Over the past 50 -- 60 years, the divorce rate in the United States has risen dramatically. Marriage was viewed differently in previous generations, and was generally considered an institution between one man and one woman. In today's modern culture, the lines between what is acceptable in a union between two entities is much more blurred than it was in earlier years. There is a movement to accept marriage as it was previously defined as too old-fashioned. Accordingly, there is a larger percentage of individuals who divorce after marriage, or who oftentimes do not marry at all, preferring instead to cohabitate one with another. Such a scenario seems to be based on a lack of overall commitment to the relationship, and this same lack of commitment affects married couples as well.
One recent study determined that in the 1950's happy marriages were the result of marrying someone with similar beliefs, commitment levels, concerns and upbringing and that "failing to recognize this reality could lead to unhappiness and maybe even divorce (an undesirable outcome, especially in the family-oriented 1950's)" (Celello, 2010, p. 44). If the evidence is today's high rate of divorce, then the same scenario that held true in the 1950's also holds true today. Additional evidence is provided that shows divorce is a traumatic experience and that it brings about "marital distress and family fragmentation associated with a broad spectrum of risks for adults and children, including problems with mental health and individual adjustment, child behavior, physical health, and economic success and stability (Booth & Amato, 2001; Halford & Bouma, 1997).
In fact many experts agree that couples generally do best if they can develop a clear sense of the future direction of the proposed marriage, and that there are strong findings that the level of commitment matters in a marriage (Amato & DeBoer, 2001; Waite & Joyner, 2001). If society wishes to see a decline in the overall divorce rate, and society is willing to assist those individuals most at risk of divorce, then it makes sense to help these couples using the most effective tools in the counseling toolbox. This paper seeks to determine what is currently working effectively in the realm of marriage counseling, and additionally looks to create a marriage preparatory program that assists young couples seeking to marry with establishing a firm level of commitment to the marriage.
Literature provides a number of studies that have determined that preparatory programs regarding marriage are beneficial to many couples, and oftentimes will receive credit to the strengthening of commitment in the marriage relationship. Community-based marriage preparation programs are effective in reducing the rate of divorce, stress and complications in the early years of marriage according to experts (Silliman, 2003). Silliman also found that high-risk couples experienced an increase in benefits from education through positive youth development programs, and that faith communities are critical catalysts in fostering support and training networks (p. 271). It is not just the experts who favor such programs, states and local municipalities also view preparation programs in a favorable light. One study showed that "premarital education has also become a focus of public policy as many states have proposed and enacted legislation that will require or offer incentives for participating in some form of premarital education" (McGeorge, Carlson, 2006, p. 166).
With the benefits evident it would seem to make sense to establish a preparatory program that would be effective for those couples who are seeking to marry, and not just within a certain sect or group. This paper would rather research the effects of, and then create a scenario that would enhance a non-denominational program for couples seeking pre-marriage counseling. The Burgoyne et al. study provides a perfect backdrop to this study by stating that "it seems, therefore, that a marriage may not only survive, but prosper, if the couple is sufficiently committed to it" (Burgoyne, Reibstein, Edmunds, Routh, 2010, p. 392). The question remains then as to what will assist the couple(s) in the most efficient manner concerning the level of commitment it takes to build a long-term and successful marriage.
Marriage counselors during the post-war era of the 1950's were sought after and popular because many Americans "were eager to receive guidance about choosing a spouse and dealing with married life" (Celello, p. 42). However, this popularity seems to have waned in recent years, especially in the area of high-risk marriages. The author contemplates the reasons behind this drop in popularity and presents the idea that with the many conflicting beliefs towards marriage itself, marriage counseling was bound to suffer as well. Individuals who are less inclined to view the sanctity of marriage as a life-long bond between a man and a woman, are likely to also view marriage counseling in a much dimmer light as well. The author not only wishes to determine what programs can be most effective in providing positive influences on today's marriages but also the reasons behind the rise in divorce rates so that proper preparation would become more effective and educational as well.
Some marriage preparatory programs have attempted to provide the youth of America with early training in regards to marriage, and it would be interesting to see if those early teachings build into a higher rate of commitment between youth of similar teachings and education. Earlier in American society, the outlook on mixed marriages was much more conservative in nature than what it is currently. Mixed marriages comprised of race, religion or culture were thought to have a higher degree of failure than those marriages that were not mixed. With more and more mixed marriages in today's society, could this be one of the reasons why marriages are failing at such a high rate? Another reason for the high divorce rate could also be due to the fact that it has now become so easy to walk away from the commitment of marriage, both legally and stigmatically. "Americans have the highest divorce rate in the Western world" (Bennett, Ellison, 2010, p. 42) and part of the reason why is because of the equal treatment under the law syndrome. Most women who divorce in today's modern society are not faced with the economic doldrums that were present as little as twenty years ago. Woman are more highly educated and are much more likely to recover from a divorce than in years past as well; they also earn more and are more likely to be a member of the workforce than in the past.
Complementing that data with data on marriages that now many consider normal (same gender marriages) would make for an interesting study. This paper will not seek to determine whether the same sex crowd is a positive or negative influence on marriage but it could be a contributing factor to the overall perception of marriage. Along with marriage perceptions, are the realities of finances on a marriage.
Money problems are often cited as a reason for divorce and an educational foray into that realm may make for a strong component in an effective educational pre-marriage program. The Burgoyne study found that "perhaps if a couple is able to discuss finances with an eye to their joint future, this may be one way of articulating their commitment to each other. (p. 392).
A number of components are necessary to address the different problems associated with marriage in a pre-marriage program. The components can take on the different issues addressed in this paper. A program comprised of financial, cultural, spiritual and physical advice will most likely lead to a higher rate of successful marriages. This author is seeking to determine which of these components is the most positive of influences, and if working together, the various components would result in a lower rate of marriages. As the McGeorge and Carlson study determined, there is a "need for additional empirical evidence to determine components related to effective outcomes" (McGeorge, Carlson, 2006, p. 166). This is true in this study as well, and it is hoped that this paper will be successful in determining what, if any, of the above-mentioned components would lead to a higher marriage success rate. It is further hoped that the evidence provided herein and obtained through the efforts of this particular study, will lead to further studies and improvements in the marriage counseling realm.
This paper seeks to determine whether the overall message(s) of commitment to each other in financial, spiritual, and physical terms can be taught to couples seeking to enter the sanctity of marriage and the effectiveness of such teachings. Additionally, the study will look to incorporate the Bowen Family Systems Theory (FST).
The FST states that families are connected 'emotionally' and that these connections are very strong, even over long distances. Bowen's theory is that "it is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally (and) that family members so profoundly affect each other's thoughts, feelings and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same 'emotional…