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Christian premarital training in the local church setting: A study of the effectiveness of the SYMBIS model in reducing divorce and producing stable and satisfying marital relationships

Dissertation
Author: James Paul Marks
Abstract:
The state of marriage in the United States of America and inside the four walls of the local church is alarming. Marriages are going by the wayside at record numbers which has led to family breakdown, rise in child delinquency, increased numbers of cohabiting couples and confusion in the church. It is upon this backdrop that the SYMBIS premarital program at Hyland Heights Baptist Church was birthed. The fundamental goals of the program were to virtually eliminate divorce in the church body and to significantly reduce the amount of marital counseling brought by troubled couples. In order to accomplish these goals the premarital program had to be unique, effective and scientifically based. This study presents the SYMBIS program as designed and implemented at Hyland Heights along with solid research statistics to back it up.

6 Contents Page

DISSERTATION ABSTRACT ……………………………………………………. iii Chapter I. INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………………………. 1 Statement of the Problem ………………………………………………….. 5

Statement of Limitations …………………………………………………… 6

Theoretical Basis …………………………………………………………… 7 Statement of Methodology ……………………………………………….... 11

Content of Other Chapters………………………………………………….. 15

Review of the Literature ……………………………………………………. 17

II. OVERVIEW OF PREMARITAL TRAINING PROGRAMS ………………… 22 Rationale for Premarital Prevention Programs ……………………………… 28

Effectiveness of Premarital Training ……………………………………….. 30

Dynamics of Effective Premarital Training ………………………………… 34

Benefits of Premarital Training …………………………………………….. 38

Theory on Group verses Conjoint Training ………………………………… 41

The Present Role of Churches in Premarital Training ………………………. 42

III. FOUNDATIONS FOR THE SYMBIS PROGRAM ………………………….. 46 Overview of the SYMBIS Structure ………………………………………… 50

Unique Aspects of SYMBIS ………………………………………………… 55

Implementation of the SYMBIS Program …………………………………… 58

Policy on Premarital Training ……………………………………………….. 61

IV. PROCEDURE AND RESEARCH DESIGN ………………………………… 65

7 Organization of the Project …………………………………………………. 65

Method of Evaluation ………………………………………………………. 67

Process of Evaluation ……………………………………………………….. 68

Collecting and Recording the Data …………………………………………. 69

Research Hypotheses ……………………………………………………….. 69 V. INTERPRETING THE FINDINGS …………………………………………... 71 Hypothesis Testing ………………………………………………………….. 71

Quantitative Analysis ……………………………………………………….. 78 Qualitative Analysis …………………………………………………………. 84

SYMBIS Premarital Program Improvements ……………………………….. 93

Conflict Management ……………………………………………….. 93

Gender-based Needs Training ………………………………………. 94

Financial Management ………………………………………………. 94

Parenting Basics ……………………………………………………… 95

Sex and Married Life ………………………………………………… 96

Teaching on Marriage Maintenance …………………………………. 96

Teaching on the Purpose of Marriage ………………………………... 97

Anticipated Role of Churches in Premarital Training ……………………….. 98

Suggestions for Further Study ……………………………………………….. 102

Conclusions …………………………………………………………………... 103

Appendix A …………………………………………………………………… 105

Bibliography …………………………………………………………………. .107

VITA ………………………………………………………………………….. 113

1 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

The state of marriage in America today is almost unbelievable. Current research indicates that 40-50% of all first time marriages will end in divorce. 1 In other words about half of all couples getting married in a given year will also experience the pain, loss and grief of divorce sometime in the not-so-distant future. Not only will half of these couples experience divorce but one-fifth of them will divorce within the first five years. 2 As this pattern continues to unfold Americans are finding themselves dealing with long- term personal and social costs. The effects of divorce touch all aspects of a person’s life. Everything gets divided in a divorce. As this epidemic unfolds in the lives of couples it also unfolds in the lives of children. Children find themselves forced to become “adults” way before their time. They must become the adults when the adults refuse to be. They are also forced to live two lives, one that pleases mom and the other that pleases dad. As time progresses many divorced parents seek to remarry. As they move toward remarriage the children are forced once again to make a choice. Who do they accept and who do they reject? For children of divorced parents this cycle continues into adulthood and many times into their own marriages. The scars of divorce are not simply erased, they remain. Researcher

1 Scott M. Stanley, What Really is the Divorce Rate? Article taken from the www.PREPInc.com website (2003); Accessed on 9 May 2006.

