Marriage class coaches couples on healthy communication

“Marriage is like a really long hike,” said John Wu, the chair of the department of psychology.

Wu is the professor of PSY349, Intimate Couples, a course at PLNU that involves skill training and analyzing psychological studies to reduce divorce rates.

“We don’t tell students not to go on this hike, we just give them resources to increase their success,” John Wu said.

In a survey of PLNU students by The Point, nine out of 12 students said the divorce rate among PLNU students was higher than it actually is. Guesses ranged from 10 percent, all the way to 70 percent. Some students attributed their high guesses to the “Ring by Springers.” Wu conducted a study and found the divorce rate to be 16 percent among PLNU students.

Wu’s class is for married and engaged couples only and has anywhere from six to eight couples each semester. Wu brought the class to PLNU 13 years ago. Kimberly White, formerly Kimberly Miller, is a PLNU alumna who took Wu’s class last semester. She said that topics in this class include developing practical communication techniques, tools for solving conflict, and how to embrace the difference between men and women in marriage and how to deal with past burdens in relationships in a healthy way.

White enjoyed the opportunity to gain wisdom by interviewing married couples for her homework assignment.

“Being young and single, it’s hard to grasp what marriage is really like day in and day out. Dr. Wu does a wonderful job at painting a picture of what marriage is really like,” said White. “He asked us questions like ‘Who is going to sleep on what side of the bed?’ and ‘Whose family are you going to spend Christmas with?’ and ‘How are you going to share your finances?’ Little questions like that really helped [my husband, Dylan White] and I think about what life together was going to look like and helped us prepare by talking about a million different things that we probably wouldn’t have thought to talk about otherwise.”

Wu said that he treats Intimate Couples like ballroom dancing class in the sense that talking about it is a pointless way of learning; you have to practice.

“Sometimes in activities like pre-marital counseling, they’ll tell you, ‘Communicate better’ but they won’t exactly give you practical ways to do that,” said Wu.

Wu has taught at PLNU for 14 years and has been married for 23. Rather than having this class be a ‘Here’s what I do, be like me,’ Wu wants to show students psychological studies and soothing strategies that have the best outcome rates.

According to Wu, they focus on soothing strategies because when someone’s partner is activated and their heart rate goes over 100 beats per minute, problems don’t get solved.

White said learning The Speaker Learner Technique – a way to communicate and solve conflicts calmly – was a helpful and applicable tool she and her husband learned about in PSY349.

“The speaker talks, the listener repeats what they heard, then the listener gets to talk with no interruptions, like a pattern,” said White. “The truth is marriage is hard and sometimes we want to just yell at each other, but this tool helps us keep our conversations calm and loving.”

Dr. Wu revealed his formula for a successful marriage in his book, Dating Well In an Up and Down World: Marry the right kind of person and then do the right things together. He said we create our soul mates through a lifetime of memories together.