A young couple from Liberty City, one of South Florida’s most economically distressed communities, talk about the lasting impact skills training had on their marriage and family. Two recent studies offer strong scientific evidence that educational programs for improving communication and conflict resolution skills may be more effective than traditional marriage therapy and couples counseling for preventing divorce.
Two large, recent studies validate the impact of evidence-based marriage and relationship education classes and show that for many couples facing marital distress, skills training may be more beneficial than traditional marriage therapy or couples counseling for preventing divorce. Both studies are important indications of the growing impact and acceptance of less expensive, brief skills training programs for couples grappling with marriage and relationship challenges.
The studies were conducted in Kentucky and Florida to evaluate short-term educational programs for couples that were taught primarily by non-mental health professionals. In Kentucky, programs were led by military Chaplains. In Florida, classes were taught primarily by educators and clergy.
The Kentucky study evaluated the impact of PREP for Strong Bonds in reducing divorce among military couples. Drs. Scott Stanley and Howard Markman’s PREP classes are one of the nation’s most widely taught and researched programs designed to improve couple communication and conflict resolution skills. A study of 500 military couples from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division, found that those who completed 14 hours of PREP training were far less likely to divorce in the year following participation.
A second study evaluated the impact of PAIRS classes in boosting relationship and marital satisfaction among couples experiencing marital distress. PAIRS was originally created by marriage and family therapist Lori Heyman Gordon with the goal of helping couples improve their ability to confide, understand emotions in themselves and others, and negotiate differences. Dr. Paul Peluso analyzed data from more than 2,000 participants in PAIRS classes and found that couples completing the nine-hour PAIRS Essentials training gained significant benefits that were sustained or continued to improve six and 12 months following participation.
For couples contemplating separation or divorce and others struggling to overcome distance or distress in their closest relationships, these studies should be encouraging news.