Written Testimony of John Crouch on Marriage Education in TANF Reauthorization,
April 11, 2002
Part of the Divorce
Reform Page, sponsored by Americans for Divorce
| Statistics | Articles/Opinion
| Quotations | Polls
| Other family-related
[Oral testimony, as delivered, is on a separate page]
Testimony of John Crouch on Marriage Education in TANF Reauthorization
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means
Human Resources Subcommittee
April 11, 2002
I am the Executive Director of Americans for
Divorce Reform, a small all-volunteer organization that supports
a variety of measures to reduce divorce and strengthen marriage. In my day
job, I am a divorce lawyer, and it is that experience which motivates my
involvement in the marriage movement. I am also trained to teach Relationship
Enhancement, a marriage education curriculum, and am on the Advisory Board
of the DC-based Smart Marriages coalition.
As a divorce lawyer I have witnessed, and participated in, many of my profession's
attempts to improve the divorce process. I have served as Chair of the Arlington
County Bar Association Family Law Section and as Co-Chair of the American
Bar Association Family Law Section Child Custody Committee, and I currently
am involved in starting a DC-area
Collaborative Divorce Lawyers Network (www.co-divorce.com) and chairing
an ABA committee that is drafting standards for lawyers who represent children.
I have been in a position to observe the built-in obstacles to improving
the divorce system, to making the ideal of "the good divorce"
a reality for most families. These barriers are mostly side effects of things
we consider good, in fact indispensable, in our legal system. I have also
had to face the fact that for many couples divorce just is not sustainable
no matter how you slice it: there is not enough money, not enough of the
children's time, to satisfy both parents' basic needs, as long as they insist
on going their separate ways. Thus I have come to believe that the
most feasible way to reduce the damage divorce does is not to improve
divorce, but to reduce it. Of course we must keep doing what we can
to improve it, but the rise of marriage education, and a new openness to
changing divorce laws, provide new hope for reducing divorces and improving
Marriage Education Is A Proven Success; Reduces Divorce, Improves Marriages
Marriage education is no untried experiment. The leading programs have
been around for many years. At least one of them, PREP, has been used in
the public sector as well as the private sector for some years now. PREP
is taught in the Army, and has also been taught since 1994 by a county mental
health department in Chesterfield County, Virginia. (See attached two-page
article on that program, and a study of its effectiveness, Appendix I.)
There is abundant evidence that certain marriage education programs work,
and of exactly what it is they do that is effective in strengthening marriages
and reducing divorce rates. (Citations and summaries of several studies
are attached as Appendix II.)
Even a Libertarian Can See A Role For Government Here
As a libertarian-leaning Republican, I nonetheless support some government
provision of marriage education in the TANF context. (1) It can be provided
very simply and inexpensively, as in the Chesterfield County program. (2)
Divorce and unwed parenthood cause considerable government spending and
entail major government involvement in families' lives. (3) Curriculum development,
instructor training and accreditation are currently provided or overseen
by the private sector. This avoids the need for layers of bureaucracy to
handle those crucial tasks, and it also keeps them from being politicized.
(4) Governments already provide parenting classes, divorce classes, divorce
mediation, and secondary-school Family Life Education. If the only thing
missing is marriage, what message does that send?
The Poor Aren't the Only Ones In A Marriage Crisis
Putting funds into poverty prevention programs, such as marriage education,
should not be equated with taking money away from the beneficiaries of other
programs. Practically all children of divorce are at risk of poverty, becoming
single parents, etc., so TANF-funded marriage education programs generally
should not have to be means-tested. However, it is appropriate to develop
some programs targeted to low-income populations.
Marriage Education Is Not Political
It is unfortunate that since the President's inclusion of it in his
budget, recent news coverage has pigeonholed marriage education as a left-right
political issue. It is true that it has received some valuable support from
think tanks and faith-based public policy groups in recent years, but that
is not where marriage education comes from. Marriage education has been
pioneered and sustained by people way outside the Beltway, most of whom
are not involved in politics at all. They are psychologists, social workers,
educators, military chaplains, pastors, and trained lay volunteers, working
with actual couples, not political abstractions.
The marriage movement, of which the marriage education movement is a leading
part, does indeed arise in large part from think tanks, academics and politicians,
but they have come to their pro-marriage position in response to experience,
not theory. Some, like me, come to it from our work with divorcing families
in the court system. Others, from their work with the children of divorce.
Some, from years of academic research that has forced them to change their
initial rosy hypotheses about divorce. And many have had their eyes opened
by their own divorces or those of family members. From the beginning, this
movement has been led by liberals and moderates as well as conservatives.
