Click here for info on private premarital prep packages and consultations including phone options.
Research studies have demonstrated that marriage preparation programs that teach specific skills can reduce the divorce rate by up to thirty percent. Skill-based programs, like MST, were more effective than faith-based programs. Of course, we believe that MST has many benefits beyond simply reducing the probability of divorce. We believe that the skills and knowledge you acquire during MST will greatly enhance the quality of your relationship in both the short and long term. You will be able to judge the effectiveness of MST for you and your partner from your experience during the first hours of the seminar itself.
The MST program is similar enough to programs (the key is that the program be based on marriage research and skill training) that have been studied intensively by marriage preparation researchers for us to be very confident in it's effectiveness. This research has established that a relatively brief skill-based marriage education program can reduce the divorce rate for participants by thirty percent over a twelve year period.
For a review of relevant recent program effectiveness research see Benjamin Silliman & Walter Schumm, Marriage preparation programs: A literature review. Family Journal, Vol 8, No 2, April 2000, 133 - 142.
We began offering MST seminars in spring 2003 and have worked with hundreds of couples since then in seminars and consultations. In addition, we have decades of counseling and education experience. Click on About Us for more about our background.
The MST seminar is very efficient in packing a lot of effective training into a single day by focusing sharply on what marriage research has shown to be the most important factors in marriage success across a range of important relationship areas. It is designed to start you both on an intentional process to adopt marriage success skills and strategies in your everyday life together. Offering the program in a one-day format helps to keep the price more reasonable and makes the experience more intensive and involving.
No. Love, commitment and a strong bond are the starting point. Almost all couples have these factors at the beginning, yet only one-quarter will have happy, enduring marriages. Most engaged couples think that the strength of their love will see them through any problems or that a few hours of premarital counseling will be sufficient. Not so according to marriage researchers.
Couples who do not choose to intentionally strategize and plan for marriage success face some pretty challenging odds. Even couple who stay together because of commitment aren't necessarily happy--many aren't. Unfortunately, many couples don't begin to realize this until their relationship is already under stress and negative habits have become established. It's far more difficult and expensive to put the relationship back on track later than to adopt strategies early that will keep the positive going.
A lot of couples rely on their relationship experience with each other (including perhaps living together) to prepare them for marriage. Surprisingly, research shows that this experience doesn't help them to make a successful transition to married life. They can be blindsided by the unexpected intensity of the challenges and emotional changes they encounter in their relationship after the wedding.
There are many reasons. Many couples mistakenly assume that their prior relationship experience with each other will adequately prepare them. Perhaps the most important reason is that these research results are just beginning to get widespread publicity. However, recent episodes of TV and radio programs, such as Oprah, major magazine articles and other media have begun to bring marriage preparation issues to the attention of the public. Many couples receive some pre-marriage counseling through their pastor, therapist, minister, rabbi, etc. They assume that this counseling will be adequate. However, most religion or counseling based programs are not necessarily assessment, skill and research based. Finally, let’s face it: Today’s couples are very busy, especially during the pre-wedding period. There are so many demands that it can be difficult to make time, even for a highly beneficial activity like MST. Also, some couples are concerned that seeking marriage preparation will make them appear less confident about their relationship.
Surprisingly, both research and our experience demonstrate that private counseling and training is in fact less effective than a small group seminar like MST in providing the specific skills needed to maximize success in marriage. Although a private meeting format may seem like a more comfortable setting for you, it cannot provide the kind of engaging, involving experience you’ll have in MST.
Compared to most counseling options MST is:
• A more comprehensive, structured, but flexible, approach to marriage success skills and strategies.
• An educational seminar
setting where you’ll feel less "on the spot," more inspired and
your relationship issues won’t seem like "problems.”
• A more intensive, positive experience that is complete in one Saturday.
Counseling, while helpful in its own way, usually doesn't provide the same kind of intensive and comprehensive skill-building and education. (Just as marriage prep doesn't provide the more extensive exploration of individual problems and underlying issues that longer-term counseling can.) The skill-building and education are the key factors in long-term divorce prevention and marriage success.
