Effective couple communication is essential for a healthy family. Qualitative research findings from Malawi indicate that lack of open communication, particularly around issues of sexuality, is a key reason men and women look outside the home for other partners, increasing their risk of contracting HIV and passing it to their partner.
To strengthen couples’ communication skills, BRIDGE II, in collaboration with local faith-based organizations from different religions and sects, developed A Happy Married Life: A Couple Counseling Guide. Faith-based counselors trained by BRIDGE II used the guide at the community level. The overall objectives of the counseling sessions were to:
- Support people planning to get married by helping them choose a partner who is right for them.
- Improve couple communication and strengthen intimacy between married couples.
- Assure married partners and those entering marriage that obeying the commands of God/Allah is one way to help prevent HIV from entering the home.
- Help men and women think through and take responsibility for acting on what they need to do to have a happy family life.
The guide also helped couples resolve conflict in their marriage and enabled faith-based counselors to assist couples in addressing issues previously regarded as taboo or difficult to bring into the open. The guide accomplished this through the use of several different participatory methods, allowing couples to express themselves. The methods included group discussion, brainstorming, role-play, small group work, drama, and storytelling.
Participating faith-based institutions and couples counselors reported that the guide was well accepted by both Christian and Muslim communities. Participating couples testified that the counseling sessions helped them find solutions to marital problems and improved their overall communication. Many couples acknowledged that counseling has made them more open to discussing difficult but important issues, such as sex and money, and has increased their knowledge about HIV and AIDS.
- To date, 519 couples (1038 people) from 10 Faith Based Organizations have been trained in using the Happy Married Life guide to provide counseling services.
- More than 55,000 people have participated in couple counseling sessions.