Improving Premarital Education

Results of a Premarital Education Participation Survey

By Sarah Hokanson

The Bottom-Line First: A recent survey of recently married couples in Utah helps us to see improvements that could be made in our efforts with premarital education. These improvements include tailoring content, better explaining the need and value, and working with religious organizations and colleges.

The goal of premarital education is to give individuals and couples relationship knowledge and skills so that marriages will be strong and stable. In short, premarital education can help couples create a stronger marriage relationship. If couples can prepare for marriage properly, they will enjoy a healthier and happier relationship and be less likely to divorce. But attention to premarital education seems to be waning.

A recent survey[1] of individuals who were married between 2015 and 2017 in Utah looks at involvement in premarital education. The sample was randomly selected from marriage license data from the five largest counties in Utah. Though the response rate for the short survey was very low, 507 individuals participated in the survey. Here are some of the findings:

  • 7% of the sample reports that they are now divorced or separated. 40% have thought their marriage might be in trouble over the last 3 years. 32% have thought about getting a divorce or separating over the last 3 years. 15% have seriously suggested the idea of divorce in the last 3 years.
  • 40% of the sample reported that they had participated in some form of premarital education.
  • Those who were less educated, in the youngest (18 to 24) and the oldest (over 39) age groups, or not on their first marriage were less likely to participate in some kind of premarital education.
  • Of those who did participate in premarital education, most participated in a college class (34%), religious class (43%), or counseling with a religious leader (39%).
  • Among those who did not participate in premarital education, only 1-in-5 (19%) said they wish they had.

These findings have significant implications for our efforts in family life education, particularly for premarital education.

  • There is definitely a need! With only 40% of individuals participating in premarital education (and the quality of their education uncertain), and with significant divorce rates or divorce ideation in the early years of marriage, there is a clear need for more and improved premarital education.
  • We could do a better job promoting premarital education so couples are aware and want to participate in our programs. We should not settle for just 40% of couples receiving premarital education. Promoting premarital education includes promoting community education options along with web-based programs. Advertising and emphasizing the significant outcomes from premarital education programs can help couples understand why premarital education could benefit them and overcome the “We don’t need it because we are living together” rationale that many couples who are already cohabitating may have. (See this endnote[2] if you want to read a lengthier rationale for why premarital education is just as important in contemporary society.)
  • The findings also suggest that we could improve the quantity, quality, and reach of premarital education. Specific demographic groups were less likely to participate in premarital education. Expanding our curriculum to attract these groups, such as including content about getting remarried, marriage at a younger age, or transitioning from cohabitation to marriage, could help us reach more people. More refined tailoring of our curriculum can help us reach these specific populations.
  • Since the majority of people reported getting their premarital education through college or religious organizations, we might consider working closely with religious organizations and institutions of higher education to improve what they do.

While 40% is a significant proportion, we should not settle for where we are now. The high number of couples divorcing, or considering divorce, could be combatted by more effective marriage preparation provided through our quality educational services.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Unpublished data, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

[2] Clyde, T. L., & Hawkins, A. J. (2019). Revising premarital interventions for the next generation. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12378