MST is carefully designed to provide the right environment to maximize your learning and skill acquisition. The warmth, support and enthusiasm that you will find with a maximum of 15 other couples in MST cannot be duplicated in other settings. You won’t find the MST excitement and benefits in private counseling or in larger, mass training programs.
Some couples have concerns about the degree of privacy provided by the format of the seminar. The greatest portion of the seminar (30 percent +/-) is spent confidentially interacting with your partner in a variety of ways while other couples are doing likewise. We circulate among couples for those who wish to use us as a resource. It's your choice how much to involve us in your private exchanges.
Many couples who are considering private counseling find that MST is a helpful preliminary or adjunct approach. They can quickly cover all the general issues, develop skills and get an overview of their relationship profile in the seminar. They then use this foundation to address more specific or problem issues in their counseling.
If you have specific, serious problems in your relationship, these are better addressed in a private consultation. (But again, MST can give you a head start.) MST is designed to address the normal challenges found in most marriages and will give you skills helpful in resolving many special problem situations that you may encounter over the years. MST is not couples counseling or therapy. It is not intended to resolve an existing acute problem situation.
Click here for info on private premarital prep packages and consultations including phone options.
As marriage success research results become better known to the public, marriage preparation is becoming increasingly popular. Not all marriage preparation is the same. Counseling by your officiant or a couples counselor may not be sufficiently comprehensive. A good preparation program includes an inventory to help couples understand their similarities and differences, in expectations, communication and relationship style, etc. The program will help them select communications and conflict resolution strategies that are most appropriate to their style and develop the related skills. It will also help them make systematic long-term plans and set realistic goals for their relationship. (None of the other programs and counseling approaches that we've reviewed adequately help couples to understand which success strategies apply to their particular relationship style. We think that this is critical, since very different approaches to marriage success work for different kinds of couples.)
Most marriage preparation programs remain religion-based. MST is religion-neutral marriage preparation for couples who prefer a professional, research-based alternative or supplement to religion-based and other less comprehensive premarital counseling or programs. The small weekend MST seminar is a fun, practical, low-pressure experience designed with only one thing in mind--to help engaged couples achieve their marriage goals. Also, unlike some other marriage preparation, MST is just for engaged and newlywed couples. We don't enroll troubled married couples. And MST is not a large, mass program where it can be difficult to get much individual attention. MST is not a one-size-fits-all type program which promotes a particular philosophy or approach regardless of its suitability for you. MST is structured to allow you to make an informed selection among the approaches, skills and goals that the research demonstrates contribute to marriage success.
Other advantages of MST include:
· Designed to be engaging, fun and inspiring
· Small seminar with a maximum of 15 couples
· Addresses each of the skill and knowledge areas shown by research to be essential to long-term marriage success
· Not just promises -- you see results in your relationship right away during the first few hours of MST
· Low pressure, with allowance for a broad range of relationship and learning styles
· No religious content
· No dry lectures
· Stimulates your sense of humor
Many marriage preparation programs are based on the likelihood that skill development will help you over time. MST goes beyond this approach to build improved self-knowledge, deeper intimacy and a stronger relationship bond that you will experience right away during the training.
See above to understand why couples need premarital education as an alternative to or in addition to premarital counseling.
There are many excellent books and videos available about marriage. We encourage you to learn about marriage from books and other sources and are sure that learning will benefit you. Click here for a list of some of the books we like. We are equally certain that MST produces results far beyond those that are gained from reading, video and other media. MST is a here-and-now experience that helps you and your partner integrate marriage success skills and begin a personal and relationship growth process that is difficult to initiate on your own.
It's far better to make a little time for marriage preparation before the wedding. It's much easier to adopt success strategies while your relationship is in the positive premarital phase than to try to turn your relationship around later.
Time pressure is one of the most difficult problems for couples. MST will help you handle the inevitable, potential stress of the pre-marriage period in a much more healthy way. This is one of the most critical times for couples, filled with decisions and potential conflict. You will want to rely on your new MST skills and habits for support. MST will help make your relationship grow and deepen during this time.
