Is there a need for relationship counselling and education?
In the last few decades the way couples enter into intimate relationships has changed significantly.
These days, couples generally choose to either live together, or to get married at a later age than before. It is also easier and more common to obtain a divorce.
When counselling programs are developed for couples and families it is important to take these changes into consideration.
Research has shown that relationship breakdown and distress have huge negative personal and social repercussions, therefore it is vitally important that all prevention and intervention strategies have the aim of reducing relationship distress and relationship breakdown (Hunter & Commerford).
Relationship counselling and education have the possibility to be effective for anyone who is willing to take part in it, as either an individual or a couple. Persons of various ages, ethical backgrounds and socio economic backgrounds can find benefit in this process (Gilbert).
What is the Focus of Relationship Counselling and Education?
Relationship counselling tends to be sought out by couples in crisis, although there is much to be said for attending relationship counselling long before that stage.
Relationship education generally focuses on couples that are satisfied with their relationship and that are hoping to prevent relationship distress and breakdown. In this process foundations for the building of a positive life together as a couple are laid, and strategies are put in place to handle future relationship stress and conflict (Hunter & Commerford).
There are various goals in relationship education and counselling, such as: utilising the topics of communication between the couple; to resolve any conflict that may exist; strengthening the commitment of each partner; as well as managing the various expectations of each partner in the relationship (Gilbert).
Statistics show that about one third of all couples in Australia go to premarital relationship counselling and education before getting married. There are various programs, available in various settings, and these can be church-based or non-church based.
It can be further noted that these programs can also be run in conjunction with other programs, for example antenatal classes, parenting programs, or for help after separation and divorce. These programs can also be presented as part of a school curriculum (Hunter & Commerford).
According to Hunter & Commerford, the following programs can be included under the umbrella term “relationship education”:
- Couple enrichment and enhancement programs:
These programs are the typical marital health intervention programs that aim to help couples increase their levels of satisfaction in the marriage.
- Communication programs:
The purpose of these programs is to teach couples the skills to effectively communicate, as communication breakdown is one of the main culprits for marriage strife.
- Prevention programs:
- Universal Prevention Programs: These programs are for couples, and usually start when couples are young and happy; the aim is to keep the relationship happy.
- Selective Intervention Programs: These programs are for couples that are at risk of being in distress or considering divorce.
- Indicated Programs: These programs focus on couples that find themselves in the early stages of distress.
The question we need to ask is: How effective is relationship counselling and education? And do the people that need it most attend these sessions?
For the program to be successful, it is important that couples that are at high risk of future marital problems attend this form of counselling. More couples would attend these programs if they realised the risks they are susceptible to, and how this form of counselling can benefit their relationship and marriage in the future (Gilbert).
An important factor to consider when the question is asked whether relationship education and counselling works, is the involvement of both partners in the counselling process.
It is less effective if one member of the couple is not really actively involved in the process, but on the other hand statistics have shown that the counselling process is faster and more effective when both couples come together to counselling.
It is also advisable that couples come to counselling on a regular basis, even if there are no real problems in the relationship. When a couple waits for when their problems have escalated, one partner might have already given up, and this can make saving the relationship very difficult.
An interesting statistic is that in the last few years the divorce rate has dropped. In the 1970’s there was a 47% divorce rate while people who got married in the 1980’s and 1990’s have a lower rate of divorce. There are various reasons for this, of which one is that there is more counselling available, and also that couples tend to be older when getting married (Tasker).
In conclusion, it is advisable for every couple (married or in to process of getting married) to attend relationship counselling and education sessions with a professional counsellor. It is always good to be proactive and work on issues before they become real problems leading to marriage and relationship breakdown, which leaves two people and often also children, broken and hurt.
Author: Corey Human, B Th, M Counselling. Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience in providing counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans. In relationship counselling and education, his aim is to empower each couple with the tools to help themselves when they get to points of conflict in their relationship.
- Gilbert, M.C. (N.D.) Premarital Counseling; Premarital Counseling and Education Effectiveness. Pennsylvania State University. http://sites.psu.edu/gilberthdfsportfolio/wp-content/uploads/sites/41641/2016/03/Premarital-Counseling-and-Education-Effectiveness-418.pdf
- Hunter, C. & Commerford, J. 2015, Relationship Education and Counselling, Recent research findings, CFC Paper no 33 https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/relationship-education-and-counselling/introduction.
- Tasker, R. (n.d.). Does marriage counselling work? 8 surprising statistics and facts. Retrieved from http://guidedoc.com/does-marriage-counseling-work-statistics-facts.