually in groups of 10 to 20, and provides them with research-based information on what makes marriages work. Most marriage education classes have about 12 hours of instruction and training, although some programs are a little shorter and a few are longer. Typically, couples are encouraged to attend marriage education classes together, but this is not necessarily required. The classes are interactive, but those who participate in the classes are not encouraged to share very private matters.

Marriage education is also different from marriage therapy in that it is designed for couples who have only a few or moderate problems to strengthen their relationship. However, research suggests that couples with more serious problems may benefit from what relationship education has to offer. Overall, research has found that:

  • Marriage education is helpful in in strengthening communication and problem-solving skills and improving marital satisfaction for both men and women.
  • The effectiveness of marriage education doesn’t wear off. Couples retain the skills that they learn, at least for a while.

Many of these classes are available for free. If you would like to find a class near you, visit this Nationwide Class Finder and see what resources are available in your state.

Here is a list of some of the Relationship Education curricula available:

  • PREP or Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program. This is one of the most tested programs, developed by researchers at the University of Denver, Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley.
  • Art and Science of Love. This program was developed by one of the premier marriage researchers in the world, Dr. John Gottman, at the University of Washington.
  • PREPARE/ENRICH. This is one of the most widely used programs worldwide, developed by Dr. David Olson at the University of Minnesota. This program is based on years of research and includes a thorough relationship assessment prior to any recommendations being made for what skills are necessary to enhance the couple’s relationship.
  • RE or Relationship Enhancement. This is one of the earliest programs, developed by Dr. Bernard Guerney, Jr., at Penn State University. It emphasizes listening with empathy.
  • Marriage Encounter. This is a weekend marriage enrichment program. It is associated with the Roman Catholic Church but is open to all.
  • Retrouvaille. This is a weekend program dedicated to helping couples with very serious problems and possibly headed towards divorce to “rediscover” their relationship. (The French word for rediscovery is retrouvaille, pronounced “reh-troo-vi,” with a long  i.) It is associated with the Roman Catholic Church, but all couples are welcome.
  • Smart Steps. This program is designed specifically for remarriages and stepfamilies. It focuses on building couple and family strengths while addressing the unique needs and issues that face stepfamilies. Children and adults attend together in separate sessions then come together at the end for shared activities. The program was designed by Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder at Auburn University.

What have you done recently to try and strengthen your marriage? Some couples, even those with some serious problems who are thinking about divorce, try some educational resources to try and improve their relationship.

What books have you read to try and strengthen your marriage? How helpful were they? If you haven’t done this, look at this list of suggested books and pick one to read, either by yourself or together as a couple. Write down the title here and a set a goal for a date to read the book.


What websites have you visited to try and strengthen your marriage? How helpful were they? If you haven’t done this, look at this list of suggested websites and pick one to browse, either by yourself or together as a couple. Write down the name and address of the website and set a goal for a date to visit the site or do it right now.


Have you ever taken a marriage-strengthening class together (including a marriage preparation education class)? If so, what do you remember about that experience? What did you learn? How did you feel about the experience? Do you think it was helpful? Write down your thoughts here:


Do you think you would benefit from taking a marriage-strengthening class, either by yourself or with your spouse, to help you resolve problems, communicate more effectively, and increase your satisfaction with your marriage? Why or why not? As you answer this question, consider whether you would feel comfortable or awkward in class with other couples working on improving their marriages. Write down your thoughts here:


Are you aware of some marriage-strengthening classes in your area? Does your church or other religious group offer marriage-strengthening classes? The Nationwide Class Finder offers a listing of marriage education available in several states. Do a little investigation of local resources and write down a few possibilities that you might be interested in here:


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