Are Pre-Marital Courses Successful At Improving Marriages?

Updated March 24, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Pre-marital education has been demonstrated to be effective at improving overall marriage quality. There are many approaches to pre-marital education, including self-led courses and education delivered by counselors, clergy, or social workers. Pre-martial education programs help couples develop communication and relationship skills proactively; before problems appear in a marriage. Studies indicate that these programs significantly increase marriage quality. Evidence suggests that those who participated in pre-marital programs experienced a 30% increase in measures of marital success and a 31% decrease in the chances for divorce.  

Can a pre-marital course help you?

How many people use pre-marital education?

The number of couples participating in pre-marital education programs has increased drastically over the last century. In the 1930s and 40s, only 7% of couples participated in any form of pre-marital education. By the 1990s, nearly half of all couples participated in some form of education designed to help them develop a strong, healthy marriage.

Those who participated in a pre-marital education program were also significantly more likely to seek help when problems arose in their marriage. Those who utilize pre-marital education are likely to feel more comfortable seeking couples counseling before marital issues become overwhelming, and addressing problems early is one of the best ways to increase the likelihood of success in couples counseling.

What do couples learn in pre-marital programs?

Pre-martial courses focus heavily on skills necessary for good communication, problem-solving, conflict management, and preservation of love, commitment, and intimacy. Programs provide information and teach attitudes, skills, and behaviors to help couples achieve long-lasting, happy marriages.

Effective pre-marital programs vary in the topics they cover, but most are research-based. Most programs emphasize communication, and some emphasize marital values like loyalty, fairness, and forgiveness. Many programs focus heavily on emotional intelligence and teach couples empathetic approaches to communication and problem-solving skills. Many other programs focus on a specific area, such as work-life balance, finances, or intimacy.

There are various approaches to each skill area, but many pre-marital education courses contain similar core skills.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh


Healthy, empathetic communication between couples is strongly associated with high marital satisfaction. Maintaining a healthy communication style when marriage becomes stressful can be challenging. Many couples encounter additional challenges after marrying that were not present when they were engaged, such as career demands or childbirth.

A couple may have few communication difficulties before marriage, but increased stress or other factors erodes communication in the marriage itself. Pre-marital education can give couples the skills they need to handle advanced, stressful, or high-stakes communication.

Communication training has been shown to significantly increase marital quality. Communication is a foundational skill for problem-solving, empathizing, and resolving conflict. Healthy, empathetic communication is necessary for a happy marriage, and good communication skills are essential when problem-solving or addressing serious concerns within the marriage.

Managing expectations

Many couples enter marriage with different expectations about what their marriage will entail. When the expectations of a married couple are mismatched, they may struggle in the marriage as conflict develops. Some expectations that may cause trouble if not discussed before marriage include dividing household chores, handling conflict, and how often the couple will have sex.

Expectations about when to have children, how many, and how parental duties will be distributed is another common cause of marital conflict. Pre-marital education programs encourage couples to discuss various topics that are known to cause marital problems if not addressed prior to marrying. Couples are encouraged to find a compromise or a middle ground and are given the opportunity to recognize irreconcilable differences before the marriage takes place.


Many pre-marital education programs have a section dedicated to discussing finances and money. Financial topics are commonly included in these programs due to the prevalence of financial issues and marital conflict. Disagreements surrounding finances are one of the leading causes of divorce, and many couples do not discuss core values regarding finances before marrying. Pre-marital education programs attempt to address this by facilitating discussions related to financial goals, restrictions, and personal desires.

Lengthy discussions about finances and money will likely allow a couple to avoid some of the most difficult problems to solve in a marriage. Research indicates that issues related to finances are more pervasive and recurrent compared to other concerns. Financial issues are also more likely to remain unresolved and are significantly more resistant to problem-solving strategies than other marital issues.

Conflict resolution

Conflict is present in every marriage to some degree. Even the most well-adjusted partners will encounter situations where they will need to apply specific skills to resolve differences between them. Pre-marital education often focuses heavily on conflict resolution to give couples those skills. If both partners are following a pre-marital program, they will likely already have developed foundational communication skills.

Conflict resolution skills dive deeper into advanced communication, helping partners develop strategies for communicating when tension is high. Many pre-marital programs stress a future-focused approach, wherein partners are taught to focus primarily on solutions to problems rather than the cause. Focusing on solutions helps avoid blame and judgment, both of which are extremely harmful to a marriage. Couples are also taught how to keep problem-solving constructive, searching both for a solution to a problem and allowing partners to find forgiveness if needed.

Do pre-marital courses work?

Pre-marital education courses have demonstrated their ability to improve relationship satisfaction following marriage. One study found an average effect size of pre-marital programs was .80, meaning that those who participated in pre-marital programs had higher marital satisfaction than 79% of those who did not participate in any form of pre-marital education. The same study found that, on average, participants in pre-marital education programs experienced a 30% increase in measures of marital success compared to those who did not take the course.

Evidence suggests that teaching marriage skills to engaged couples significantly lowers the risk of separation and divorce. In addition to teaching practical skills, one of the main reasons pre-marital education is successful is because it allows a couple to slow down and take time to deliberate their decision. It also teaches couples about resources they can access when problems arise in their marriage. Offering couples time, skills, and options to pursue when problems appear in their marriage seems to be effective. One meta-analysis found that pre-marital education programs reduced the risk of divorce by 31%.

What about pre-marital counseling?

Pre-marital counseling is nearly identical to the topics addressed in pre-marital education programs. Pre-marital counseling has many of the same features as pre-marital education programs, but the topics are taught and practiced under the guidance of a trained professional. Pre-marital education programs are designed to be preventative, not interventional, meaning they are generally not designed to address problems that already exist in a relationship prior to marriage.

The advantage of pre-marital counseling lies in the ability to address pre-existing problems in the relationship that could become significantly more impactful once two partners marry. A therapist or other professional can provide individualized guidance in pre-marital counseling. They can also help a couple identify possible barriers to happiness and provide strategies for addressing them before they get married.

Can a pre-marital course help you?

How can online therapy help?

Online therapy is an increasingly popular method for couples to address concerns in their relationship or prepare for marriage. Therapists trained in pre-marital counseling and education are often trained in couples counseling techniques. The line between couples counseling and pre-marital counseling can often be blurred. A couple may intend to initiate pre-marital therapy to increase marital skills but find a serious concern that needs to be resolved instead. The reverse may also be true; a couple may begin couples counseling and, through the process, reach the decision that they are ready to get married.

Both couples therapy and pre-marital counseling can be administered online. Seeing a counselor online removes some common barriers when accessing a therapist locally, such as traveling to an office or being restricted to only nearby therapists. Online therapists use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional therapists, and the therapeutic process is often identical to traditional therapy. Although services are provided online, evidence suggests that online therapy is just as effective as traditional in-person therapy.


Pre-marital education is associated with a significant increase in marital satisfaction. Most pre-marital education courses address basic skills like communication, managing expectations, and maintaining loving intimacy. Couples are given time to think deeply about marriage and what it means to them, helping them avoid future confrontations by bringing issues to the forefront of the relationship before getting married. Partners are given the opportunity to reflect on their needs in marriage, develop skills to peacefully resolve conflict, and explore unique ways to make their marriage happy and healthy.

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