Research on Value of Marriage Mentor Programs

I. Pre-Marital Mentoring Program using PREPARE/ENRICH Dramatically Reduces Divorce Rate to Two Percent

Since 1995, South Hills Church of Christ in Abilene Texas, under the leadership of Pastor Robert Oglesby, has offered a premarital mentoring program based on PREPARE/ENRICH. They have developed a church policy that requires premarital preparation lead by marriage mentors. There are seven sessions, beginning with taking PREPARE and then sessions on marital expectations, communication, conflict resolution, budgeting, sexuality and wedding, honeymoon, and commitment. Over the 10 years, about 320 premarital couples were mentored by 35 married couples.

Only 4 out of 320 couples have divorced (success rate of 99%) and between 15- 20% (about 60 couples) of the couples canceled their wedding plans. The four couples that got divorced were the “Conflicted type” and they were encouraged to delay their marriage but they declined. The Marriage Mentors all took ENRICH and were trained on PREPARE/ENRICH. A positive outcome of mentoring was that the marriages of the Marriage Mentors also improved in the process of working with other couples.

Reference: Robert Oglesby, Director, Center for Youth & Family Ministry, Abilene Christian University, 242 Biblical Studies Building, Abilene, TX 79699

II. Marriage Mentoring has Major Impact on Pre-Marital Couples

This study evaluated the value of a marriage mentor program that used PREPARE/ENRICH. Marriage mentors were selected using ENRICH and all the premarital couples took PREPARE as part of the premarital program. The mentors used the feedback from PREPARE and the couple exercises with couples. Twelve premarital couples participated in eight 2 hour sessions covering the following topics: PREPARE assessment, marriage expectations, communication, conflict resolution, personality & power, intimacy and sexuality, financial management and planning for the future.

In terms of marriage mentors, the program evaluation revealed that 86% of participants either strongly agreed (59%) or agreed (27%) that the utilization of mentor couples was a valuable and effective component of the program. Nearly 91% of premarital participants indicated that interacting with their mentor couple provided them with a more realistic view of marriage and fostered their relating to each other in more positive ways. Approximately 80% of the premarital participants reported that their mentor couple effectively modeled how to resolve relational conflicts and helped them identify issues they had not previously discussed.

In terms of PREPARE and doing the six couple exercises as homework, 82% of the couples saw PREPARE as a meaningful part of the program and 91% recommended that it be continued to be used. Over 90% found that it helped provide a more realistic view of their relationship, brought out issues they had not discussed and helped them identify their strengths. Over 70% felt that it helped them communicate in a more positive way, become more sensitive to each other’s feelings, helped improve ways to relate to each other, increased their skills at resolving differences and motivated them to complete the exercises.

This project used PREPARE as a pre- and post-test to assess changes. Using the positive couple agreement scores (PCA), couples significantly improved in 8 of the 11 areas. Also, 10 of the 11 couples improved in their couple typology at least one level which means their couple system significantly improved. The one couple that decreased their couple type later broke off their engagement.

The Relationship Change Scale (RCS) was used to evaluate change and there was significant change on 21 of the 24 items. Over 95% said they were now more concerned about their partner’s happiness, had greater awareness of their partner’s needs and increased sensitivity to each other. Over 85% said they improved their communication skills and a better ability to resolve disagreements. Over 82% rated the program as very good to excellent and 92% would recommend it to others. About 92% felt they were more knowledgeable of how to build a satisfying marriage, understood the difficulties of married life, reaffirmed their marriage plans and were more likely to seek help if they experience difficulties.

Reference: Wages, S. A. & Darling, C. A. (2004) Evaluation of a marriage preparation program (PREPARE) using marriage mentors. Marriage & Family Journal 7(2), 103-121.

III. Mentoring Improves Distressed Marriages & Mentor’s Marriage

Sixty married couples took the ENRICH inventory and were divided into three groups: mentors who had strong marriages, distressed couples who wanted to be mentored, and a control group. The marriage mentors were trained on the PREPARE/ENRICH Program and used the ENRICH Couple Inventory and feedback focusing on 7 topics: communication, conflict resolution, finances, family of origin, children and parenting, sexuality, and goals.

The Mentor couples had a “Vitalized” marriage and were paired with another distressed couple who had a “Conflicted” or “Devitalized” marriage. Pre and post-testing using ENRICH demonstrated significant improvements in the distressed couples. No change was made in the 22 couples in the Control group.

While five couples moved up two couple types (toward being Vitalized), two couples moved up one type. Even though the Mentor couples were classified on ENRICH as “Vitalized” (highest quality of marriage), they still improved their marriage significantly on six major areas: communication, conflict resolution, personality compatibility, roles, parenting and family/friends. Results demonstrate that mentor couples can strengthen their own relationship of as they positively impact the marriages of the couples with whom they work.

Reference: McClurkan, J. S. (2003) The effect of couple-to-couple-mentoring on weak marriage relationships. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.