Do You Need a Class to Learn to Have a Relationship?

young people having a class

You may say no to that assertion. Then again, you’d be ignoring the 40-50% divorce rate, as well as the fact that many people are unhappily married. So again, do you need a class to learn to have a relationship? As a dating coach, I sure think so. And so does the faculty at Northwestern University, which teaches a class called “Marriage 101”. First lesson: there are no soul mates. Amen.

According to The Atlantic article about this important new development, “Northwestern’s Marriage 101 is unique among liberal arts universities in offering a course that is comprehensively and directly focused on the experiential, on self-exploration: on walking students through the actual practice of learning to love well.

First lesson: there are no soul mates. Amen.

While popular culture often depicts love as a matter of luck and meeting the right person, after which everything effortlessly falls into place, learning how to love another person well is anything but intuitive.”

Among the biggest takeaways for students according to the professor, Alexandra Solomon:

1. 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.

2. You can’t avoid marital conflict, but you can learn how to handle it better. “The class instructors teach their students that blaming, oversimplifying, and seeing themselves as victims are all common traits of unhappy couples and failed marriages. They aim to teach students that rather than viewing conflicts from a zero-sum position, where one wins and one loses, they would benefit from a paradigm shift that allows them to see a couple as “two people standing shoulder to shoulder looking together at the problem.”

3. A good marriage takes skill. “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.”

You have to know yourself, you have to be fair, you have to be a good communicator, you have to be selfless, you have to have boundaries, and you have to share the same long-term vision for your lives together.

4. You and your partner need a similar worldview.Among other things…the more aligned you are on certain crucial dimensions–such as day-to-day compatibility, or whether you are on the same wavelength about larger issues–the better off you’ll be as a couple. He learned that all the communication skills in the world won’t help if you haven’t learned how to recognize and invite in a compatible partner.”

This is the reason that I invite readers to take personal responsibility for their happiness instead of blaming men or blaming women. You have to know yourself, you have to be fair, you have to be a good communicator, you have to be selfless, you have to have boundaries, and you have to share the same long-term vision for your lives together. All the chemistry in the world won’t redeem a relationship where one of these things falters.

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  1. 1

    Interesting.   I do believe that most people have completely unrealistic ideas about marriage and don’t have/ want to use the skills required to make a lasting partnership work.     It’s commendable that Northwester in trying to tackle this issue.  
    That said, I’m not sure that a university class can teach these things in a way that makes a significant difference.   I believe that, like so many life lessons, they have to be instilled from a very early age and then re-enforced through the decades.     Those (relatively few) of us whose parents had happy, functional marriages are at a distinct advantage because no class can replicate the effectiveness of witnessing effective role models in action every night at the dinner table.     Sadly, there’s a reason that women with divorced parents are 60% more likely to divorce, themselves.

    1. 1.1

      Is that 60% more likely than women with still-married parents?

      1. 1.1.1

        Vs. daughters of “non-divorced parents,” so I guess that could include parental couples where one spouse died or even unhappily married couples.

    2. 1.2

      You learn.   I have learned it starts with myself … Be who you would want to attract  

  2. 2

    I would totally have welcomed a class on relationships and marriage in school. I remember in 7th grade taking a “career skills” class that involved career assessments, learning how to interview, etc…why not offer a relationship class and teach these life skills at a formative age? I’ve been successful all my life at school, work, hobbies, creative projects and the like, but have always felt “behind” in my personal life, having come from an emotionally dysfunctional family and kind of just “feeling” my way into relationships. The past 5-6 years I’ve taken it upon myself to catch up and made a concerted effort to learn to know and love myself, figure out my blind spots and just learn to trust myself and others — and it’s reaped wonderful benefits. But man, if I had this kind of class in high school or college, that would have been wonderful. (Of course, there’s still a basic maturity to be attained and I probably gone through my “wild oats” phase in my 20s anyway, but at least I would’ve had some groundwork to fall back upon once I transitioned out of it.)
    Of course, I really don’t believe that having a relationships class enables everyone to have successful relationships unless they’re ready and willing to do the work — and not everyone is at a young age. But considering the fact that most of us learn how to have relationships from our families — and often those relationships are flawed and reflect the idiosyncrasies and difficulties of the people in them — it would be nice to have another source of information and ideas.
    Thanks for sharing the article!