2 Gail S. Risch, Lisa A. Riley & Michael G. Lawler, “Problematic Issues in the Early Years of Marriage” Journal of Psychology & Theology .(2003) Vol. 31, No.3. 253.

2 Elizabeth Marquardt in her new book entitled, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce ,claims loudly in her research that there is no such thing as an amicable divorce. 1 According to Marquardt divorce has longer lasting and more serious outcomes than we are aware of or initially thought. The negative consequences of divorce don’t stop there. The truth is that divorce has a negative impact on a person’s physical well-being also. Research has shown us that, “adults and children are at an increased risk for mental and physical problems due to marital distress.” 2 Research has also documented that work productivity goes down for individuals going through a divorce, especially men. 3 As these factors compound the social structure of America begins to erode. The social effects are mind-boggling as this can be seen as one generation of divorcee’s struggles to raise their children and produce a different outcome. On the other hand this country’s financial structure gets burdened beyond its ability to perform. The fall out of marriage has led to children and mothers becoming wards of the government. All their basic necessities are shouldered predominantly by a failing U.S. economy. This predominantly because fathers are chronically late with child and spousal support, if it is even collected at all. These facts alone have caused the U.S. government to take a look at marriage outcomes and prevention, prevention that would lead to less expense out of a failing economy’s pocket. Professor Robert F Stahmann of Brigham University explained it this way. He said, “The political hope is that this would lead to decrease in the amount of government funds

1 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds; The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005), 16.

2 Scott M. Stanley & Howard J. Markman, “Acting on What We Know the Hope of Prevention” Web article taking from www.Prepinc.com ;Internet; Accessed 27 March 2006.

3 Ibid.

3 currently used for treating individuals and families and coping with the social consequences of marital breakdown.” 4 Hence, the government over the last several years has begun Marriage Initiative projects that fund agencies and faith-based groups which aim to provide services designed to prepare couples to get married, keep struggling marriages afloat and help teach skills and provide resources. It is at this point in the cycle of devastation that the question becomes one of how to turn back this tide in America. The answer appears to be in the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The answer to unhappy marriages and ultimately divorce is solid premarital training aimed at teaching good skills in communication and conflict resolution as well as emphasizing the permanence of marriage. It involves much more than an exchange of information; it involves skills-based training that enables couples to know how to and be able to work through difficulties that come with married life. Research shows that the three most helpful topics are communication, commitment and conflict resolution. 5 It is at this point that premarital training becomes vitally important. If marriages are healthy then children are healthy. If families are healthy then society becomes healthy. If society becomes healthy then America becomes healthy. It all hinges on the health and well-being of the couples who are getting married in America If premarital couples can be taught and trained on how to “do” marriage well then this tide of devastation can and will be turned back.

4 Robert F. Stahmann, “Premarital Counseling: A Focus for Family Therapy” Journal of Family Therapy .(2000, Vol. 28, No.1): 105.

5 Scott M. Stanley, “Making a Case for Premarital Education” Family Relations .( July 2001) Vol. 50 Issue 3:1

4 All of this leads back to the front door of the local churches in this land. Since marriages are folding and families are quickly following behind, it now becomes the job of the group that is ultimately responsible for marriage. It is the responsibility of the church – not the government – to provide the basics and training necessary for healthy marriages and families. According to statistics about 75% of all marriages are performed by clergy in a local church setting. 6 Yet we are still faced with roughly a 50% divorce rate that is about the same inside the church as it is outside. 7 It is now up to clergy in local churches to take seriously the estate of marriage and to develop adequate programs to do effective premarital training. It is upon this basis that the SYMBIS premarital training program was put into place. In August of 2002 SYMBIS came into being at Hyland Heights Baptist Church as a means of preparing couples to build strong marriages and to curb the tide of divorce inside the church. SYMBIS was also accompanied by a church policy which required all couples getting married by one of the pastors to complete the SYMBIS program before the wedding would be performed. Over the last four years ninety couples have completed the SYMBIS program. It now becomes the focus and goal of this project to assess the effectiveness of the SYMBIS program at Hyland Heights by surveying those ninety couples to see if they are still married and how their marriages are doing.

