Mar­riage ed­u­ca­tion not sure­fire so­lu­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY CHERYLWETZSTEIN

Mar­riage ed­u­ca­tion im­proves re­la­tion­ships and low­ers lev­els of mar­i­tal dis­tress, but doesn’t de­ter di­vorce, at least in the short-term, says a new fed­er­ally funded study.

The find­ings of­fer new ev­i­dence that teach­ing re­la­tion­ship skills to low-in­come mar­ried cou­ples with chil­dren — es­pe­cially when they are backed up by a com­pe­tent sup­port sys­tem — can im­prove the qual­ity of their re­la­tion­ships.

How­ever, the most im­por­tant find­ings of the Sup­port­ing Healthy Mar­riage (SHM) project are yet to come: A long-term fol­low-up re­port, ex­pected in 2013, will re­port on the SHM cou­ples’ risks for sepa­ra­tion and di­vorce, fa­thers’ in­volve­ment in their fam­i­lies, and out­comes for the chil­dren.

The eight SHM pro­grams “are de­signed to sup­port sta­ble, nur­tur­ing mar­riages for the well-be­ing of chil­dren,” said Ge­orge H. Shel­don, act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for chil­dren and fam­i­lies in the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, which started the project in 2003.

Fu­ture eval­u­a­tions should of­fer even more in­sights into what works, he said Fri­day.

The new re­port shows a “con­sis­tent pat­tern of small, pos­i­tive ef­fects” among cou­ples 12 months af­ter they par­tic­i­pated in a SHM pro­gram, said the re­port, which was writ­ten by Man­power Demon­stra­tion Re­search Corp.

For in­stance, SHM cou­ples re­ported higher lev­els of mar­i­tal hap­pi­ness, greater “warmth and sup­port” and more pos­i­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween each other, com­pared with cou­ples in con­trol groups, the re­port said.

SHM cou­ples also had lower lev­els of mar­i­tal dis­tress and were less likely to feel sad or anx­ious.

The SHM pro­grams also looked for ev­i­dence of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. It found that both men and women in SHM pro­grams re­ported less psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, and hus­bands re­ported that their wives “phys­i­cally as­saulted them less of­ten,” com­pared with hus­bands in con­trol groups, the re­port said.

SHM pro­grams, how­ever, “did not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect whether cou­ples stayed mar­ried at the 12-month fol­lowup point.” The 2013 re­port, which will look at how the cou­ples are do­ing 30 months later, should pro­vide a bet­ter picture of mar­i­tal sta­bil­ity, the MDRC re­port said.

Fri­day’s re­port on the SHM project is more up­beat than those on an ear­lier fed­eral mar­riage project con­ducted from 2002 to 2011.

HHS’ Build­ing Strong Fam­i­lies (BSF) project, which tar­geted un­wed, low-in­come cou­ples with chil­dren, ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent mar­riage-ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in eight sites.

Ex­cept for the Ok­la­homa-based BSF pro­gram, the re­sults were dis­mal, show­ing that the pro­grams had lit­tle or no im­pact on cou­ples. How­ever, a sub­se­quent BSF study, which fo­cused on cou­ples who ac­tu­ally at­tended many of the mar­riage-ed­u­ca­tion ses­sions, found that those cou­ples were sign­f­i­cantly more likely to still be to­gether 15 months later.

Sep­a­rately, a fed­er­ally funded Cal­i­for­nia mar­riage coali­tion — now named Healthy Re­la­tion­ships Cal­i­for­nia — re­ported this month that, on av­er­age, per­sons who took a mar­riage-ed­u­ca­tion course re­ported higher lev­els of re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, both 30 days later and six months later.

Data like this, which were ob­tained from 17,245 Cal­i­for­ni­ans, “show clearly that our classes re­ally help peo­ple make sig­nif­i­cant long-term im­prove­ments in their lives and re­la­tion­ships,” said Den­nis Sto­ica, pres­i­dent of the mar­riage coali­tion.

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