  3. 3
    Karl R

    I agree with the key takeaways mentioned above. You can learn them in a class, or you can learn them elsewhere, but you really need to learn them.
    1. Self-understanding is the first step to having a good relationship.
    This point doesn’t go far enough. Understanding yourself is just the first step. Being able to accept yourself (flaws and all) is the next step. If you can’t even manage to love and accept yourself, how do you expect to be able to love and accept someone else?
    That’s why I internally cringe when I hear someone say, “I’m my own worst critic.” If you’re that skilled/practiced at being critical of yourself, you have also honed the ability to apply that criticism to others. It’s the same trait.
    2. You can’t avoid marital conflict, but you can learn how to handle it better.
    One of the best tricks for handling conflict – find out what is really bothering your partner.
    Not long after I started dating my wife, we went to a large competition. On the second day, she got angry that I wasn’t dancing with her enough. This seemed a little strange to me because:
    a. I was dancing with her as much as usual.
    b. I was dancing more with her than anyone else.
    c. We don’t get jealous about dancing with other people.
    d. There were hundreds of other men for her to dance with.
    Instead of disagreeing with her, I tried to find out what the real problem was. It turned out that she was upset because she wasn’t getting enough dances. The easy solution was for me to give her some tips on how to get more men to ask her to dance. (Stand/sit close to the dance floor, make eye-contact with men, smile.)
    Problem solved.
    3. A good marriage takes skill.
    Getting back to the “be the right person” they discussed earlier, that means becoming the person who has the knowledge and skills.
    4. You and your partner need a similar worldview.
    Look at what couples really fight about. Most of the major recurring fights have to deal with a difference in values. How will they raise their children? How to they manage their money? How do they allocate household tasks? How much time do they spend at work?
    This is far more important than shared interests. I wanted to have at least one shared interest with my wife. For shared values, we had to be close on all of them.

  4. 4
    Lynn (the other one!)

    Yahoo! Love this idea. May it spread like wildfire. At 56 I’m still having epiphanies about how my parents’ very poor marriage affected me. Sheesh! Childhood conditioning is a tough one to buck but it can be done. Not blaming my parents. I figure once we’re past about 21 it’s totally unbecoming and a dodge if we do. Just realizing the conditioning and patterns and putting some effort into examining them and owning my part in the big picture.
    Evan sometimes I think you’re a mind reader 🙂  

  5. 5

    This is a great idea.   I hope they do role-playing and stuff because hearing is one thing and doing is something very different!

  6. 6

    Mt parents have a perfect marriage. Love birds, as much in love now as they were 44 years ago. They have 3 kids, all girls. My older sister is stuck in an unhappy marriage, I was married 3 times, now separated, my younger sister never got married. Go figure. I keep asking them why? Having you as a perfect example of happily ever after none of us couldn’t find a good husband or be a good wife?

  7. 7
    Krista White Matchmaker

    This is something I tell my clients all the time when I coach them; it isn’t luck that leads you to finding the right person, it is doing dating “right” that leads you to your match.

  8. 8

    Evan, OMG!! we have come to this??? Taking classes what ever happened to dating and getting to know someone and then taking it from there if this what both adult people chose?? It take a while to get to know someone, and to consider marriage I do believe in per-marriage counseling.. BUT…!!

    1. 8.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Missy, I’m not exactly sure what you’re objecting to. It’s like you’d be offended that people go to med school to learn to be doctors instead of just practicing medicine the untrained natural way.

      Dating and getting to know someone will continue in perpetuity. Classes on relationships will aid people in their pursuit. What’s objectionable about any education that helps people? Speaking of which, if you don’t think people need any help, how’d you end up on this blog?

