When Nathan and Crystal Painter were planning to marry nine years ago, they thought they were prepared.
The couple had been engaged for nearly a year. They had talked a lot about future plans.
But after spending a weekend at a Catholic Engaged Encounter, Crystal Painter said she realized they had never really "dug into the deep topics," such as family planning and how to effectively deal with differences. She believes their pre-marriage preparation has made a significant difference in their relationship.
"For couples who really want a successful marriage, we highly recommend such a weekend," said Painter, who now coordinates local Engaged Encounters with her husband.
There is a multitude of research to support her assertion. One example comes from a 2003 study co-authored by Jason Carroll from Brigham Young University, which showed couples who complete a premarital education program have a "30 percent increase in measures of marital success" such as communication and relationship satisfaction.
While some states, such as Oklahoma and Florida, have passed laws that strongly incentivize couples who receive marital education, for the most part, various faith groups still lead the way in preparing couples for marriage. In Utah, many groups are requiring training beyond just faith-centric topics, also teaching couples how to resolve conflict, communicate better and love their differences.
It's something the Painters believe can slow the nation's divorce rate of about 40 percent to 45 percent from creeping upward.
For the Rev. Steve Goodier of Salt Lake City's Christ United Methodist Church, premarital training is something he has strongly urged during his ministry. When meeting with couples, he will talk about things such as faith and the sanctity of the marriage commitment, but he also discusses issues such as marital expectations, communication, money, sex and the background of each partner.
"Most couples I talk with really aren't good communicators," he said. "They're good at communicating where to go out to dinner, but not the heartfelt things it's hard to say those things to each other."
Earlier this week, the Rev. Goodier met with Tom and Marcie Conner of Cottonwood Heights to discuss the couple's plans to renew their vows today. The Conners celebrated 10 years of marriage on Friday and said, while they didn't receive any preparation prior to marriage, they have learned that communication and commitment are key to sticking together.
Commitment, according to the Rev. Goodier, is the number one reason you hear from couples with a strong relationship about why they've stayed together.
For the most part, Scott Stanley with the University of Denver believes premarital training can allow a couple to recognize potential issues and also discuss topics they may be avoiding. He said couples in modern society often make major relationship decisions without truly knowing their partner.
Training can "especially help couples clarify whether they are a good fit or a good match, just by allowing them to deal with issues and expectations and who they are and where they come from," Stanley said.
And a faith-based approach can hit home because it is done within the framework of a person's major motivational system, he said.
Carroll, however, adds the caution that no studies exist about the long-term benefits of training and advises couples to seek constant tune-ups.
For members of the Episcopal Church, premarital training is required as part of the canons, or rules or the church, according to the Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, canon for ministry formation of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.
Specifics of that training, however, are left up to individual clergy members. When the Rev. Nestler used to meet with couples, she would require them to visit an attorney to discuss the legalities of the marriage contract they were making. Other clergy members discuss things such as marital expectations, family issues, children, money and sex, in addition to more faith-specific topics.
"We take very seriously the preparation and instruction of couples about what Christian marriage is about and also what the general expectations of marriage are in our country," the Rev. Nestler said.
Within the Catholic tradition, training is also required, according to Veola Burchett, family and pro-life director for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake. While each priest can use his discretion in meeting with couples and deciding what they need to do to be prepared for marriage, those couples are required to learn about the sacred nature of marriage and how it is a sacrament within the faith, Burchett said.
In general, most couples married in the Catholic church have four to six months of marriage preparation, according to Burchett. Some meet biweekly with the priest, while others meet once a month.
"The priests tell me, when they sign that marriage certificate, they themselves are saying yes to the union," Burchett said. "They're putting their reputation on the line."
Unlike other faiths, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have a formal program to help couples with issues such as communication, expectations, money management, or other issues that may arise in a marriage. It's left up to the discretion of local bishops and stake presidents to decide what advice to offer, according to Elder LeGrand Curtis, an Area Seventy in the Salt Lake area.
But couples who wish to marry in one of the church's temples are required to meet and obtain a temple recommend with signatures from both a bishop and stake president. The questions for the recommend are standard. In addition, the LDS faith offers a family relations class as part of the curriculum of the church, Curtis said.
Within the Jewish tradition, marriage is also a serious commitment, according to the Rabbi Joshua Aaronson with the Temple Har Shalom in Park City. He doesn't believe it is his role to act as a counselor for issues regarding communication and other dynamics, but has advised couples to go to a professional counselor if help is needed.
Along that line, Carroll, the BYU professor, believes a couple should continue to seek help throughout their marriage life."This requires an ongoing commitment like a booster shot," he said.
E-mail: [email protected]