It has come this far without any of the usual left-right finger-pointing
and drive-by debate, perhaps because conservatives and evangelicals realize
that they have been as fully immersed in the divorce culture as anyone else.
Of all the things the federal government might do about the compelling
national problems of divorce and illegitimacy, providing marriage education
through time-tested, proven programs is one of the most judicious, effective,
non-divisive, fiscally responsible steps it could take.
CAN WE REALLY STEM THE TIDE OF DIVORCE?
Chesterfield Co. Program Trains for Marriage
By Patricia Cullen, M.S.N., Chesterfield, Va.
[reprinted from Virginia State Bar Family Law News, Vol. 19 No. 3 (Fall
1999), pp. 3-4]
Family law attorneys live on the front lines of family breakup. On a daily
basis, you observe the toll divorce takes on adults and children alike.
Sometimes you succeed in helping your divorcing clients reach fair settlements
without protracted litigation. In other situations, this is impossible and
court intervention is inevitable. Particularly when children are involved,
you may often wonder if it is possible, at least in some cases, to prevent
the heartache you frequently witness in your role as legal advocate and
For the past 20 years, two researchers at the University of Denver Center
for Marital and Family Studies, Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, have
been working with their associates to find out whether or not divorce is
preventable. During the initial phase of their research, these two psychologists
studied newly married couples over a number of years to see who would stay
married and who would eventually divorce. They found that the variable most
likely to predict marital success was the ability to manage conflict well.
In other words, couples who somehow knew how to work out their differences
effectively were the couples most likely to remain happily married. Couples
who could not find constructive ways to handle typical marital conflicts
were far more likely to divorce, no matter how happily married they were
Based on what they had observed in their initial research, the Denver team
then developed a couples' class to teach the communication skills all couples
need to argue effectively and maintain the fun and friendship which brought
them together in the first place. The class is called "Prevention
and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP)."
In a five-year follow-up study, the researchers found that couples who attended
PREP had a divorce rate 50% lower than control couples who did not. These
findings have been replicated in other studies, both here and abroad, and
give cause for optimism about slowing down the divorce rate.
In Chesterfield, the local mental health center began offering the PREP
program to county residents in 1994. The class is offered several times
a year to married and engaged couples for a nominal fee. The response to
this seven-session class has been quite favorable. Clients' written evaluations
give the content and instructors high ratings.
The class is education, not therapy. There is no "sharing" of
private matters or feelings with other couples. "Marriage education",
like other adult education, is designed to teach skills to people who actually
want to learn them and have voluntarily taken the initiative to improve
themselves. Like adult education, it builds on students' existing skills
and life experiences.
In a six-month phone follow-up study conducted last year, 80% of the couples
who had participated in the class were still using the communication skills
they had learned, particularly a communication skill called the speaker-listener
technique. This structured, practical technique is used when couples confront
a difficult conflict that could easily escalate into a destructive fight.
It slows down the conversation so that each person knows the other is really
listening. It is nearly impossible for conflict to escalate when both parties
are listening carefully, honestly and openly.
In addition to the speaker-listener technique and other methods for fighting
fairly, the Chesterfield class also contains material on problem solving,
how to deepen marital commitment, and enhancing fun and intimacy. Each week,
couples get to practice new skills in breakout sessions, in which the couples
work privately with one of the instructors, who coaches them as they practice
their new skills. Research at the University of Denver has shown that practicing
with an instructor during class helps couples learn the techniques correctly.
Couples are then much more confident about their ability to use the techniques
where it really counts - at home.
PREP is one of the best-researched marital education programs in the country.
The program is useful to couples who have a good marriage and simply want
to "make a good thing better," as well as for couples who are
Although many couples could benefit from the information and skills presented
in the class, unfortunately PREP is not yet widely available. We now know
what makes a marriage successful and how to prevent divorce. The challenge
is how to get this important information out to the public, so we can begin
to reduce our divorce rate. Spread the word.
For more information contact Pat Cullen or Robin Jones at Chesterfield Mental
Health Center, email@example.com, 804-768-7204.
SIDEBAR TO ARTICLE:
NEW RESEARCH ON EFFECTS OF MARRIAGE TRAINING
The Chesterfield follow-up study's results parallel recent research by the
developers of PREP, which was presented by Dr. Howard Markman at the Arlington
"Smart Marriages" conference this past July. An 18-year
follow-up study of PREP showed that six times as many of the people with
standard Pre-Cana counseling divorced as did the couples with PREP, and
this ratio increased over time. This study is one with a control group and
in which there was no "self-selection effect": the couples did
not choose which kind of counseling to get; the people running the study
chose for them.
