‘Newlyweds’ to help teach dos and don’ts of marriage

A class will use Jessica and Nick’s onscreen lives to study relationship development.

Heather L. Mueller

Fans of MTV’s reality series “Newlyweds” can now watch the show on the big screen of a lecture hall this summer.

A nonconventional special topics class, From Newlyweds to Separate Beds, aims to teach students about relationship development using research about marriage and divorce in the United States and clips from “Newlyweds,” featuring pop singers Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.

where to go

Register for class
What: FSOS 4150 Special Topics: From Newlyweds to Seperate Beds, 1 credit
When: 8:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Summer Session
Where: St. Paul Campus
For more information, go to: www.onestop.umn.edu

The show’s four seasons hit a chord with family social science instructor Brian Willoughby, who created the class and studies young adults’ attitudes about marriage.

Willoughby liked the show because it captured real-life conflicts common among newlywed couples right on screen.

“Besides the filler, and dumb scenes, their real relationship comes through Ö I thought it would be interesting to use pop culture to explore how to have and maintain a healthy marriage,” he said.

From the honeymoon stage on, communication patterns, such as walking away without resolving an argument, signified the couple’s relationship was on the rocks and foreshadowed their divorce, Willoughby said.

It’s those situations he plans to investigate in the class.

People who marry young often run into problems, Willoughby said, because the college-aged couples are still in the human development stage of “emerging adult” and might not be ready to adopt the commitments and lifestyle patterns of marriage and adult family life.

According to the 2005 U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of marriage was 25.8 years for women and 27.4 years for men – later than it had been years before.

But age isn’t the only factor in a successful marriage. Conflict resolution and active commitment directly relate to marriage satisfaction, Willoughby said.

“Relationships are going to have ups and downs. When you have a down, it shouldn’t mean you leave,” he said.

Besides keeping the romance alive, the 2006 National Marriage Project found couples who marry over the age of 25, come from stable families, and are college-educated are less likely to divorce.

Alumna Amy Larson, who married at 21, said age wasn’t a factor for her or her parents, who married at 18 and are nearing 30 years together.

Instead she said it was the high-profile lifestyle of Simpson and Lachey that brought about their demise, not their ages.

“No matter how young or old you are, if you don’t have good communication, the marriage won’t work,” she said.

Teaching college students to look at the components of a satisfying relationship can increase the likelihood of having a healthy, long-lasting marriage, Willoughby said.

Outside of their millionaire status, criminology sophomore Molly Lehn said there is something to learn from Lachey and Simpson’s failed relationship.

Like the celebrity couple, most young adults aren’t ready for commitment, she said. People change drastically throughout their high school and college years, she said.

“I am a strong believer that marriage is life long and you shouldn’t get divorced,” Lehn said.

“If you marry too young, you don’t know what you want. And you need to figure out (what you want) before you bring someone else into your life.”