      1. 8.1.1

        I agree that it would be a useful class.   There is also pre-marital counseling.   It seems like all the dot points, per above should be common sense, but if they were, the divorce rate might not be as high as it is.

      2. 8.1.2

        How I ended up on this blog?? Really to listen to other people’s opinion that how I got here, and if you’ve notice I rarely respond to any of the post. Just curious.. Thanks Evan!!

  9. 9

    It’s a great idea. I think it would even be a good idea at the high school level, which is when most young people start dating. So many kids are children of divorce or come from dysfunctional families. Even Tanya   and her sisters (#4) whose parents had a “perfect” marriage has had troubles with her own marriages. We have sex education, why not relationship skills education?

  10. 10

    ….I think most men would benefit from this type of instruction/school….

  11. 11

    When I was in HS, there was a “marriage and family life” class, it was an elective, and I do believe it was for girls only, much like home economics was.   They provided child care for toddlers (under supervision of teachers), but since I didn’t take that particular class, I don’t know how much emphasis was on mothering, and how much was on the marriage relationship.
    I would love to see co-ed classes of this nature in high schools.   Of course, even if it was open to boys and girls, most boys would not take it.   Perhaps the solution would be to have some sort of “Interpersonal communication”   class that would cover effective communication in a business environment, social environment, and family environment and INCLUDE marriage in such a course, without making that the entire focus of the course.   More boys might sign up (and then ditch school during the marriage communication portion 🙂   )

  12. 12

    I took a marriage class my senior year of high school, it was a requirement as I went to Catholic School. I remember literally nothing about the class. I am not sure teaching 17 year olds about marriage in this day and age make sense. An elective in college or an offering at a community center makes more sense. A 17 year old is on average a decade away from marriage.

    1. 12.1

      Parents hope that kids wait a bit longer but they don’t always.   My son, who is 21, just proposed to his girlfriend this week and they will probably get married next year.   While I believe their hearts are in the right place and they both have good heads on their shoulders, I would be pleased to see them take pre-marital counseling or a workshop.   I married his father at 23 and we even took Pre Cana.   We still ended up divorced.

      1. 12.1.1
        Evan Marc Katz

        Too young. 75% divorce rate for kids under 25. Don’t let him be a statistic. There is NO reason to get married (or have kids) this young. If their love is true, they can do it in six years.

        1. starthrower68

          I am concerned but he is 21 and I cannot stop him.    I can only be there to pick up the pieces if it doesn’t work out.   I had these discussion with him about waiting until he was older to get married; I had them well before he decided to propose.    This what it means to be a parent; you groom them to leave you and make their way in life and they will have both success and failure.   This was something my parents had to endure when I married too young.   

      2. 12.1.2

        Why are you offering to be there to pick up the pieces if his too early marriage doesn’t work out?   That’s the problem, he knows you’ll be there and has no incentive to think this through.   If he thinks he’s adult enough to go against your wishes and get married then he’s adult enough to deal with the consequences.  

  13. 13
    Lynn (the other one!)

    To me a university class would be a piece of a whole. Lifelong learning, yes? Just ’cause there’s a class at university level doesn’t also mean we wouldn’t instill/teach earlier (or later) in life. One class on its own probably won’t make a widespread difference. A shift in attitude to include relationships in lifelong learning in this society probably would.

  14. 14

    I kind of agree with some previous posters who said that this is a nice idea, but wonders about it’s efficacy.   I think this course is definitely better than not doing anything, but I also think that at that age, kids would listen to it, but then decide to go with their passion and just date who’s hot. I just think people at that age need to experience some heartache or some major relationship failure before they are really open to hearing mature advice.   At that age, I can know logically that similar values is really important but I will still go for the guy who makes my heart skip a beat and ignore the guy who is stable and responsible.
    I think such an attempt should still be encouraged, and I’m glad it is available in some colleges.   I like the idea of the government offering a tax break or some other incentive to couples who agree to take a relationship class before they get married, though this is probably controversial because big government and indoctrination.