The study showed that people who were trained by their own clergy and laity
using the PREP program improved a lot in how they talk about problems --
but people trained by PREP clinical staff at the University of Denver only
improved a little. People in "naturally occurring" church premarital
counseling show a sharp decline in how they communicate, probably because
the counseling gets them talking about tough issues for the first time but
does not necessarily give them any additional skills for doing so. Over
the years, the difference in marriage quality between PREP couples and couples
with standard Pre-Cana counseling increases greatly. "Negative verbal
communication" increases between the period immediately after marriage
and the time five years into marriage for both groups, but it increases
much more for the non-PREP couples. PREP couples had considerably less negative
verbal communication at five years than they did before marriage.
The study also showed that couples learn the communication skills permanently
and use them. They do not do the "speaker-listener technique"
in their daily lives, because that would be ridiculous, but they use this
and other techniques effectively at times of high conflict. Using the techniques
learned together in PREP, even when it doesn't lead to a solution, helps
couples feel that they are working as a team. Couples in PREP counseling
reported that communication skills were the best part of the training. 78%
of males and 75% of females say this. Wives like the technique because they
know their husbands are listening and understanding. Husbands like it because
it breaks up wives' monologues. The research indicated that men are just
as interested in and good at conversation, intimacy, etc. as women, but
they avoid it because it leads to conflict, which they want to avoid or
solve quickly. They want safety and rules for conversation, and limits on
RESEARCH ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MARRIAGE EDUCATION
By Scott M. Stanley and Howard J. Markman, of the University of Denver Center
for Marital and Family Studies; (303) 759-9931; http://members.aol.com/prepinc
EXCERPTS FROM "ACTING ON WHAT WE KNOW: THE HOPE OF PREVENTION"
Full article available at http://www.smartmarriages.com/hope.html
Some updated references added by witness. Some marked "in press"
have since been published.
[Author Note: Preparation of this brief was supported in part by National
Institute of Mental Health, Prevention Research Grant, Grant 5-RO1-MH35525-12
Long Term Effects Of Premarital Intervention. Requests for information on
the research underlying this chapter can be sent to the authors at the Center
for Marital and Family Studies, Psychology Department, University of Denver,
Denver, Colorado 80208.]
Outcome studies attempt to assess the comparable effects of various approaches
to preventing or reducing marital distress and divorce. Here is a brief
review of findings on three of the most widely used programs for couples--programs
that are used both maritally and premaritally (from Silliman, et al., in
press). These three programs are among the most commonly researched, used,
and recognized in the couples' psycho-education field:
RE, an empathy-building social learning program of 16-24 hours, is one of
the most extensively tested skills building programs in existence. This
program based on a Rogerian communication model shows impressive results
for a wide variety of types of couples (DeLong, 1993). While the program
has been used for treating a wide array of problems, it is use with premarital
and marital couples is the focus here. Related to this use, several treatment
groups of college-age, dating couples gained significantly in empathy skills
(e.g., Ridley, et al., 1982) and problem solving skills (Ridley, et al.,
1981) from pre to post-test and relative to control groups.
One six-month follow-up found disclosure and empathy gains for RE participants
relative to a lecture-discussion control group (Avery, et al., 1980), while
another found communication, but not problem solving skills retention for
experiential vs. discussion group couples (Ridley, et al., 1981). Sustained
gains in self-disclosure were not evident at follow-up in comparisons of
participants and non-participants in another study (Ridley & Bain, 1983).
Heitland (1986) observed significant pre to post-test differences on listening,
expression, and problem solving for college and high-school participants
in an eight-hour RE workshop, relative to control group couples. Meta-analytic
research on many major marital programs (RE, CC, Engaged Encounter; Giblin,
Sprenkle, & Sheehan, 1985) found RE to have the strongest effect sizes
of those tested.
Like RE, CC is one of the older and best researched skills-based programs
for couples. While the program can be used in a variety of formats and settings,
most of the outcome research on CC has studied the effects of the 12 hour,
structured skills training program, with most samples being married couples
from middle-class backgrounds (Wampler, 1990). There is evidence suggesting
the relevance of the material for couples at various stages and with various
backgrounds (Wampler, 1990). Studies also show clear gains in communication
behavior post-training (e.g., Russell, et al., 1984).
Wampler (1990) reviewed studies on CC, noting strong gains in communication
quality following training, but also noting that these effects diminish
over time. Gains in individual functioning and relationship quality are
more durable, although the longest term follow up assessments are well less
than a year in duration (Wampler, 1990). CC is used by clergy, lay leaders,
therapists, business personnel, and chaplains in all branches of the U.S.
armed forces. Presenters of CC can use the approach individually with couples
or in group settings. The program was redesigned and updated in 1991.
Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program
PREP targets changes in attitudes and behavior that are specifically related
to risk and protective factors in a wide array of marital research. The
rationales for PREP and programs like it are specifically supported by 1)
studies that predict marital success and failure, 2) outcome research on
program effects, and 3) survey research on what couples say are the most
relevant topics of prevention. PREP primarily targets [factors] that are
highly predictive of marital success or failure, and that are amenable to
PREP offers a 12-hour sequence of mini-lectures, discussion, and interpersonal
skill practice in week night, weekend, or one-day formats (Markman et al.,
1986; Stanley, et al., 1995). Topics of focus include communication, conflict
management, forgiveness, religious beliefs and practices, expectations,
fun, and friendship (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994). Also, strategies
for enhancing and maintaining commitment have come to play an increasingly
larger role in the kinds of cognitive changes attempted in PREP (e.g., Stanley,
Lobitz, & Dickson, in press). Both secular (or non-sectarian)and Christian
versions of PREP are available (Stanley & Trathen, 1994). As is true
of other programs, PREP is not exclusively focused on skills training. PREP
also includes an extensive assessment focus in the form of in depth exercises
about expectations and beliefs that will affect marriages.
PREP has been more extensively researched regarding long-term effects than
other programs--with most of the research using premarital couples. The
most recent study on it (Stanley, Markman et al., 2001) reports on the results
of the dissemination of an empirically-based, premarital education program
within religious organizations. The following major results are discussed
with respect to premarital prevention: (a) Clergy and lay leaders were as
effective in the short run as our university staff; (b) couples taking the
more skills-oriented intervention showed advantages over couples receiving
naturally occurring services on interaction quality; and (c) couples reported
that the communication skills components of premarital education were the
In the long term study in Denver, program effects have been tracked using
both self-report and observational coding of couple interaction (Markman
et al., 1988; Markman et al., 1993). The following are a sampling of findings
from this research project. Three years following intervention, the PREP
couples maintained higher levels of relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction,
and lower problem intensity than matched control couples (Markman et al.,
1988) . PREP participants demonstrated significantly more positive interaction
up to four years post-intervention, including greater communication skill,
support/validation, positive affect, positive escalation, and overall positive
communication relative to a matched control group. PREP couples also showed
greater communication skill, positive affect, and overall positive communication
than couples who had declined the intervention years earlier (Markman, et
al., 1993). More significantly, clear group differences were obtained up
to four years following intervention on negative communication patterns
(e.g., withdrawal, denial, dominance, negative affect, etc.), with PREP
couples communicating less negatively than both matched control couples
and decliner couples. These kinds of differences are very important because
such patterns are strongly correlated with marital distress, violence, and
breakup (Holtzworth-Munroe, et al., 1995; Markman, Floyd, Stanley, &
Storaasli, 1988; Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). The follow ups with the Denver
sample also revealed a statistically greater chance of premarital breakup
among control group and decliner couples than PREP couples, with similar,
though non statistically significant, trends for divorce and separation
four to five years after training (Markman, et al., 1993).
In a pre-post design using random assignment, Blumberg found PREP more effective
than Engaged Encounter in building positive communication, problem solving,
and support/validation behaviors at post-intervention (reported in Renick,
Blumberg, & Markman, 1992). Similar research programs in Germany (Hahlweg
& Markman, 1993; Hahlweg et al., 1997) and Australia (Behrens &
Halford, 1994) have demonstrated significant gains in communication, conflict
management, and satisfaction at post-test, with the former sample showing
a maintenance of communication and satisfaction gains at one and three year
follow-ups. Furthermore, the most recent data from the Germany project show
that, at the five year follow up, PREP couples have a divorce rate of 4%
vs 24% for the control couples (Hahlweg, personal communication, February,
1997). VanWidenfeldt et al., (1996) did not obtain the same kinds of positive
findings. However, interpretations of these results are problematic because
the PREP couples had been together significantly longer than controls, the
PREP couples had been together an average of nine years prior to intervention
(making generalizations to prevention difficult), and a differential dropout
rate led to the control couples being increasingly select for couples doing
well over time.
On a further encouraging note, Giblin, et al., (1985) conducted a meta-analysis
of marital enrichment outcome research. In general, they found strong evidence
for a positive effect across a number of programs, with those taking such
programs being generally better off than about 70% of those not taking such
programs. Further, they found that the measures that tended to demonstrate
the strongest effects (those perhaps most sensitive to capturing the effects
of such programs) were behavioral (e.g., objective coding of interaction).
