This is a clip from the March/'99 issue of Money Magazine from
the cover feature story
"Is Money Ruining Your Marriage?" which includes Markman, Stanley,
Fiske, and Mellan -
all presenters at the last Smart Marriages conference. This
excerpt is ton the PREP marriage education course.
Is Money Ruining Your Marriage?
Doug�s gripe: "I don�t think it�s realistic to say, �Cut up your
cards.� In this day and age, you don�t go through life without
credit cards. At least I don�t." Now it�s Laura�s turn
to hesitate. She won�t set a wedding date.
You have the magnet--I mean, the floor
The two dozen couples gathered at a Sheraton hotel just outside
Denver one Saturday morning in early December would call Laura�s
position enviable: She learned that she and Doug were financially
incompatible before pulling the trigger. The couples were
attending a one-day course run by PREP, which revolves around the
findings of three Colorado Ph.D.�s in clinical psychology, Howard
Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan L. Blumberg, co-authors of
Fighting for Your Marriage (Jossey-Bass). By debriefing
hundreds of couples every year for well over a decade, both before
and after they married, the researchers identified a number of
factors--including how spouses talk to each other and how they
fight--that they believe can predict whether a marriage will
succeed or end up in divorce court. The course was developed
as a pre-emptive strike, Markman explains. If couples learn
the right ways to communicate, fewer fights break out, fewer
marriages break up.
Most of the attendees in Denver are married, some for as long as
15 years; half-dozen are still engaged. They sit at rows of
tables and drink complimentary coffee while Markman and Stanley
take turns explaining the roots of tension in relationships.
If Ramsay�s style is evangelical, theirs is closer to stand-up,
with Markman (think Michael Dukakis) playing straight man to
Stanley (picture a yuppified Sting). It�s a comedy
routine--and there are more than a few groaners throughout the
day--but it seems to work. By mid-morning, the couples have
Early on, Markman asks the group what they think is the No. 1
thing that couples fight over. "Money!" most of them shout
back (although someone actually yells "Pets!").
"It doesn�t matter how much money people have, money is a daily
event," Markman agrees. "That increases the chance of it
triggering arguments and tension." The key, he says, is to
think about your relationships the way you think about your
investments. Who gets killed in the stock market? Stanley
asks. "Short-termers. People thinking that way tend to
Before noon, the two get to the heart of PREP, a conversation
technique they call speaker-listener: You can speak only when you
hold the "floor", represented by a small yellow magnet. The
couples are told to use their time to explain their concerns, and
then pass the "floor" to their partners. The partners then
repeat their spouses� main points to show that they were actually
listening and that they understand, and then they respond.
Quietly and self-consciously, the couples struggle through the
exercise for the first time. But they repeat it several times
throughout the day. And by the time 4 p.m. rolls around, they
seem to be buying into it.
Tessa and Alan Davis, who�ve been married 18 years, have had a
number of financial ups and downs--some the result of raising three
kids, others on account of a recession, but many because they spent
money they really didn�t have. They signed up for the PREP
seminar because they�d tried the speak-listener approach after
hearing about it from a marriage counselor, and liked it. "It
actually saved us money," Tessa notes, by revealing their
Here�s how they replay one conversation:
"I was thinking about how we�re probably getting ready to buy a
new car. I was thinking about how we�ll budget it in," Tessa
says to Alan, before handing over the floor.
"you�re telling me you�re concerned about how we�ll afford a new
car," he echoes. "But the thing is, I don�t really care about
having a new car." He handed the magnet back.
"You�re telling me that you don�t care about having a new car?"
Tessa repeats. She sounds stunned. "I thought you
did. I don�t care either. I need to have a good
reliable car, but it doesn�t have to be new!"
By the end of the conversation both are laughing. Recently
they�d been thinking about buying a bigger, newer house.
Again, he thought she was set on it, and she thought it was
important to him. Now they�ve decided to stay in their
smaller home, save for college, travel and, says Tessa, "have a
life." What PREP does for them, it seems, is give them a way
to rediscover that they actually agree about finances.