Couple Communication Initiative Implementation Process

“A Happy Married Life: A Couple Counseling Guide”

In order to strengthen couples’ communication skills, BRIDGE II developed a couple counseling guide in collaboration with 10 faith-based organizations (FBOs) in districts where BRIDGE II was implemented. A Happy Married Life: A Couple Counseling Guide used interactive and participatory approaches to stimulate discussions about faithfulness, communication, blessings of children, prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, sexual satisfaction in a marriage, and other relevant topics. The guide also helped couples deal with and resolve conflict in their marriage. The guide enabled faith-based counselors to assist couples in addressing issues previously regarded as taboo or difficult to bring into the open. The guide used several different participatory methods, allowing couples to express themselves. The methods included group discussion, brainstorming, role-play, small group work, drama, and storytelling.

Developing the Guide

The guide was designed during a series of consultative meetings with a cross section of FBOs. Participants provided substantial input on foundational concepts of the guide, identified the topics the guide should include, and contributed key content for each section, including relevant quotes from the Bible and Quran. The guide was also reviewed by USAID, who provided feedback and suggestions for additional topics and information to include. Once a final draft was completed, the guide was pretested with couples from participating FBOs, who identified issues that impacted the usability of the guide and provided feedback on how to resolve them. Once the guide was completed, a review meeting with leaders from prominent FBOs was held in order to gain their buy-in and promote their use of the Happy Married Life guide.

This process built the capacity of the FBOs, providing them with opportunities to gain skills in concept development during the planning for the guide, and in critiquing and editing material during the review and revision process.

Preparing Religious Leaders and Counselors for Implementation of the Guide

Every FBO had a Program Officer who oversaw the couple counseling activities in their institution, as well as a lead pair of couple counselors who trained couples in churches and mosques to implement the guide. The Program Officer identified mosques and churches where couple counseling activities would be implemented within the BRIDGE II catchment area. This selection process was based on the size of the mosques’ and churches’ congregations, and their proximity to each other in order to facilitate group couple counselor training sessions involving participants from multiple churches and mosques. Religious leaders in those mosques and churches were oriented on BRIDGE II activities in general, and couple counseling activities in particular. After the initial orientation, the religious leaders helped Program Officers identify couples who were then trained to use the guide to facilitate group couple counseling sessions at their church or mosque. Initially, BRIDGE II intended for the guide to be used to orient current couples’ counselors on how to address issues relating to HIV prevention included in the guide. However, BRIDGE II found that most religious institutions did not have any affiliated couples counselors. Therefore, couples were identified based on their literacy level, public speaking skills, knowledge of the doctrines of their particular faith, their status in their religious communities as a “role model” couple (with a history of faithfulness and a lack of gender-based violence), their permanent residency in their community, and their willingness to work as volunteers. Preference was given to individuals who were already couples counselors.

Conducting Couple Communication Counseling Sessions

The trained couple counselors facilitated small group discussions about marital issues using the Happy Married Life guide on an ongoing basis. Couple counselors advertised group couple counseling sessions during religious services to seek out more volunteers to receive couple counseling, and once one group of couples completed their counseling sessions, a new set of couples began counseling.