[UPDATE:  This post was previously titled, “Fatherhood Channel Suppressed This Comment.” I have since heard from someone at the site, and he has posted a comment here, and also posted my comment, with my permission, where I was trying to submit it. I believe him that this was some technical glitch, and I apologize.]

Previously at my Living Single blog at Psychology Today, I wrote about media coverage of marriage and relationship education programs. In short, the enthusiasm of the claims has been barely restrained by the actual results of scientific research. (See here and here and here.)

At first, I was happy to see that the PAIRS Foundation, posting as part of the Fatherhood Channel, wrote about my success at getting NPR to take notice of the exaggerations it had aired. While doing so, though, it continued to perpetuate some of the same myths. It also guessed wrong about my background. They seem to think I offer therapy and that their classes would be a threat to my livelihood.  I’m not a therapist or any other sort of clinical psychologist (I’m a research psychologist), so my criticisms of their misleading claims have nothing to do with that.

A week ago, as soon as I saw the post, I submitted a comment. It didn’t show up, so I submitted it again and got a message indicating that the comment was recognized as having already been submitted. It still hasn’t shown up, so I’m posting it here (below).

I wonder whether there is some fear of mentioning the study (one in a set of eight) that showed that women who took the marriage educations classes were more likely to report being severely abused than those who did not. No one will acknowledge it. The Washington Post author skipped over it in her lengthy story. I’m on a listserv for a scientific organization about families (not an ideological one) and when the results of the 8 studies were mentioned there, not a word was said about the abuse finding. Seems curious. I don’t bring it up because I think that abuse is a likely result of taking such courses; it’s not. It is, though, a possible one.

Here’s the post at the Fatherhood Channel, and here’s my comment that they didn’t publish:

Thanks for posting about the article I wrote for Living Single at Psychology Today. I invite readers to take a look at the article in its entirety, as well as my two previous articles on the same topic:

  1. Marriage and relationship education programs: Do they work?
  2. Couples just don’t know how to be married?
  3. I complain about the overhyping of marriage education and the NPR ombudsman listens

The review of the 143 studies was published in the Journal of Family Psychology (the link to it is in article #1). I also referred to the BSF studies conducted with more than 5,000 couples in 8 locations. The author of the post to which I am responding (no name seems to be attached to it) believes my broad criticism is “misguided” because Diane Sollee has been working so hard to create her marriage-promoting industry. (Hard work does not make Sollee’s claims accurate.) The author also continues to perpetrate misleading impressions of the effectiveness of these programs with this selective statement: “several free and low-cost classes have shown impressive results with diverse populations.”

My objections are about scientific accuracy and ethics. It is neither accurate nor, in my opinion, ethical, to mention only the studies that did work without mentioning that many others did not. It is not accurate nor – in my opinion – ethical to mention one study that did work (as Sollee did on NPR) without mentioning one study (from the 8 BSF variations with unmarried couples with children) in which the couples who participated were LESS likely to be living together or married than the couples who did not participate, they reported lower quality co-parenting, and the mothers were more likely to report severe physical abuse. It is, in my opinion, inappropriate for Diane Sollee to say (as she did in the Washington Post’s Q & A) that “Marriage education classes can help across the board” or that “the classes are a huge help” when the cumulative results of the 8 BSF studies showed that relationship quality improved only if both members of the couple were African American.

My objection to Smartmarriages isn’t so much that it does not produce research but that it misrepresents the results of the research that has been conducted. Suppose a woman signs up for one of these courses and gets pummeled to within an inch of her life. Will Diane Sollee then admit she knew that in one of the 8 BSF programs, women who participated were more likely to be severely abused than women who did not participate, and yet she (Sollee) still claimed that the courses can’t hurt?

I’m not a therapist. I’m a social scientist. My career is not threatened by these courses. It is fine with me if the courses are offered IF participants are not misled about what the research shows. On the NPR show and in the Washington Post Q & A, listeners and readers heard misleading claims. That’s my objection.

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