BYU’s marriage prep course helps students navigate dating pressures

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A married couple shows their rings. BYU’s marriage preparation course teaches students how to build strong relationships, no matter their relationship status. (Universe Archives)

BYU’s marriage preparation course equips students with necessary skills to build successful relationships, no matter their relationship status.

The three credit course, SFL 223, is in the School of Family Life and helps students increase their understanding of marriage, courtship and other aspects of marital stewardship within the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“This would be the kind of class I think some people at other universities would find kind of interesting,” BYU professor Brian Willoughby said.

Willoughby has been teaching in the BYU School of Family Life for almost 14 years and has focused most of his research on factors that affect dating and marriage. Willoughby, who has published a book and more than 20 scholarly articles on the subject, said the BYU marriage preparation class is different than something you’d find anywhere else.

BYU professor Brian Willoughby. Willoughby has been teaching at the School of Family Life for 14 years and currently teaches SFL 223. (Image courtesy of BYU School of Family Life)

“Most college students would be like, ‘I don’t need a marriage prep class. That’s not something I’m doing for 10 or more years, if ever,’” Willoughby said.

Though students at other universities might question the need for a marriage prep class, Willoughby said SFL 223 has a special place at BYU because it is linked to two things that make BYU unique.  

BYU’s religious value of marriage sets it apart from other universities, he said.

“We know that marriage is kind of the linchpin of eternal families and the plan of salvation is all about eternal families,” Willoughby said.

Because of this, gospel perspective is interwoven throughout the course, even though it is not a religion class.

SFL 223 also helps address the pressure of BYU’s dating and marriage culture.

“Young adults are counseled pretty regularly that marriage and preparing for marriage should be one, if not the most important priorities during their young adulthood years, and that creates unique pressures,” Willoughby said.

BYU’s preparation for marriage course exists to help students navigate these unique pressures. And though not all students may see marriage in their near future, these classes are designed to help students of any relationship status, according to Willoughby.

“We’ve really tried to design the class to allow students across the spectrum when it comes to marriage and dating to feel comfortable in the class and to get something out of it,” Willoughby said.

The broad range of topics covered in SFL 223 has made the class especially impactful for students.

“I really felt like the class focused on individual development, on how to establish and maintain healthy relationships,” class TA Jenna Milligan said. “It was just really applicable, no matter what stage of life you’re in, whether you’re single, in a relationship, engaged or married.”

When asked if she would recommend SFL 223 to other students, Milligan said that because everyone needs to learn how to build healthy relationships, she thinks it would be useful to everyone.

Tucker Graham, a BYU sophomore from Provo, echoed Milligan’s thoughts and said SFL 223 helped him learn about emotional maturity and caring for relationships.

“I would not still be in this current relationship if it wasn’t for everything I learned in this class,” Graham said.

In addition to helping students learn how to build healthy relationships, BYU’s marriage prep class has helped students shift their perspectives on marriage.

“God wants me to be happy,” Tana Bybee said, explaining her own paradigm shift. Bybee is a senior from Provo studying dance. “Through (SFL 223), you start to learn that marriage is given to us because God wants us to be happy and He knows how important being in a family is.”

SFL 223 is offered every semester and is taught by professors Brian Willoughby, Jason Carroll and Chelom Leavitt.

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