  15. 15

    Most religious institutions (churches, temples, etc) give pre-marriage courses but with our population becoming ever-less religious, I suppose they’re becoming less and less frequented.      
    Also, an issue I see with the religious institution course is that they’re only attended by engaged or soon-to-be-engaged couples.     I believe this misses the mark.    For example, kids should know by the time they’re 12 years-old that marrying before the age of 25 puts one at HUGE risk of divorce; when they’re 23 years-old and sitting in a class with an engagement ring on their finger, that lesson comes too late.  

  16. 16

    I don’t think this idea goes far enough!!    I think there should be a national holiday for marriage.   Get rid of sweetest day and replace it with Marriage Day or Relationship Day and shine the light on relationship skills (Valentines Day just doesn’t cut it).   I’m serious!!!   
    It is totally in the best interest of the country to shine a bright light on marital/relationship skills.   Think about how much divorce and bad relationships cost the country in terms of productivity and crime.   Can you imagine how much our society would improve if more people were happy in their relationships?   It’s been my experience that people generally have a very low relationship IQ without really studying and learning relationship skills.   
    I would definitely recommend the book Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix or The Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch.  

  17. 17
    Lynn (the other one!)

    Look what arrived in my inbox today: an announcement of a new meetup group in my area about helping women understand men. It’s volunteer-led. Here’s an excerpt:
      PAX Programs is in the business of educating men and women about each other. PAX, the Latin word for “peace”, and creates peace between the sexes by providing unique and immediately useful information to women and men. For Women: Women will rediscover MEN with compassion, understanding and the ability to get what you need from them with less effort and more satisfaction for both of you.  
    There’s more about what men will learn in relationship with women.

    1. 17.1

      That’s an organization created by Alison Armstrong. You could check out some of her interviews on YouTube (I’ve looked at 20 or so myself).
      I’m pretty impressed by her.   Her understanding of Men and Women is very good.
      But like anything else, you need to make it your own.   That’s not so easy . . .

  18. 18

    I’ve been thinking about a related issue for some time.   I don’t understand why we would teach sex education in high school and sometimes even junior high, without teaching about dating, relationships, and commitment.   We should put just as much emphasis on how to date and build positive relationships as we put on how to put a condom on.   As an aside…college courses are ridiculously expensive and this would be an elective course for most students.   

  19. 19

    There is only ONE thing needed to build and maintain a good relationship. ANY relationship.  
    Answer this question and you will discover where you stand in your life and with anyone else’s life.    “How did you manage when things got rough?”
    The greatest marriages, companies, the greatest scientists, scholars, writers, athletes, have managed.   
    This is the course.   This is the exam.   this is the only and I mean, non-cynically,   the ONLY course you need to study.
    That’s it that’s all.   That’s the course study of your whole life.   ALL OF IT
    Today!   This very minute.   Look around you and ask this question?   Is this all good?   If you say yes, then you are not doing something right? You’ve surrendered to living. Because in a good life, it’s never ever ALL GOOD.. ever..    If it’s all good for the moment, that’s a celebration, that’s ok and a good place to be standing.
    If you look at successful people and think, man they have it soooooo easy.   You live in a world of hurt and illusion.   
    Life is the lesson of the GOOD struggle.   Match that in all relationships and you have a winning team, a winning marriage and a winning self.
    I shall OVERCOME, should be music to all our ears….  
    GO.. and fix it, change it, challenge it, the words NEVER GIVE UP, should be a symphony to you and yours.   That IS the course of your life.   

    1. 19.1

      I just printed this out and am putting it on my vision board. Holy Smartness!!!

  20. 20

    I didn’t have any good examples of relationships as a child or a teen…and I mean all relationships not just romantic.   I could have used a class on this subject more than one on calculus.   In the 32 years since I graduated high school, I’ve never had to use calculus…but I have to deal with relationships every day whether it is a romantic relationship, work relationship, relationship with a neighbor, the grocer, the people I commute with, etc.   So I say this is a  much needed class…for everyone.

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