As Brian Doss points out in his thoughtful paper on some of the challenges facing relationship educators, relatively few couples seek relationship support of any kind, whether through preventive education or remedial therapy. In each case, couples who do access some kind of programme are not necessarily those couples at highest risk who might benefit most.
One of the many suggestions is to improve the advertising and marketing of relationship programmes. For example, pre-marital programmes could better highlight the quality of the course leader because engaged couples rate this as the most important programme characteristic. Marital therapy programmes could better highlight their relevance to couples with money or sex problems, two common sources of argument yet rarely the reason given for seeking help. Other suggestions include expansion of self-help resources accessed via the internet, TV and books, as well as investigation into their effectiveness.
Amongst the empirical data that inform his sensible suggestions, three findings seem especially noteworthy. The first is that local government has an interest in promoting pre-marriage programmes: one US$15m state-wide programme is estimated to pay for itself if there is just 0.03% subsequent reduction in divorce rates. The second is that employers have an interest in supporting their employees’ family life: marital distress has a unique impact on work functioning. The third is that those that seek help through books are a different group to those that go on a course: one quarter of all couples read a self-help book on relationships during their early years of marriage but only one third of these also attend a programme of some kind.
Doss summarises his proposals as follows: improve the reach of existing programmes; prioritise investigations of the effectiveness of existing support and programmes; and develop new programmes that better fit where couples are looking for help.