Lastly, they concluded that the programs showing the most promising effects
were those utilizing behavioral rehearsal (e.g., skills training). ... Their
results suggest a wide variety of couples and families can benefit from
such programs, and in fact, they found some of the strongest effects for
those in greater need.
What Couples Report About Their Satisfaction With Premarital Training
Separate from data on effectiveness from outcome studies, most couples report
high satisfaction with their experience in preventive/premarital programs.
In a nationwide random phone survey, 35% of couples marrying in the past
five years had premarital counseling in a religious context, and 75% of
these couples reported that this preparation was helpful to them (Stanley
and Markman, 1997). The Creighton University report on premarital preparation
in the Catholic church found that, within the first four years of marriage,
80% of the individuals surveyed reported the training as valuable (Center
for Marriage and Family, 1995). Sullivan and Bradbury (1997) found that
approximately 90% of couples who taken premarital training would choose
to do so again--though there were no differences between those who did and
did not have some premarital training on marital outcomes. Couple satisfaction
with preventive interventions is an important measure of outcome. While
the studies on program effectiveness are complicated and open to various
interpretations, there can be no doubt that couples who take part in preventive
[training] come away valuing [it].
Avery, A.W., Ridley, C.A., Leslie, L.A., & Milholland, T. (1980).
Relationship enhancement with premarital dyads: A six-month follow-up. American
Journal of Family Therapy, 3, (8) 23-30.
Cullen, P. (1999). Can we stem the tide of divorce? Chesterfield County
Program Trains for Marriage. Virginia State Bar Family Law News,
Vol. 19/3, 3-4. (attached).
Fowers, B. J., Montel, K. H., & Olson, D. H. (1996). Predicting marital
success for premarital couple types based on PREPARE. Journal of Marital
and Family Therapy, 22, 103-119.
Giblin, P., Sprenkle, D.H., & Sheehan, R. (1985). Enrichment outcome
research: A meta-analysis of premarital, marital, and family interventions.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 11 (3), 257- 271.
Hahlweg, K., Markman, H.J., Thurmaier, F., Engl, J., Eckert, V. (1996).
Prevention of marital distress: Results of a German prospective-longitudinal
study. Manuscript Submitted for Publication.
Larsen, A. S., & Olson, D. H. (1989). Predicting marital satisfaction
using PREPARE: A replication study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,
15, 311- 322.
Markman, H. J., Renick, M. J., Floyd, F., Stanley, S., & Clements, M.
(1993). Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management
training: A four and five year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical
Psychology, 62, 1-8.
Ridley, C.A., Jorgensen, S.R., Morgan, A.C., & Avery, A.W. (1982). Relationship
enhancement with premarital couples: An assessment of effects on relationship
quality. American Journal of Family Therapy, 10 (3), 41-48.
Russell, C.S., Bagarozzi, D.A., Atilanao, R.B., & Morris, J.E. (1984).
A comparison of two approaches to marital enrichment and conjugal skills
training: Minnesota Couples Communication Program and structured behavioral
exchange contracting. American Journal of Family Therapy, 12,
Stanley, Scott M., Howard J. Markman, Lydia M. Prado, P. Antonio Olmos-Gallo,
Laurie Tonelli, Michelle St. Peters, B. Douglas Leber, Michelle Bobulinski,
Allan Cordova, Sarah W. Whitton, 2001: Community-Based Premarital Prevention:
Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines. Family Relations: Vol.
50, No. 1, pp. 67­p;76. (Summarized in sidebar to attached Cullen article.)
Trathen, D. W. (1995). A comparison of the effectiveness of two Christian
premarital counseling programs (skills and information-based) utilized by
evangelical Protestant churches. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Denver,
1995). Dissertation Abstracts International, 56/06-A, 2277.
VanWidenfelt, B., Hosman, C., Schaap, C., & van der Staak, C. (1996).
The prevention of relationship distress for couples at risk: A controlled
evaluation with nine-month and two-year follow-ups. Family Relations,
Wampler, K.S. (1990). An update of research on the Couple Communication
Program. Family Science Review, 3 (1), 21-40.
Wampler, K.S., & Sprenkle, D.H. (1980). The Minnesota Couple Communication
Program: A follow-up study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42,
| Statistics | Articles/Opinion
| Quotations | Polls
| Other family-related
Originally posted and maintained by Americans
for Divorce Reform; now maintained by John Crouch. You can call me at
(703) 528-6700 or e-mail
me through my law office's web site.