One of the perennial debates about relationship education surrounds the point at which services are available. Currently, in the US at least, almost all relationship programmes are offered to couples in existing marriages or relationships.
Galena Rhoades and Scott Stanley propose that pre-relationship education become more readily available to individual adults not yet in a relationship or in the earliest stages of forming a relationship. Existing relationship education programmes tend to focus on relationship dynamics that are changeable and not to worry too much about static relationship formation factors that, for couples at least, are hard or even impossible to change. However for singles, some of these relationship formation factors remain dynamic and still very much open to change. Therefore new programmes that focus on relationship formation as well as maintenance are needed.
Topics with a strong empirical base of information that are also especially suitable for prerelationship education include mate selection, personal assessment, relationship development, stepchildren and safety. The new programme from the PREP stable “Within My Reach” has already had some success with these.
Perhaps the bigger problem for pre-relationship education remains access. Most existing programmes are run for couples. The perceived stigma of attending relationship intervention at any stage remains a significant barrier. Rhoades and Stanley include sensible proposals for reducing these barriers, whether perceived or real, and making pre-relationship education more accessible and attractive to singles. These include high quality marketing, possible offers of food, childcare and even transport, and flexible programmes that allow individuals to start as soon as possible