I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do - teaching marriage to undergrads - 9/04

Smart Marriages ® cmfce
Mon Sep 27 09:13:40 EDT 2004

subject: I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do - teaching marriage to undergrads - 9/04

This article from today's Chicago Sun on teaching marriage education to
undergrads features Arthur Nielsen who has presented on this topic at the
past two Smart Marriages conferences. As I read this, I'm reminded that it
was teaching a course like this - "marriage for undergrads" - that led Lori
Gordon to develop her PAIRS course for couples. As a marital therapist and
adjunct professor at American University in 1975, she was asked to develop a
semester-long, intro "marriage" class. She decided students would "get it"
best if she didn't lecture at them but filled it with experiential exercises
- and she put everything "experiential" in the field she could find into the
semester - everything that would give them new knowledge, perceptions,
attitudes, understanding about marriage. She realized it was not only
helping them understand marriage, giving them an overview of the topic, but
that it was also helping them "master" marriage - they were asking if they
could bring their partners to sit in on the classes and reporting that it
was having powerful and dramatic effects on their relationships. It dawned
on her that this same kind of knowledge would be a great help to the couples
she was seeing in her clinical practice. And, as they say, the rest is

The tape of the undergrad workshop is one I have highly recommended to you
in the past - and which I recommend again. Any community marriage effort
should start with the kids and young adults. Get to them BEFORE they're
even engaged. We also have great tapes on teaching marriage knowledge to
high school and middle school students. Listening to these tapes by these
generous presenters (what to do, what not to do, how to teach and what to
teach and how to get the programs into the system) is like taking a semester
long course in just how to do it - how to reach the young people in your
community. We also offer FREE overview institutes featuring an intro to all
the school/youth programs both before and after each Smart Marriages
conference. Also, see the school/youth directory of programs on the website.
- diane

Order tapes at 800-241-7785:

Teaching Marriage Classes to Undergrads
Les Parrott, PhD, Arthur Nielson, MD, Dennis Lowe, PhD, Linda Malone-Colon,
PhD, John Wu, EdD, Linda Young, PhD
Explore ideas about how to make marriage courses more interesting and
meaningful in the lives - and future marriages - of students. Bring
curricula and materials for exchange.

Teaching Relationship Skills in High School, College & Youth Programs
PARTNERS - Lynne Gold-Bikin, JD
This ABA-sponsored, video-based program teaches conflict resolution skills
in a 10-hour curriculum. Now in 40 states.
Building Relationships x David Olson, PhD
What is crucial in mate selection, an awareness of values and expectations,
and behaviors that make or break a relationship.

PAIRS for PEERS: Emotional Literacy for Teens
Ellen Purcell, Lena Gillis, Derrick Gillis, DMin
Learn how PEERS is taught in low-income, at-risk settings and with family
groups to prepare teens for marriage, enhance intimacy in the parents, and
improve the parent/child bond.

Love U2
Marline Pearson, MA
This 5-unit curriculum helps teens cultivate a ?relationship North Star? and
become smarter about skills, marriage, sex and parenting.

CONNECTIONS, Dating and Emotions and Loving Well
Char Kamper, MA, Nancy McLaren, MAT, Kay Reed
Sample lessons from three of the most widely-used, research-validated
relationship and marriage education programs for use in grades 7-12 in
schools and youth groups.

- I DO, I DO, I DO, I DO
Chicago Sun Times
September 27, 2004
BY DELIA O'HARA Staff Reporter

Marriage 101 started out as just another class for Northwestern University
senior Amanda Mitchell, who was looking to fulfill the requirements of her
major in human development and psychological services. By the time she
finished it 10 weeks later, she'd gotten something she didn't expect -- a
new perspective that she hopes will help her when she gets married someday.

"It was really interesting to look at the structure of a marriage," says the
21-year-old Mitchell, a student from Littleton, Colo., who took the course
in 2003 as a sophomore.

The instructors "take you from the beginning of a relationship, what brings
people together, through the problems that occur, to what can break up a
relationship," she said. "It helps you understand yourself and your
relationships to your own family. You may not put it all together on your

Students learn many things in college, but very little about real life. Now
therapists and educators, alarmed at high divorce rates and heartened that
their field has identified some of the skills that make for successful
relationships, are offering courses in how to make -- and maintain -- a
happy marriage.

Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., the University of Binghamton in New
York, Seattle Pacific University and the University of Minnesota are
offering courses in relationships, marriage and divorce.

And for four years, so has the Family Institute at Northwestern, at the
university's Evanston campus. This year, the course will be offered just
once, during the spring quarter.

Half the marriages in the United States end in divorce, and about half the
undergraduates who take Northwestern's Marriage 101 have parents or close
relatives who have been through divorce, says Dr. Arthur Nielsen, a
psychiatrist and one of the professors in the team-taught course.

"These kids want marriages; they want close relationships that work, but
they're scared about that, understandably," says Nielsen, associate clinical
professor of psychiatry at NU's Medical School in Chicago.

College may be the perfect time to teach students about the reality of
relationships, the professors say.

"They're at the prime age," says David Olson, professor emeritus of family
social science at the University of Minnesota. "Almost all are dating or
thinking about dating and marriage. Relationships are a very big part of
their life.

"We can often get them before they get engaged, before they pick the wrong
person. Maybe they're shy and they [choose] somebody who is outgoing. If
they're too different, that thing that was the attraction is going to become
a problem."

Northwestern's course was the idea of Nielsen and William Pinsof, president
of the Family Institute -- which claims it is the Midwest's oldest and
largest marriage and family therapy center -- using input from other
institute staffers, says Alexandra H. Solomon, a licensed clinical
psychologist and one of the Marriage 101 teachers.

"Idealized notions of marriage get people into trouble," Solomon says. "We
wanted people to know what is reasonable to expect from their partner and
themselves. Above all, we want people to know themselves going into
marriage. We had two main goals: to teach the art and science of marriage,
and to give people some experience" of marriage and their own ideas about

"Avoiding creating bad marriages is really the goal," she says.

The group that designed the course approached marriage as they would a

"We try to look at it the way somebody in a business school would look at
startup businesses," Nielsen says. "Most of them fail, but nobody would say,
'We don't know why that is.' The same ought to be true of marriage.

"We have a lot to say about what's known about the best ways to manage
conflict, for example, and [that skill] is probably the best predictor of
marital success."

During the class, the students interview two couples -- first a couple from
the community that has been married about 20 years, and then their own

"They often get a better understanding of the issues in their parents'
marriages," Nielsen says.

Students also do a role-playing exercise on an issue they are upset about in
their own lives. They apply "the wrong things to do" in an exaggerated
fashion -- blaming, name-calling -- and then discuss what some more
effective strategies might be.

Instructors spend a week talking about same-sex relationships. "We have lots
of gay students," Solomon says.

Shayna Goldstein and Josh Hetherington, masters-level marriage and family
therapists, also help teach the class, leading small discussion groups
during every session.

Students write three term papers, read about 100 pages of material a week,
keep a journal and do other work outside of class.

Students go through Marriage 101 in opposite-sex pairs -- they can sign up
with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or with an acquaintance. Amanda Mitchell was
paired with another student who had signed up on his own.

Even though some students may have been dragooned by friends or significant
others to take the class, over the quarter, "almost everybody really gets
into it," Nielsen says. The class has had a waiting list in the past,
Solomon says.

Similar courses offered around the country take different approaches to
teaching students about relationships.

At Seattle Pacific University, Marriage 101 students plan a mock wedding
ceremony in 20 minutes on the very first day of class. The message: Most of
you will prepare more for the wedding than you will for your marriage.

"I've had students say, 'I had no idea. I thought you grew up, fell in love
and got married and that was it,' " says Sally Dear, who teaches a class on
divorce culture at New York's Binghamton University.

Dear explores the social, political, historical, religious and other factors
involved in that marital endgame, divorce. Students deconstruct marriage
vows, compile a shopping list of traits possessed by the partner of their
dreams and interview people who are divorced.

Dear created the class after her own divorce: "I thought 'There's got to be
a class to avoid everything I went through,' " she says.

For Northwestern's Mitchell, who is in a long-term relationship and whose
own parents have been married for nearly 30 years, Marriage 101 had an added
benefit: It inspired her to decide to pursue a graduate degree in family

"I hadn't thought much about it. Now it's clear to me that that is where my
interest is," Mitchell says.

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