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 loosened up.

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 get burned."

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 priorities.

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.

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