6 Michael J. McManus, “Veil of Tears: Churches are a Part of the Divorce Problem and Solution” Pastoral Counseling ,(Winter 1994): 53-54.

7 George Barna Jr. “Born Again Christians Just as Likely to Divorce as are Non-Christians” 8 September 2004; available from www.barna.org/flexpage ;Internet; Accessed 9 September 2006.

5 Statement of the Problem The purpose of this project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the SYMBIS premarital program at equipping couples for marital satisfaction and success. The means of evaluation will be through the use of a survey composed of thirty questions covering the major components of the SYMBIS program as well as the couple relationship. The components of the SYMBIS program are the materials, the format, the leader and the premarital inventory. As the survey results are collected and examined in each of these areas the effectiveness of the SYMBIS program will be determined. There are also some additional goals of this project. One of those goals is to answer the question of whether or not the SYMBIS program is worthy of replication in other churches across the United States. Does SYMBIS show itself to be worthy of the time and effort needed to train pastors and lay workers on how to implement this program at their church? A second additional goal of this project is to determine if conjoint or group counseling was more effective for the couples and what feedback they had as to the different formats used. Did they learn more through group dynamics or through conjoint interaction? Research indicates that there is controversy over which method is more helpful. 8 Is conjoint most beneficial or is group? One of the unique characteristics of SYMBIS is that it has incorporated both of these formats – group and conjoint. A final additional goal of this project is to see if SYMBIS has reached its primary intended goal. That goal was to develop a program that would virtually eliminate divorce in first time marriages at Hyland Heights which in turn would stop the tide of divorce

8 Christine.R. McGeorge & Thomas S. Carlson, “Premarital Education: An Assessment of Program Efficacy” Contemporary Family Therapy (2006) Vol. 28, No.1:166. 5

6 from ravaging more couples and families in the church body, begin to build momentum with happy couples who were excited about their marriages and to see marriages grow and produce healthy children. After collecting and analyzing these results it should be obvious as to whether or not the program has reached its intended goal. Hopefully, SYMBIS will prove to be worthy and therefore be poised to be replicated in other churches. Clear analysis of the data collected from the questionnaires will either support or detract from its credibility.

Statement of Limitations The purpose of this project has been to develop and implement a premarital program that would significantly reduce the number of couples getting divorced at our church. Along with this purpose are some limitations. The first limitation deals with the length of time involved. Research indicates that one-fifth of couples getting married for the first time will end up divorced within the first five years and one-third more within ten years. 9 With this fact in mind the evaluation period for the SYMBIS program ranges from two years for some couples to a maximum of four years. Many of the couples have been married on average for two to three years. Although time is somewhat of a limitation it does provide at least an initial basis for the effectiveness of the SYMBIS program. It should also be noted that staying married is not the only goal for the SYMBIS program. A second limitation is the type of population being trained in the SYMBIS program. Except for one or two couples that have completed the program, all other

9 Gail Risch, Lisa Riley & David Lawler. “Problematic Issues in the Early Years of Marriage: Content for Premarital” Journal of Psychology & Theology (Fall 2003) Vol. 31 Issue 3: 253.

