While I was growing up, my family often camped at a remote lake in Middle-of-Nowhere, Idaho. We would play on the lake in my grandpa’s row boat, in a kayak, or just about anything that would float! I remember one summer when I tried to float a log from one side of the lake to the other. It seemed fun at first, but I ended up just floating in the middle of the lake without any way to move myself around. The log was so heavy that I had no choice but to go wherever it drifted. Finally, my brothers came to me in the row boat and handed me a paddle from the kayak. Only then could I finally move to where I wanted it to be.
Many relationships simply drift, just as I did on that log. Partners in a relationship often focus their energy on so many other things in life that they don’t actively try to improve their relationship. If changes aren’t made, the relationship may become lifeless, or worse, drift into dangerous waters. Fortunately, just as a paddle helped me take control of the log, relationship education can help you take control of your relationship and move it along to where you want it to be.
What is Relationship Education?
Relationship education refers to programs that teach skills and principles which can make people more likely to have healthy, stable relationships. Whether you are currently single or in a relationship, whether you want to participate by yourself or with your partner, there is likely a program that can fill your needs. There are programs that teach how to communicate and solve problems. Other programs focus on parenting, post-divorce family life, or step-parenting. There are even programs to help single adults learn how to pick a partner for a healthier relationship. Programs can be one session or multiple sessions, they can be in-person or online, and they can be taught by many different people (e.g., family life educators, extension specialists, therapists, social workers, clergy, or graduate students).
Does Relationship Education Actually Help?
That is all great information, but can relationship education actually help you? Let’s zoom out and look at what we know about whether or not relationship education works. The big picture of the research suggests that participating in relationship education can help people improve their relationships. Many say that it helped them feel happier in their relationships, communicate better with their partner, or even be a better parent. Other research suggests that those who participate in relationship education also tend to have less conflict in their relationships, tend to be more committed in their marriages, and tend to be less likely to divorce. Just like a driver’s ed class needs to be more than an hour or two long to prepare you for driving, spending more time in relationship education, at least to a certain extent, can help you out more than if you just commit an hour or two. It usually takes at least 8 – 10 hours of a program to get the most out of what relationship education has to offer.
Although there’s more to relationship education than what has been mentioned here, I hope you leave understanding at least this one thing: assuming you have a good attitude about it and put in the effort, relationship education might be the paddle you need in order to take control of your relationship and move it to healthier, happier waters!
Blanchard, V. L., Hawkins, A. J., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2009). Investigating the effects of marriage and relationship education on couples’ communication skills: A meta-analytic study. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(2), 203–214. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0015211
Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship education work? A meta-analytic study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(5), 723–734. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0012584
Hawkins, A. J., Stanley, S. M., Blanchard, V. L., & Albright, M. (2012). Exploring programmatic moderators of the effectiveness of marriage and relationship education programs: A meta-analytic study. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 77–87. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2010.12.006
Markman, H. J., & Rhoades, G. K. (2012). Relationship education research: Current status and future directions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 169–200. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00247.x
Stanley, S. M., Amato, P. R., Johnson, C. A., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Premarital education, marital quality, and marital stability: Findings from a large, random household survey. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 117–126. http://doi.org/10.1037/0893-322.214.171.124