Supporting Healthy Marriage is led by MDRC in collaboration with Abt Associates, Child Trends, Optimal Solutions Group, and Public Strategies Inc., along with leading experts on marriage, marital education programs, and services for low-income families. The project is designed to inform program operators and policymakers of the most effective ways to help couples strengthen and maintain healthy marital relationships. In particular, the project will measure the effectiveness of programs that provide instruction and support to improve relationship skills. Programs also include links to services that may help low-income couples address strains on their relationships, such as problems with employment, health, or housing insecurity. In addition, they include extended marriage education activities that reinforce the relationship skills taught in the program. All programs provide for safe disclosure of domestic violence and access to the appropriate services in the community for families in which domestic violence is disclosed.
With its target group of low-income married couples, the Supporting Healthy Marriage evaluation is expected to contribute unique lessons about the effectiveness of marriage and relationship skills interventions for this population:
- Since the program focuses on married rather than unmarried couples, the participants are particularly likely to be committed to each other and to the success of the relationship.
- Perhaps reflecting this commitment, local SHM programs have had high participation rates.
- Research (mostly with middle-class couples) has shown that that relationship skills education can have a positive effect on married couples’ satisfaction with their relationships. The relationship skills curricula used in SHM were adapted from existing curricula for married couples to use appropriate teaching approaches and content for lower-income married couples.
Supporting Healthy Marriage is a ten-year project. Its primary goal is to provide reliable information about the implementation and impacts of marriage education programs for low-income couples through a rigorous research design. To accomplish this, the project is evaluating marriage education models that were modified to meet the needs of a diverse and economically disadvantaged population. Each local program is serving large numbers of participants, providing greater statistical power and the ability to examine the effects of these programs for different types of families. Another important goal of the project is to build a firm knowledge base for practitioners about how these programs can be effectively implemented at a relatively large scale.