7 couples were European American middle class couples. The effectiveness of the SYMBIS program with this population does not automatically mean that the same results would be obtained with groups of another socioeconomic or cultural group. A third limitation is that this project is not designed to end the debate over premarital training and its impact on relational longevity. Research indicates that there are differing opinions and positions about the link between premarital training and the divorce rate. 10 This project is not designed to answer the problem but rather to collect data and demonstrate marital satisfaction and short-term relationship stability. If these dynamics report positively then the worth of the program is demonstrated. A fourth limitation is in relation to the SYMBIS course materials themselves. This project is not designed to study the SYMBIS materials to determine if they are the best materials for premarital training. Studies have already been completed on the SYMBIS materials proving their accuracy and reliability. 11

The last limitation is that no control group was used with the SYMBIS program. Therefore, the data gathered will be compared to current statistics and findings of other premarital programs. Theoretical Basis The SYMBIS premarital program has direct relation to theology, psychology, sociology, government policy and finances.

10 George Schumm & Robert Silliman, ”Changes in Premarital Counseling as related to Older Cohorts of Married Couples” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (1997, Vol. 23): 98-102.

11 Les Parrott, “The SYMBIS Approach to Marriage Education” Journal of Psychology and Theology (Fall 2003, Vol.31. No. 3): 208.

8 The relation to theology is probably the most foundational one. Because God (the God-head) is in relationship with itself; it can be directly inferred that relationships of harmony, respect and selfless love are of importance to Him. Theology in reference to marriage goes all the way back to the time of Genesis. A time when God saw that man was alone by himself and that aloneness was not good because it disabled him from giving and receiving in a marital context.. 12 In light of Adam’s aloneness God moved to make a help meet for him that would enable him to learn how to give and receive. God then joined them, blessed them and commanded them to fill the earth. God not only began marriage as an institution but holds it in high favor. If the Genesis account is not enough to prove a theological tie to healthy marriages then maybe the concept and teaching of marriage as taught in Ephesians would prove the tie. In Ephesians chapter five, marriage is held up as the model of Christ’s love for the church. His love for the church is paralleled with the love a man should have for his wife. In fact, chapter five of Ephesians goes on to describe the nature of that relationship and the awesome role of the husband to lead, love and provide an example to his wife. If God cares that much about how marriage is to look and function then it can be assumed that premarital training is close the heart of God as well. A second related field to this topic is psychology. The whole of psychology revolves around the behavior of mankind. When it comes to marriage there is much about behavior involved. Marriage is strengthened through effective premarital training which teaches couples how to “behave” in a way that fortifies and preserves their relationships. Researchers talk about the five Cs of effective premarital training. These

12 Dan Allandar, Intimate Allies (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003), 147.

9 are communication, conflict resolution, teaching on commitment, children and church. 13

Most, if not all of these Cs, touch on the area of psychology. Psychology also deals with the well-being of the individual in any relationship. Individual well-being is enhanced in marriages that are satisfactory to those involved in them. Research indicates that the well-being of a man on the job is directly related to his marital condition. Research has also gone on to prove that men who have marriages that are failing also suffer from decreased work productivity. 14 Marriages that are suffering not only hurt the adults and have negative impacts on their psychological well-being but children as well suffer from marriages that are conflict laden. Recent research has shown that divorce has long-term detrimental consequences for children 15 It has been shown that the psychological well-being of children is directly tied to the stability of the parental relationship. A third field this topic touches is sociology. Sociology has to do with how people act in a given social environment. Failed marriages have a detrimental impact on the social structure of the society they exist in. The Bible says that “God hates divorce” in the Old Testament book of Malachi. When one examines the sociological impact of divorce it becomes easy to understand why God would make such a statement. Individuals who go through a failing marriage or a divorce find themselves alienated from the mainstream of society. Similarly, children feel the same way about their parent’s divorce. This becomes extremely clear as one examines the social context of most churches today.

13 Lee Williams, Lisa Riley, Gail Risch & David T. Van Dyke, “An Empirical Approach to Designing Marriage Preparation Programs” The American Journal of Family Therapy (1999) Vol. 27: 277.

14 Linda J. Waite & Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Broadway Books, 2002), 5.

15 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005), 21.

