When I tell people I am getting a Master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development they immediately jump to the conclusion that I want to do therapy. Like them, when I began my degree in Family Studies my intention was to go into therapy because that was what I knew. I believed couples were either happy or needed therapy. I only knew of one line of defense against divorce, and one that is often not effective.
However, since then I have found a third option. I found the real first line of defense: Marriage and Relationship Education (MRE). However, in discovering MRE, I also began to wonder why so few people take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity.
Why Marriage and Relationship Education is For You
As I began to explore a career in MRE, I also began to explore why such a helpful option is so unused. What I found were some common barriers to MRE that people encounter. So what are these barriers and how can you break them down?
Barrier 1: My marriage is happy.
One of the most common barriers is the belief that a happy marriage doesn’t need help and seeking any sort of help is like admitting something is wrong. In fact, this barrier is common for those seeking therapy as well. But there is an important difference between therapy and MRE.
Prevention vs. Intervention
Marriage and Family Therapy is primarily designed to help couples repair their relationship. In other words, it is designed as an intervention when couples find something broken in their relationship and do not know how to fix it themselves. This is a very important service, and often saves marriages, but it sometimes happens too late.
We all know that keeping something from breaking in the first place is always easier and more effective than trying to fix it. That’s why we put up so many child safety locks in our homes when we have a young, mobile toddler. Just like child safety locks, MRE is designed to serve as a prevention from having relationships fall apart in the first place. MRE is designed to help couples learn new ways of thinking about relationships and developing skills to make their relationships safer and more rewarding. It helps couples who are already happy, stay happy.
Change your thinking.
There is a stigma against Marriage Therapy that we all know of. Seeking help is like shouting to the world that our marriage is less than happy. So we try to keep it a secret, if we even try it at all. This same stigma seems to accompany MRE, so overcoming this barrier requires a change in our thinking. It is not about finding happiness again but sending the message that you care enough about your marriage to keep it happy.
Barrier 2: I already know how to make my marriage happy.
It is not uncommon for one couple to feel like they are so much happier in their relationship than other couples. It is easy to find ourselves using the excuse that we are an exception to the statistics because we are different than all those other people. So then why do we continue to see such a high trend in divorce rates? We all like to think that we know just what to do in order to make relationships work. It gives us a sense of security and confidence in ourselves. This sense of confidence can be very good for relationships, but it may also be getting in the way of accepting that we don’t know everything. Maybe common sense isn’t always so common, or sensical.
If I were to do a google search for marriage advice, I would be confronted with an endless library of blogs, books, and websites claiming to have the answer on how to guarantee a lasting marriage. Yet so much of it would contradict the views of another. How do we know which advice to trust? It is clear that we need better marriage literacy. We need knowledge about marriage we can trust.
Marriage and Relationship Education is a better way. It is research-based, but is also designed to allow for individuals with very different lives to get similar results: a happier and more secure marriage. MRE promotes marriage literacy by providing skills in better communication, relationship maintenance, and strengthening commitment, among others. Research shows that those who participate in MRE are more likely to experience increased feelings of competence and confidence in their marriages than those who pretend to know something they do not.
So how do you overcome this barrier? Accept that you may not know everything there is to know about relationships. It may be possible that you can learn many of the skills taught in MRE classes over time, but why wait? It is rare to come across an older couple that says they knew how to have a happy marriage when they started so long ago. And many of them will also say they wish they had learned some of it sooner. The good news is you can learn it sooner through MRE.
Barrier 3: I don’t have the time or money.
Even if you buy into everything I said above, you may still be using the excuse that you don’t have the time to spend in an MRE class or the money to burn on “luxury.” But remember that first point about “prevention?”
Divorce has increasingly become one of the most costly events in people’s lives. It not only costs a large amount in legal fees and child support, but also costs time, energy, and productivity. The costs of divorce are felt by parents, children, and society in a very real way. And these costs don’t go away after a few months, but often last for years if not our whole lives. That is why spending the time and money for MRE now can help prevent much greater costs later.
Investing in Your Marriage
Whenever we make an investment it is because we believe that the money we set aside now will come back to us tenfold later. We are willing to spend a lot of money on a car now because we believe it will last us a long time and reduce costs of other things later. Marriage and Relationship Education is just like that. It is an investment in ourselves and our relationships that will pay for itself and more. Besides, it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as a car.
You are worth it.
Many communities have free or very inexpensive MRE offerings for just a couple of hours a week or on a weekend. They are offered by relationship experts through universities, non-profit organizations, or government sponsored programs. And they are offered to anyone and everyone. Whether you are married, engaged, or even single, you can take advantage of this great opportunity now. Invest in yourself to prevent the high costs of breaking later. Invest in learning something new before it is too late to use it. Invest in MRE!
Before you look for an MRE class, try taking the RELATE assessment here to help you know what you can work on most during the class. You may be surprised by what you could learn.
Written by: Dallin, Masters in Marriage, Family, and Human Development reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.