MST is the best format to accommodate the diverse learning styles of different couples. Some people are highly participative learners, while others are more laid-back. Some are cognitive learners, while others are more emotional. It’s not at all unusual for the individual partners in the same couple to have different learning styles. MST has a role for each style and optimizes the benefit for each individual and couple. MST is a secure, safe place for learning. No one will be pressured to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Participants who are less outgoing are not disadvantaged in the MST approach and can still enjoy the excitement of the engaging format.
The choice of how to participate is entirely up to you. Some couples (or one of the partners) choose to be quiet observers throughout the seminar. We see them working and laughing together, but never learn much about their experience--except what they tell us anonymously on their evaluation of the seminar. They appear to be enjoying themselves.
The greatest portion of the seminar (30 percent +/-) is spent confidentially interacting with your partner in a variety of ways while other couples are doing likewise. We circulate among couples for those who wish to use us as a resource. It's your choice how much to involve us in your private exchanges.
Many guys like this tell us that the seminar was a great experience for them. They (and their partner) are relieved to learn that this is a normal, valid male style. They are surprised to find that we support and respect the bonding and commuication styles of both partners and help couples to find ways that are comfortable for both partners to bridge the normal gender style gaps that can develop for couples. Many guys were anticipating that their style would not be validated and that the seminar would be more oriented to female relationship styles.
For many couples the 'pursue-withdraw' pattern can produce a lot of negativity. In this problem pattern the woman approaches the man for bonding or to resolve an important concern but he needs to withdraw when he becomes overloaded, so she becomes more and more frustrated while he withdraws even more to protect himself. Couples find it difficult to find a solution to this cycle and are relieved to learn about simple techniques for interrupting it without ignoring the needs of either partner.
Much of the interaction in MST takes place privately between you and your partner. Other couples are focused on their own private discussions during these couples activities, so they won't be aware of your conversations. You and your partner agree beforehand if there are any relationship issues that you prefer not be brought up during group discussion segments.
Some couples have concerns about the degree of privacy provided by the format of the seminar. The greatest portion of the seminar (30 percent +/-) is spent confidentially interacting with your partner in a variety of ways while other couples are doing likewise. We circulate among couples for those who wish to use us as a resource.
It's your choice how much to involve us in your private exchanges--if at all. Some couples ask us lots of questions; other couples are working and laughing together, but we never hear anything about their specific issues. We know that they have a positive experience because they (like everyone else) give us positive ratings on their evaluation.
You'll also have the opportunity to pose questions to us anonymously during the seminar. (We collect unsigned suggestion and question cards from everyone.) You can't ask questions anonymously in private counseling.
Everyone who participates in MST agrees to keep the proceedings confidential. You can discuss your MST experience with others. Most people want and need to do this. But you must agree not to reveal the identities of other participants. So when you talk about MST, you won’t use any names or identifying characteristics.
You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions individually during exercise periods and breaks. You are never required to reveal anything about yourself or your partner.
Some couples wonder about the confidentiality of the relationship inventory. Relate has excellent privacy safeguards. It uses a secure internet server which encodes your responses during transmission over the internet. In fact, we believe it is as or more confidential than a paper and pencil inventory that you take in a counselor's office. These paper and pencil inventories are sent away through the mail for scoring. With Relate, you select an ID code and you never provide your real name, so your answers and results are never linked to your identity. It's entirely your choice whether or not to provide us with access to your inventory results.
Click here for info on private premarital prep packages and consultations including phone options.
MST is a secular approach and is not affiliated in any way with any religion or other spiritual organization or philosophy. MST is compatible with a range of religious beliefs and practices, but these are not a focus of MST. (Of course, any additional spiritual support that you and your partner experience from your religious beliefs will be very important to your relationship.) Many couples who receive counseling from their religious adviser, like to supplement this with MST's assessment and skill building. Interfaith couples find that MST helps to address the special challenges that such relationships can pose.
MST is designed for newlyweds and engaged couples. MST can benefit any couple that is motivated to learn about and enhance their relationship. The best time to take MST is during the year before marriage or the first six to twelve months of marriage. This gives you the best opportunity to build a solid, healthy foundation for your marriage relationship before less positive habits become established. So, earlier is better, but better later than never.