10

Divorced persons and their children begin to be viewed in negative ways. The social structure and mindset of most of the conservative churches is one of omission when it comes to dealing with divorced persons. Few churches are willing to minister to divorced persons much less embrace them and help to integrate them into the mainstream of the church body. One final related field to this topic of premarital training is that of governmental programs and the enormous amount of finances involved. For a long time the United States government has chosen to take a neutral position on marriages and families as far as the moral aspects are considered. Marriages have not been the “business” of the government but rather the fallout of marriage has been the government’s business. In the last few years this trend has changed. Government has become keenly interested in the well-being of marriages and families because the cost of marital failure has sky rocketed. The cost to the United States government of divorce, single parenting and the care of fatherless children has become astronomical. Simply put, the government of this land has taken interest in marriage and marriage wellness programs as a means of saving some dollars, not because they care about marriage as an institution. 16 A familiar endeavor that models this “concern” is the marriage Initiative by President George Bush Jr. This initiative made millions of dollars available to non-profit organizations focusing on marriage and family wellness. Research demonstrates that the government spends one cent per child to promote healthy marriage for every five dollars it spends on subsidizing

16 Robert E. Rector, “TANF Testimonies Hearing” Retrieved from the Smart Marriages website. www.smartmarriage.com ;02/05; Internet; Accessed 18 April 2006.

11

single parenthood. 17 The American government can no longer afford the cost that divorce and single parenting is producing. Some figures that make it clear how serious a problem this has become can be seen in the following. Each year the government spends $3.3 billion on child support collection, $150 billion on welfare programs and benefits to single parents with children, $6.2 billion on job training and $1.9 billion on pregnancy prevention and contraceptive promotion. 18 Needless to say this can not continue at the rate it is going. Marital failure is costing this country billions a year. Premarital training that promotes marital satisfaction and longevity could have an incredible impact on the United States economy. Statement of Methodology The SYMBIS program at Hyland Heights was birthed to combat the occurrence of divorce in the church body and community, the lack of uniform training based on Christian principle and research, to raise the level of marital importance in the church and community and to produce healthy, satisfying marital relationships that would in turn produce a solid foundation for their future families. With this goal in mind, this researcher set out to draw in the best components of premarital testing, educating and skills-based training that was available at the time. The goal became to standardize the training throughout the church as well as “raise the bar” for couples getting married. With this in mind the SYMBIS training materials were chosen based on their usefulness and acceptance. The book and workbooks by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott were the materials

17 Robert, E.Rector, Melissa G.Pardue & Lauren R. Noyes, “Marriage Plus Sabotaging the President’s Efforts to Promote Healthy Marriage” (2003), Internet; www.Smartmarriages.com; Accessed 15 April 2006.

18 Ibid.

12

chosen. Their book entitled Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts covered the basics of what premarital research has shown is necessary. After choosing these materials the focus became to find a tested and reliable premarital inventory, one based on solid research and adequate time of use. The PREPARE inventory was chosen because it demonstrated strong testing and validity. This researcher then moved to become trained in the use of the PREPARE instrument. The SYMBIS program has been in use for four years now at Hyland Heights Baptist Church. In that time period ninety couples have taken the SYMBIS program. These ninety couples have now become the basis from which self-report information will be drawn. Information about the SYMBIS program will be collected through the use of a questionnaire. The questionnaire is composed of thirty questions. Each couple will have the questionnaire sent to them via mail unless otherwise requested. Once the couple has completed the questionnaire they will send it back in the return envelope. The questionnaire that was designed covered the five main areas of the SYMBIS program. The first area had questions related to the class format. Since there is some discussion and variance of opinion over the value of group verses conjoint premarital training, this section of the questionnaire will examine those areas. 19 There were questions about conjoint experience as well as group experience in this section. It should be noted at this point that SYMBIS was designed to incorporate both conjoint and group training. This was done because this researcher thought that the participants would benefit best from the use of both formats.

19 Christine R. Mc George & Thomas S. Carlson, “Premarital Education: An Assessment of Program Efficacy” Contemporary Family Therapy (2006) Vol. 28, No. 1:183.

