THE HEALTHY MARRIAGE & RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION FIELD - WHO ARE WE?
History and origins
In terms of public recognition and government funding, the HM field is "the new kid on the block" (Ooms, 2005). However, its roots in marriage and relationships research and education programs go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. The field then grew, in response to rising concern about the negative economic and psychological effects-on children and adults alike-of the increasing rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childrearing. Existing counseling and therapy services offered to distressed couples provided too little help, too late. The belief, supported by new research, was that individuals and couples could learn the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to have a healthy and happy relationship, make wise marital choices, and stay successfully married.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted welfare reform, which was the first federal law to establish promotion of marriage and reduction of out-of-wedlock childbearing as federal policy goals. The law encouraged states to spend funds from the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) on pursuing these goals. In 2001, the federal government began for the first time to fund marriage education programs around the country.
Marriage and relationship education (MRE) can be provided to the general public through media campaigns, Web sites, brochures, self-help books, self-guided internet courses, etc. Most often, MRE is provided in structured workshops, classes, or seminars offered to couples on a voluntary basis in the community, on campuses, in churches and schools, and on military bases. The curricula are generally taught in group settings, with information presented and skills taught through a mixture of lectures, structured discussion, videotapes, interactive exercises, and homework tasks. Programs have been customized for high school students, individual adults, engaged couples, married couples seeking enrichment, highly distressed couples, and remarried/stepparent couples.
DEFINING HEALTHY MARRIAGE
In the last few years, researchers and marriage educators have been working to develop a consensus definition of a "healthy marriage." Clearly, happy, long-lasting marriages come in all shapes and sizes. But can we identify some of the core characteristics that they have in common? A comprehensive review of the research conducted by Child Trends (Moore et al., 2004) found that healthy marriages are those in which couples:
- Are committed to each other for the long haul
- Are satisfied overall with their marriage
- Have positive communication
- Can resolve disagreements and conflicts
- Never resort to violence or abuse
- Are sexually (and psychologically) faithful
- Spend positive, enjoyable time together
- Provide intimacy and emotional support
- Are mutually committed to any children they have
Scott Stanley and Howard Markman (Stanley, 2004) believe it is useful to think about healthy marriages as those which have three fundamental types of safety:
- Safety in interaction. Being able to talk openly and well (enough) about key issues without repeated negative interactions (escalation of conflict, criticism, put-downs, withdrawal, contempt, and so forth)
- Personal safety. Mutual respect and understanding, and freedom from fear of physical or emotional harm and intimidation
- Commitment safety. Security of mutual support both now and in the future.