Marriages with at least one previously married partner are actually somewhat more at risk. When financial entanglements and/or children from a prior marriage are involved, these complicating factors can add stress to a marriage. It's all the more important to have realistic expectations, solid goals and good skills. MST is definitely appropriate for these couples.
MST is perfect for couples who are considering whether to become (or remain) engaged. It’s not at all unusual for couples to experience doubts about marriage and commitment, even (and in some cases, especially) when they have announced their engagement or set a date. When some couples encounter conflict, they assume that these challenges cast doubt on their compatibility. They don't realize that all couples face conflict; there is no perfectly compatible partner. It is the couple's approach to their differences that can make the difference between relationship success and failure. MST will help you identify and work though some of the underlying sources of your concerns. It will give you and your partner more confidence in your capacity to succeed in your marriage. You will be reassured by your improved understanding and preparation for the reality of marriage, including its tremendous prospects for enriching your lives. MST will maximize the success potential of any couple’s relationship. Deciding whether to get or stay engaged? Click here for more info.
We recommend that couples explore their compatibility issues and expectations as part of a premarital education program like ours. We offer a premarital inventory as part of our program. If you tackle these issues on your own, you won't have the support, skills and understanding to do so most constructively. A seminar like MST gives you a clear idea of how to intentionally approach building a successful relationship.
If, however, you decide to try to explore expectations and compatibility on your own, the inventory we recommend is Relate (www.relate-institute.org). The inventory does not predict relationship or marriage success, but it will help you to identify risk factors. While Relate is far from perfect, after carefully reviewing the range of alternative inventories, we've determined that it's the best tool available for this purpose. (Prepare-Enrich, for example, requires that results be provided only through a counselor--the couple is not permitted to keep their report. Foccus is used in the Catholic Pre-Cana and Engaged Encounter programs. There are several others. None address the full range of issues that we feel are important.)
You should also be aware that we do not agree with all of Relate's interpretations of the marriage research. For example, we feel that the risks of cohabitation are overgeneralized by Relate and that some of the challenges (and strengths) related to spiritual beliefs and affiliations or lack thereof are not fully articulated. You'll benefit from professional interpretation of your inventory results to help you understand these and other issues and limitations of the inventory.
You might also want to look at a book called The Hard Questions to help you explore expectations. It's available thru stayhitched.com/books.htm. Again, though, we urge you to do this as part of a program--ours or another of your choice.
Because we promise our clients confidentiality and privacy, we don't ask them to serve as references. (From our counseling work we know that even couples who might be enthusiastic about talking about their experience initially could later regret giving up some of their privacy to be a reference.)
We can provide you with professional references--other counseling professionals who are familiar with our work.
Many seminar attendees are referred to us by satisfied graduates, and the seminar gets consistent very high ratings on the end-of-seminar written evaluation feedback. We frequently receive thank you cards and notes from couples after the seminar. At many recent seminars we have received a round of applause from participants, although we don't always expect this. We regard these as strong indicators of the continuing high level of satisfaction of participants. We are happy to share with you some of the comments we've received recently.
It is extremely rare for us to receive an overall negative rating from a participant (just once or twice in over five years of serving hundreds of couples). Participants do occasionally comment on aspects of the seminar that were less appealing to them or seemed less relevant to their specific concerns, but these preferences seem to reflect individual tastes and situations--not to reflect quality issues. That is, a topic that one couple may rate as less valuable, several other couples in the same seminar will cite as a topic that they liked.
You're more than welcome to attend the seminar, but we want you to know that most of the research on which our program is based was conducted with heterosexual couples and our program is designed generally with heterosexuals in mind, so we're not sure how effective our program would be for same-sex couples, although we're sure that some of it would be of interest and value.
We're not experts on same-sex marriage issues, but we do know that Gottman has included gay couples in some of his research. (You might want to listen the radio interview linked on our main (home) page that features him. He discusses same-sex couples research briefly in the course of this interview.) One of his findings is that same-sex couples usually do not have the same degree and type of communication problems that heterosexual couples often have. We spend about a quarter to a third of the seminar on communication issues. About a quarter of the content is related to gender difference issues that would not apply to your relationship.
