Relationship education presents and promotes the principles and practices of premarital education, relationship resources, relationship restoration, relationship maintenance, and research-based marriage preparation.
The formal organization of relationship education in the United States began in the late 1970s by a diverse group of professionals concerned that the results of conventional methods and means of marriage therapy resulted in no appreciable reduction in the elevated rate of divorce and out-of-wedlock births.
The motivation for relationship education was found in numerous studied observations of the elevated rates of marital and family breakdown, school drop-outs, incarceration, drug addiction, unemployment, suicide, homicide, domestic abuse and other negative social factors when divorce and/or out-of-wedlock pregnancy were noted. In all of the negative categories noted above, statistical over-representation of adults whose childhood did not involve both of their parents was present.
Initial planning for the field of relationship education involved the participation of psychologists, counselors, family life educators, social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, clergy from various faith traditions, policy makers, academicians in the fields of social science, attorneys, judges, and lay persons. The goal was to seek the broadest possible dispersal of research and marriage education skills courses which could improve interpersonal relationship functioning, especially with married and pre-marital couples.
Early contributors to the field of relationship education included David and Vera Mace, who founded The Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment.. The Maces conducted their first couples retreat in 1962. Also, Bernard and Louise Guerney developed Relationship Enhancement.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began funding significant multi-year demonstration projects through the Administration for Children and Families to expand the availability of marriage education classes in more than 100 communities nationwide. This project, known as the "Healthy Marriage Initiative," is designed to improve the well-being of children by providing tools and education to strengthen marriages and families. More information is available online.
Basic principles and practices
- all men and all women can learn improved means and methods of relating to each other;
- all men and all women can learn much improved means of managing inevitable differences and can accept and plan for the numerous incompatibilities which are present in all relationships;
- there is likely to be far more satisfaction from learning to play complementary roles well than from perpetually nursing the desire for that ideal and perfectly compatible individual;
- humorous responses (to be used gently and often) and the ability to develop and select lighthearted interpretations of life's inevitable awkwardnesses are of great value in aborting downward emotional spirals (interpretations that blame the other person cause significant and needless harm);
- great couples and failed (failing) couples have disagreements in identical areas of life. Creating the proper environment to honor the right to differences without perpetually allowing them to rise to the level of conflict is the key behavioral difference, and this can be learned;
- more communication or communication, alone, is never the exclusive answer to a problem situation. Respectful exchange of ideas while noting the preferences of the other thus showing concern and respect for them (including the validation of their importance) is valuable and essential. Building a connection is the goal—not a word count increase;
- to personalize (blame the other) in your difficulties is almost always the wrong thing to do as very few "man mistakes" or "woman mistakes" are exclusive to your personal circumstances (dramatically high percentages of other couples have had your same, exact battles and the ones who accepted this fact graciously and worked to resolve them amicably remain together, in love). Remember that happy couples respect differences and choose means to promote love by preventing battles.
- there is great value in accepting the influence of the other graciously—and in offering one's own influence gracefully and gently;
- keep the ratio of positive over negative comments overwhelming, in the nature of at least 10:1, while remembering that any negative responses or outbursts are likely to be remembered far longer;
- in tense moments, "soft starts" to any potentially conflicted conversational exchange is mandatory (there is value in pausing--planning later when "cool heads" can prevail);
- always seek healing tones and methods and never give resentment a foothold (allow for human foibles and errors when observing the “mistakes” of others and remember that you are daily and perpetually seeking to build a loving and caring home life);
- remember that experiencing some guilt may be useful in learning and re-directing ourselves, but that shaming another person, that is, finding fault in who they are, their intentions, and their very self, can be very destructive;
- it is essential to recognize difficulty as early as possible—and to tread lightly until the very best moment arrives to approach a matter (note that far less than all items need to be addressed—time will allow most potential squabbles to disappear on their own—dying of unimportance in the larger context of the active cultivation of a longer term, enduring love);
- every couple can benefit from the active pursuit of fun and friendship (obviously, this takes special effort while caring for small children but it is not automatically easier when they've grown, either);
- all couples have a significant number of matters of life-long contrast or disagreement. Successful couples “table” these and respect each others differences and creat joy, finding happiness and love in areas of greater agreement, aggressively cultivating their positive regard and commitment to the relationship.
- in pursuing fun and friendship, note the increased difficulty when in the presence of people who have not yet learned the value in addressing their grumpy life habits. People can actively choose to avoid the grumpy habits of life;
- recreational companionship should be cultivated and recreational compatibility should be pursued vigorously;
- many woman will respond well to the direct promotion of her emotional safety and comfort (men, note that they may not enjoy being reminded of this);
- nearly every man will respond favorably to positive note or validation of his efforts or contributions (women, note that many men will not enjoy being reminded of their below average abilities, skill, income, or status);
- it is always valuable to choose warmth over grumpiness in responding to life's annoyances;
- the identification and the elimination of as many bad habits as possible can begin immediately (note that many researchers have observed that women report far greater concern in this area);
- the identification of and the practice and repetition of as many good habits as possible can begin immediately;
- the common practice of assigning a mental illness diagnosis to persons experiencing relationship distress is quite likely to be iatrogenic. Boisvert, C., & Faust, D. (2002). Iatrogenic symptoms in psychotherapy: A theoretical exploration of the potential impact of labels, language, and belief systems. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 56, 244-259. ;
- there are many positive and romantic ideas and habits to cultivate—and to not seek them, to not learn them, and to not practice them is to risk missing some of life's greatest pleasures and enjoyments;
- there is great value in scripting, practicing, and faking improved expressions of new knowledge, methods and facts (this idea is rather routine in all new learning—from bicycling to bread-making, and is very useful toward becoming the best spouse that you can be);
- researching what others want, desire, appreciate and enjoy is essential. Know that what is of high importance to your spouse may be of lesser importance to you. Accommodate these preferences to the highest degree that you can—fully expecting that numerous day-to-day preferences of the other may be surprising to you.
- repair mechanisms must be identified, prepared and used regularly, before significant deteriorations can be observed. All repairs involve softened tones and absolutely no harsh words or presentations. If you cannot stage an optimal recovery initially, arrange for a break until you can review essential principles and return to attempt a loving recovery—a repair. John Gottman, in Seven Principles;
- exposing children and youth to these basic principles is compatible with the majority of socialization fundamentals in numerous societies and religions.
- Emotionally focused therapy
- Family Life Education
- Family Therapy
- Relationship counseling, especially "Methodologies" subheading
- http://2008.bettermarriages.org/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx Building Better Marriages: The Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment
- http://www.nire.org/ National Institute of Relationship Enhancement
- National Council on Family Relations
- Healthy Marriage Initiative Department of Health and Human Services
- National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
- Proceedings of the London Relationship Education Conference 2007.
- The PAIR project A longitudinal study of courtship and marriage.