‘What Works in Relationship Education? Lessons from Academics and Service Deliverers in the United States and Europe’ was a unique event in a unique location. We drew together a dozen or so global experts for a colloquium on relationship education: a field which is no longer in its infancy but is in some ways perhaps going through a rather misunderstood adolescence. Our setting in the magnificent Westminster Hall, part of the public area in the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament, underscored the profound policy relevance of the subject under discussion.
Over the two days of the colloquium we took a ‘deep bore’ look at the state of international research in couple relationship education and its implications for policy and practice. One key aim of our funders, the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development, was that we should produce a body of work that could be drawn on by designers of Qatari relationship education services. The intention was that this aim would be largely met by publishing the proceedings of the colloquium with each paper presented at the event given a separate chapter.
An expert invited audience were carefully chosen for their ability both to contribute to the high-quality discussion (which helped to shape the final content of the chapters here) and to take back the best practice and research findings and integrate them into service and policy design. Again, the development and dissemination of information about positive family values and the promotion of strong family relationships through education, training and publications are part of the core remit of the funders. They were delighted with the level of engagement in the colloquium by the invited audience, which included members of both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament, from different political parties.
Not only were the House of Commons and the House of Lords both represented but the event was sponsored by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainable Relationships. We were also joined by senior executives of many non-governmental organizations, researchers from top UK universities and practitioners who are working ‘at the coalface’ of couples’ relationships on a daily basis. Although some of these practitioners usually work therapeutically with couples, the emphasis of the whole event was on how to work preventatively in such a way that severe and pronounced relationship difficulties do not emerge or become full-blown.
It was appropriate therefore that the organisers of the event, Care for the Family, have for the last 25 years been working primarily to prevent family breakdown in the UK as well as to help those suffering from its effects. They have for instance designed the first marriage preparation course specifically for step-parents. With their partners at the Marriage Preparation Course they have set up the National Couple Support Network. At present, only around one in 12 engaged couples in the UK do some kind of serious marriage preparation (other than briefly with the vicar or chaplain who will marry them), almost all of which is organised and run through churches. This new network aims to put all couples in the UK who want marriage preparation in touch with a full service that includes access to a support couple.
The obvious danger in economic downturns is that the prevention of family breakdown becomes a luxury which governments feel they cannot afford to invest in, and yet it is during precisely those times that the lessons learned from relationship education most need to be imparted and disseminated. When public funds are short it is even more important that the evidence-base for interventions is uncontrovertibly robust. This publication aims to strengthen the evidence base for relationship education as well as to draw attention to the need for ongoing research. As such it meets a pressing need for policy makers and others from many countries, who are greatly exercised by the need to prevent family breakdown and strengthen relationships across society.