Our advice to you is
to look carefully at the seminar content description and at the Articles
section on our web site to see if our approach resonates with your experiences
in your relationship. If you have had significant communication problems,
the seminar might be helpful, especially if these follow some of the patterns
seen commonly in heterosexual marriage, where one partner is more verbal and
tolerant of discussing sensitive relationship issues, while the other gets
more easily overloaded by these and withdraws, causing the first partner to
Sorry not to be able
to be more encouraging about the appropriateness of the seminar for you and
your partner. Of course, some of the content is going to apply to any long-term
relationship: The need to protect your marriage from time and career pressures
and the risks of infidelity, clarifying expectations and planning, managing
differences, family of origin and in-law issues, religious and cultural differences,
We wish that we knew
of a seminar or premarital counselor specializing in same-sex couples that
we could recommend to you. You're smart to be thinking of preparing for your
marriage. Today's marriages need every advantage.
While we understand that the price represents a substantial investment for many couples, we hope you'll agree that the investment in an enduringly satisfying marriage is worth making, especially compared to the costs of other wedding expenses, marriage counseling, or divorce. The price is related to the costs of presenting this kind of program for a small group of engaged and newlywed couples in a comfortable hotel or other quality conference setting.
We still remember that the expenses of getting married can be a bit overwhelming. We'll explain how the pricing is determined and hope that you'll agree with us that MST is a good value.
When we designed MST, providing a high quality service was our most important goal. In looking at the research, we determined that a highly effective service includes some features that tend to contribute to the price:
· A small group size (maximum of 15 couples and often far fewer): A small group size is the optimum for using active learning methods such as small group discussions and experiential exercises, almost exclusively, rather than passive learning techniques like lectures and demonstrations that larger programs use. Active learning is far more effective in helping couples to internalize and retain skills and understanding over the long-term. The small size also promotes an atmosphere of warmth and openness that encourages sharing and permits us to spend more time with each couple during their dyad (individual couple) activities.
· Two married seminar leaders: We felt that two professional seminar leaders who are a married couple would allow us to model more effectively many important skills and attitudes and to share experiences from our own married life. Having two leaders is part of what helps us to spend more time with each couple.
· It's important to us to present MST in a very comfortable setting, where you will feel at ease and undistracted. We use a meeting room in a quality hotel or at a comparable meeting facility.
MST is for engaged couples
and newlyweds. Some other programs boost their volume by including other couples
who are experiencing serious marriage or relationship problems.
The pricing includes
not only the direct hours of the seminar, but also the many hours of research,
design, administration and preparation. There are also significant marketing
and other business expenses.
· We are mature, seasoned professionals and our weekend time is valuable to us (as we know that yours is to you).
Offering the program in a one-day format helps to keep the price more reasonable and makes the experience more intensive and involving.
There are many pre-marriage preparation programs with lower prices available. Most of these are subsidized by religious and other community institutions and/or keep their prices lower with much larger class sizes. Many of these use a pre-packaged program. Some use a single facilitato or non-professionals, rather than a professional couple. While we're sure that many couples benefit from these programs, we feel that the benefits of MST are significantly greater because of the factors discussed above.
Finally, in thinking about whether some couples would be interested in a high-quality service like MST, we considered the prices that are paid for services like GRE or LSAT test preparation and for other wedding-related services.
We hope that, considering all these factors, you'll agree with us that MST is a good value--especially after you've experienced the seminar.
In June 2009 we were compelled to (modestly) adjust our prices for the first time in over five years and to begin charging a different rate in each city based on the cost of operating there. In most cities, we reduced the early registration discount from $50 to $20, without increasing the standard rate. In Washington, DC, we also increased the regular price by about ten percent to $550. These modest changes result from the cumulative cost increases over the past five years at the meeting facilities that we use. Meeting and other travel costs for us are greater in Washington, DC, than in the other cities we serve. While we have long resisted prices changes, after five years of cost increases we found that we could no longer do so.