The First Lesson of Marriage 101: There Are No Soul Mates
Excerpts (you will have to use the link above if you want to read the entire page)
A course at Northwestern University teaches students about what makes a healthy relationship.
by CHRISTINE GROSS-LOH
Research shows that (Link): practically every dimension of life happiness is influenced by the quality of one’s marriage, while (Link): divorce is the second most stressful life event one can ever experience.
Yet nearly half of all married couples are likely to divorce, and many couples report feeling unhappy in their relationships. Instructors of Northwestern University’s Marriage 101 class want to change that. The goal of their course is to help students have more fulfilling love relationships during their lives.
In Marriage 101 popular books such as Mating in Captivity and For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage are interspersed with meaty academic studies.
Students attend one lecture a week and then meet in smaller breakout groups to discuss the weekly topics, which range from infidelity to addiction, childrearing to sexuality in long-term relationships.
… Historians tell us that marriage education in America began as a way to keep women’s sexuality in check.
“Marriage education has been for hundreds of years aimed at women. It was considered their responsibility to keep the marriage going,” Stephanie Coontz, co-chairwoman of the Council on Contemporary Families and author of Marriage: A History, tells me.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Coontz explains in her book, fears about sexual liberation and the future of marriage led eugenics proponents like Paul Popenoe to become enthusiastic about marriage counseling. “If we were going to promote a sound population, we would not have to get the right kind of people married, but we would have to keep them married,” Popenoe wrote.
College-level marriage courses became even more popular during the post-World War II period, when marriage rates were at an all-time high and women were encouraged to embrace a new role as happy homemakers.
Marriage education during that time, Coontz explains, was similarly driven by a strong emphasis on stereotypical gender, race, and class ideas about how a marriage should ideally be conducted. “The received wisdom of the day was that the only way to have a happy marriage was for the woman to give up any aspirations that might threaten the man’s sense of superiority, to make his interests hers, and to never ask for help around the house.”
In one case, cited in Rebecca Davis’s book More Perfect Unions, a young wife became convinced, after a series of sessions at Ohio State University’s marriage clinic, that her husband’s straying was a result of her failing to do her duty by taking care of her looks and keeping a proper home.
And New York University’s College of Engineering presented “Good Wife Awards” to women who put their spouses first, providing the domestic support that allowed their husbands to concentrate on their studies.
There was another resurgence of interest in marriage education a decade ago when the George W. Bush administration undertook an initiative, with bipartisan Congressional support, to promote marriage. The Healthy Marriage Initiative was met with mixed reception; criticism was leveled at the lack of evidence that the proposed marriage-promotion strategies even worked, as well as the possibility that low-income women would feel pressured to remain in abusive or dysfunctional marriages.
Nowadays, when colleges and universities offer courses on the topic of marriage, rather than explicitly offering practical marriage advice, they often survey the institution of marriage from a historical point of view or look at larger sociological trends.
Today’s marriage education classes are most often aimed at high-school students, usually as part of a home economics or health class, where teens are taught how family structure affects child well-being, learn basic relationship and communication skills…
Self-understanding is the first step to having a good relationship
“The foundation of our course is based on correcting a misconception: that to make a marriage work, you have to find the right person. The fact is, you have to be the right person,” Solomon declares.
“Our message is countercultural: Our focus is on whether you are the right person.
Given that we’re dealing with 19-, 20-, 21-year olds, we think the best thing to do at this stage in the game, rather than look for the right partner, is do the work they need to understand who they are, where they are, where they came from, so they can then invite in a compatible suitable partner.”
… A good marriage takes skill
There’s no doubt that the largest takeaway from the course is that fostering good relationships takes skills. “We’re a very romantic culture,” Solomon says, “and it seems a little unromantic to talk about skill building and communication skills. But it’s important.” One of our more beloved cultural myths about marriage is that it should be easy. The reality is that most of us don’t have adequate communication skills going into marriage.