John Evans
Taking The Marriage Course online

In a report for the  Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1998, Bryan Rodgers and Jan Pryor wrote:

If recent trends continue, it is likely that more than a third of new marriages will end within 20 years and four out of ten will ultimately end in divorce. More than one in four children will experience parental divorce by age 16. Divorce rates in England and Wales (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland) are among the highest in Europe, though considerably lower than in the United States.

Research over many decades about the impact of divorce and separation on children has generated useful knowledge, but also led to confusion and misunderstanding. Their comprehensive review of over 200 research reports found that:

Children of separated families have a higher probability of:

  • being in poverty and poor housing;
  • being poorer when they are adults;
  • behavioural problems;
  • performing less well in school;
  • needing medical treatment;
  • leaving school/home when young;
  • becoming sexually active, pregnant, or a parent at an early age;
  • depressive symptoms, high levels of smoking and drinking, and drug use during adolescence and adulthood.

Since their report, the Office for National Statistics has recorded a decline in the divorce rate, although this has been at a roughly similar rate to the decline in marriages.

During the current pandemic, many marriages are experiencing additional pressures. In 2020, new research commissioned by the charity Relate uncovered the impact that lockdown measures are having on relationships in the UK. Almost a quarter of those surveyed (23%) said lockdown was putting pressure on their relationship with their partner. Of those living with their partner, 12% agreed that staying at home made them doubt their relationship, with more than a quarter (27%) of respondents saying they were finding their partner irritating.

Lockdown, of course, hasn't simply been about spending much more time with your partner: many people have also experienced worries about job security, business failure and family finances. Other couples have been balancing work with home-schooling, childcare and mounting uncertainty about the future.

Many churches have experience of offering marriage courses and there are a variety of approaches available. In East Grinstead, the Jubilee Community Church marriage team (Ian and Claire Watt, John and Carol Evans) have been running The Marriage Course together for several years. They were attracted to this course, developed by Nicky and Sila Lee of Holy Trinity Brompton, not least because its design respects couples’ privacy. A promise is made to couples that there will be no group discussion and no expectation that they disclose anything about their relationship to anyone else. The Jubilee Community Church team have found that without this assurance, many couples would not have attended the course.

Pre-pandemic, the team had considerable success providing The Marriage Course to couples in person. A venue where a romantic meal could be served and suitable background music provided was chosen in order to create the safe place for couples to work together in private on the various topics raised in the course.

The team found that whether couples have been together a short time or for many years – and whether they are long-term cohabiting, in their first marriage or in a subsequent one – The Marriage Course materials prove to be very relevant and useful.

In 2020 it became clear that the pressures on married life were mounting. But my wife and I were initially sceptical about the idea of offering an online version of the seven-week programme. We weren't initially convinced that couples would engage with a short Zoom introduction followed by the opportunity to watch one of the recently recorded Marriage Course films in their own homes. However, we learnt that this opportunity to invest in their marriages, at home and in private, was something couples really enjoyed and would strongly recommend to other married couples. 100% of those who enrolled on The Marriage Course Online in 2020 said that it had a positive impact on their relationship.

Carol says: “The films, presented by Nicky and Sila Lee, and featuring the real-life stories of twenty-three couples, are completely honest about relationship challenges. They also provide practical ways of rescuing marriages that are suffering, and enhancing relationships that could be better.” 

Ian’s view is that “the time couples spend together, in private, working through the questions raised by each week's film and completing their Journals together is the key to the success of The Marriage Course Online. They can, in the comfort and privacy of their own home, spend as much or as little time as they need on each of the seven topics – and that's how it should be!”

Finally, whereas The Marriage Course provided in person, including a meal for each couple, attracted a fee that might have been a barrier for some, the online version is free (except for the cost of the participant’s journal: £10 each).

We highly commend this course to churches seeking to support families in their communities and help prevent children from slipping into poverty. Participants do not have to have any church background to be able to join the course.

Learn more at

John Evans is a trustee of Jubilee+


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