Marriage Matters: Tool Time

By James and Audora Burg
First published in Sturgis Journal, Apr 01, 2012

“Every relationship starts out with a dream of what you think it’s going to be, and you either have the tool kit when you get to the hard spots where you’ll make it through, or you need to move on…”

…said actress Susan Sarandon in an interview with “The Daily Beast,” about the end of her 21-year relationship with actor Tim Robbins.

Ms. Sarandon sets up a false dichotomy (either-or situation) with her statement. There is at least a third option besides having the “tool kit” or moving on, such as calling a time-out (or in some cases, a cease-fire) long enough to gather the tools to repair the relationship.

Better yet, how about a fourth option: proactively stock the tool kit when the relationship is on solid ground.

The exciting thing is new research demonstrates that marriage education itself is effective at improving relationships, without regard to which class a couple takes.

A study involving 17,245 Californians who invested anywhere from eight to 24 hours in a marriage education program found an average increase of more than 13 percent in relationship satisfaction immediately following the marriage education course; six months later, the satisfaction level rose to 14 percent higher than before the course.

The increased satisfaction level was likely a function of improved communication, which in comparison to before the course, increased 23 percent immediately following the training and 27 percent at the six-month mark.

The results were considered statistically “significant” (as opposed to being an anomaly) because the survey drew from a diverse participant pool: the couples involved included those with severe marital problems who were relatively “resistant” to change as well as highly-functioning couples who had “relatively little room for improvement.” Further, all ages and socioeconomic levels were represented, and 50 percent took the class in a language other than English.

The second significant factor is even more remarkable: more than a dozen different marriage education programs or curricula were measured, although all classes had in common a primary focus on teaching communication and conflict management skills.

Translation of the research babble: it does not matter what course you take, by taking a class, your marriage can improve. That is an unbeatable return on investment.

So why don’t people make this investment? It may be that marriage education suffers from a perception that it is boring, stuffy, or not relevant to their particular relationship. Although we freely admit that we tend to be marriage geeks, we can honestly say that we have actually laughed, had fun, and learned something helpful for our relationship at every marriage education event we have attended.

Collecting such “tools” has become a part of the culture of our marriage. After 14 years of proactive effort, our tool kit is pretty well-stocked.

James Burg, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue, Fort Wayne. His wife, Audora, is a freelance writer.  You may contact them at marriage@charter.net

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