13

The second area of the questionnaire was designed to ask questions about the materials used for training. The materials being inquired about are the Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts book and accompanying workbooks for men and ladies. Questions in this area focus on the usefulness, thoroughness and overall help they were to the couples. There is also a question comparing the class teaching, book and workbooks to determine which of these ranked most helpful to the couples. It is the position of this researcher that the workbook exercises will probably prove most helpful to the couples because of their ability to “uncover” issues and topics that otherwise may have been overlooked. The third area of the questionnaire focused on the leader of the class. The SYMBIS class has been taught by three different instructors over the four years. The purpose of this section was to determine the effectiveness of the leaders in their role both conjoint and group. Research raises the question of what person or persons are most effective in premarital training. 20 The options ranged from clergy to lay persons to trained counselors. This section of the questionnaire shed some light on which one of those persons was best received. Interestingly enough SYMBIS has been taught by a clergy member, a trained counselor and a lay worker. The fourth area of the questionnaire focused on the PREPARE premarital inventory. The reason for asking questions about PREPARE was to determine if it was user-friendly as well as comprehensive. It is a well documented inventory but it is not the only one being used in the world of premarital today. There are a handful of other

20 Scott M. Stanley & Howard J. Markman, “Community-Based Premarital Prevention: Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines” Family Relations (January. 2001) Vol. 50 Issue 1: 67.

14

inventories that could be used if this one proves in need of replacing. This section of the questionnaire will give the researcher a good indication to the future use of PREPARE. The last area of the questionnaire dealt specifically with the couple’s relationship. Items being checked included whether or not the couple married, how long they have been married, have they divorced and how they would rate their marital satisfaction. There were also questions in this section about their ability to work through conflict, communicate effectively, make use of what they were taught in SYMBIS and whether or not they engage in marital strengthening opportunities like marriage seminars, weekend getaways, or simply referring back to the SYMBIS materials. Once the questionnaire results were collected the process of analyzing the results began. Special attention was placed on the following topics of question. One, how many of the ninety couples are still married and how does that success rate compare to the divorce rate at Hyland Heights for the four years prior to the SYMBIS program and to the current U.S. rate of divorce? Two, how did the couples who are still married rate their marital satisfaction? Three, was conjoint or group training most helpful? Four, is the SYMBIS program worthy of being reproduced in other churches? Five, what changes or additions should be made to SYMBIS to make it more effective? Six, what person is best poised to lead premarital training in the local church, clergy, lay or trained counselor? Seven, what percentage of couples chose to not marry as a result of taking the SYMBIS program?

15

Content of Other Chapters Chapter two The second chapter will give an overview of premarital training programs. It will begin with an explanation behind the rationale for premarital programs. What is the basis for such programs and why do they exist? Current research will be brought in to substantiate the need for such programs and their value to society as well as marriage. Following an overview of premarital programs will be an examination of their effectiveness. What is know about these types of programs and their ability to curb the divorce rate and produce healthy, stable marital relationships? This chapter will also contain an examination of the literature surrounding premarital effectiveness. Following the discussion of the effectiveness of premarital training programs there will be a section on the dynamics of effective premarital training. Research spells out rather clearly what the dynamics of effective premarital training are. These dynamics will be listed and explained. Immediately following this section will be a word on the benefits of effective premarital training. Also in the second chapter there will be a section dealing with the discussion about conjoint and group training. Researchers tend to be at opposite poles about the value of each of these formats. In this section of the second chapter the benefits of both conjoint and group will be explored as well as some potential drawbacks to each format. The second chapter will conclude with a quick overview of the present role of churches in premarital training. According to current research what are the churches doing in the area of premarital training? This section will conclude with a brief look at the current divorce rate of churches by denomination. 15

Full document contains 121 pages
Abstract: The state of marriage in the United States of America and inside the four walls of the local church is alarming. Marriages are going by the wayside at record numbers which has led to family breakdown, rise in child delinquency, increased numbers of cohabiting couples and confusion in the church. It is upon this backdrop that the SYMBIS premarital program at Hyland Heights Baptist Church was birthed. The fundamental goals of the program were to virtually eliminate divorce in the church body and to significantly reduce the amount of marital counseling brought by troubled couples. In order to accomplish these goals the premarital program had to be unique, effective and scientifically based. This study presents the SYMBIS program as designed and implemented at Hyland Heights along with solid research statistics to back it up.