Married couples whose marriages are on the rocks have to painfully endure with their partners or go for a divorce. However, couples in Southern California now have a third option and that is reconciliation through a program called The Third Option.

The Third Option is a group program, offered by OC Marriages in partnership with California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC) that helps couples build better marriages.

The classes are held in multiple locations around Orange County and The Third Option program is designed for all married couples – hurting or not.

For married couples whose marriages are on the rocks, the program helps them deal with hurt and find bridges to greater understanding and co-operation, while for normal loving couples the program teaches skills that foster even happier and healthier marriages.

The Third Option combines skill-building with sharing from mentor couples as well as support from the group.

The classes are offered free of charge in an atmosphere that is warm and caring with no RSVP required, said a statement by OC Marriages.

“When people come into the program we can almost visibly see the pain. One of most effective ways The Third Option helps struggling couples comes from our mentor couples. In most situations these are couples who have been there and back with marital distress and emerged stronger on the other side. They bring a powerful infusion of hope for everyone in the class,” said Sylvia Palda, LMFT and local instructor of The Third Option.

Twenty percent of Californians have attended a marriage education class or program, and an astounding 95 percent found the classes helpful, a CHMC study said.

On its website, CHMC has published some important findings that include a meta analysis and longitudinal studies on the impact of marriage education that help couples learn the skills associated with marital success.

A meta-analysis of 20 different marriage programs across 85 studies published in Journal of Marital and Family authored by P Giblin involving 3,886 couples found an average positive effect size of 0.44, indicating that the average couple participating in any one of the Marriage Education programs studied improved their behavior and quality of relationship so that they were better off than more than two-thirds of the couples that did not participate in any marriage education program.

Another meta-analysis of 16 studies published in American Journal of Family Therapy authored by Mark H. Butler and Karen S. Wampler observed meaningful program effects with regard to gains in communication skills, marital satisfaction, and other relationship qualities.

The average couple after taking the marriage education training was able to outperform 83 percent of couples who had not participated in the program in the critical area of marital communication.

Similarly, a longitudinal study authored by H J Markman in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology on a well-known marriage education program found that, compared with couples without the training, participating couples maintained high levels of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction and lower problem intensity three years after training.

They also demonstrated significantly greater communication skills, less negative communication patterns, and greater conflict-management skills up to 12 years after instruction, and reported fewer instances of physical violence with their spouses three to five years after training.

In a meta-analysis of over 100 studies on the impact of Marriage Education, authored by researchers Patrick F. Fagan, Robert W. Patterson & Robert E. Rector found clear evidence that marriage education programs work to reduce strife, improve communication, increase parenting skills, increase stability, and enhance marital happiness.

This research demonstrates that marriage programs are effective and makes the case that marriages can do more than merely survive: They can also thrive when couples learn the skills to make their relationship work, said CHMC on its website

For the past five years, CHMC, through its local partners such as OC Marriages, has taught relationship-building skills to more than 62,000 Californians through marriage and relationship education classes for all ages and stages, the statement said.