.How a Refrigerator Magnet Saved My Marriage
The PREP Program: A First Person Account

I am a media critic for the website Epinions.com.  Under the pen name
"Grouch," I regularly review movies and books.  This past weekend, I had the
extreme pleasure of participating in a PREP workshop and, as a result, I
decided to write a review of "Fighting For Your Marriage" at the Epinions
website.  The review (which is also a testimonial of sorts) is called "How a
Refrigerator Magnet Saved My Marriage" and can be found at this URL:
http://www.epinions.com/content_19384602244.  I can only hope I've done this
outstanding program justice.
David Abrams

How a Refrigerator Magnet Saved My Marriage
 by Grouch | Apr 24 '01

Pros: Gives couples specific tools to work on communication and

Cons: Some couples won't even open the toolbox

The Bottom Line:
This is the kind of clear, concise self-help book that will even appeal to
those who are allergic to "touchy-feely" pop psychology. Recommended: Yes

A refrigerator magnet saved my marriage.

Sounds like a supermarket tabloid headline, doesn1t it? But, in my case,
it1s true. A four-inch-square rubbery magnet printed with the words 3Speaker
Listener Technique2 was the best thing to happen in my marriage in a long

Maybe 3save2 is the wrong wordÐ3strengthen2 is more like it.

I received the magnet when I went to a marriage enrichment class with Jean,
my wife of 17 years. The class was the first step in our journey through the
Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program.

The program is built around the principles outlined in Fighting For Your
Marriage, a 1994 book written by Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan L.
Blumberg. Subtitled 3Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and Preserving a
Lasting Love,2 the book is like an owner1s manual for marital bliss and
should be required reading for all couples. I say, put it in every honeymoon
suite at Niagara Falls and watch what happens.

Born out of research conducted at the University of Denver in the early
1990s, Fighting For Your Marriage helps couples establish ground rules for
communication (passing a magnet back and forth is just one wrench in this
toolbox). It includes the usual self-help buzzwords (commitment,
forgiveness, togethernessSand so on), but it livens things up with cartoons,
case studies, quizzes and practical exercises that both partners can take.
Even for guys like me who are allergic to self-help 3empowerment2 books,
there1s something to glean from these pages.

And for me, the book1s lessons were magnified during our weekend marriage
retreat. Even though I1ll be discussing a particular place at a particular
time, you1ll get much of the same benefit just by reading Fighting For Your

For Jean and me, PREP (as in 3prepare to improve your marriage2) culminated
in a weekend retreat at Alaska1s Seward Resort, a cozy camp nestled in a
grove of pine trees. Two miles down the road is the equally-cozy town of
Seward, best known for its halibut fishing charters in the summer and the
legendary Polar Bear Jump where brave-hearted souls leap into the icy waters
of Resurrection Bay in mid-January.

And now, my wife and I were about to take the plunge into the dark, frigid
waters of communication, emotional intimacy, conflict resolutionSand other
touchy-feely topics normally reserved for Oprah episodes. I was both scared
and perversely excited at the thought of diving into those ice-cube areas of
our marriage.

I realize not everyone can come to Alaska and duplicate the experience I had
this past weekendÐfor some people, that1s the same as saying, 3Pack your
bags, Ethel! We1re going to Oz!2 But you don1t need to come north to the
49th state to tap into the marrow of your marriage. Surely there are plenty
of family advocacy resources in your community. Check the yellow pages, call
up your local clergy, go scouting on the InternetÐwhatever. Just do
something. If you feel like you1re treading water (or, worse, drowning) in
your relationship, and if you think that relationship is worth saving, then
you owe it to yourself to get off your butt and start looking for
assistance. Buying this book is a good first step. Reading the first
sentence in the book (3Good marriages take work2) is a good second step.
Remember, this is coming from a man who sat idle on his butt for 17 years.

The phrase 3marriage retreat2 is actually a misnomer. You1re running toward
something, not away from it. Granted, there is the fact that you1re 3getting
away from it all2 for a few days. In our case, 3it2 meant three teenage
children, the always-on television, and the click-and-whir of the Internet.
Jean and I 3deserved a break today.2 And so, we 3retreated2 to a quieter
corner of Alaska.

Seward1s landscape comes complete with aqua-blue glaciers, seals bobbing in
the harbor and moose munching willows along the side of the road. All those
gorgeous sights surrounded us during our three days in south-central
AlaskaSbut they were strictly in my peripheral vision. Corny as it may
sound, I only had eyes for my wife. I was there to concentrate on learning
better communication skills (I can write until the cows come home, but when
it comes to verbal expression, I1m completely tongue-tied), and by gum the
Kodak moments outside the resort windows could just wait until I learned
those skills.

Most couples, when they hear the words 3prevention2 or 3enrichment,2
immediately think of marriages that are at the crisis stage. Not so with
Jean and me.

We1re a happily-married couple whose relationship has the typical bumps and
thumps of modern life: she says I spent too much time on the Internet, I say
she watches too much TV; she gets jealous and paranoid when I go away on
business trips, I cannot understand why she doesn1t trust my feelings for
her; she likes Ricky Martin, I like opera. It1s a typical marriage: a little
bit Ozzie and Harriet, a little bit Waltons, a little bit Simpsons.

We1d come a long way since our first date when we went to see Flashdance
back in 1983. We1ve had ups and plenty of downs, but mostly it1s been the
day-to-day in-betweensÐyou know, the kind of life that just keeps throbbing
along like an outboard motor. Lately, our relationship was starting to make
a strange sputtering sound. When I got home from work, my wife would be all
ready to start talking about her day, a day mostly spent cooped up in our
Army family housing quarters. My mind spinning like a carnival Tilt-o-Whirl
with my own day1s activities, I1d make empathetic sounds, my head bobbing up
and down like one of those toy dogs you see in the back windows of cars. I
heard what she said, I just didn1t always process the information.

Like the authors of Fighting For Your Marriage write: 3What starts out as a
relationship of great joy and promise can become the most frustrating and
painful endeavor in a person1s lifetime.2

I realized it was time to take our marriage motor in for a tune-up.

And that1s how Jean and I found ourselves passing a large refrigerator
magnet back and forth at Seward Resort.

Rules for the Speaker: don1t mindread, keep statements brief. Rules for the
Listener: let the speaker talk, then paraphrase what you1ve heard.

One partner holds the magnet and speaks, while the other person listens,
keeping their lips zipped and their ears cocked open. It1s a simple tool,
but one that1s as powerful as a hand grenade. I found myself paying
attentionÐreally paying attentionÐto every word dropping from Jean1s lips.
Listening, then repeating, helped me focus on what she was saying; for her
part, the technique reassured her that I was absorbing her words like a

We came to Seward Resort with a dozen other couples, all of them there in
the glacial shadow of Mount Marathon to roll up their sleeves, spit on their
hands, and get down to work. The marriages ranged from one month (an
all-too-giddy couple) to 17 years (us). Every one of these relationships had
different expectations, different goals. Some wives wanted husbands to be
more involved in family activities; some husbands wished their wives would
learn how to accept compliments.

All of us wanted to identify and deal with conflicts, none of us wanted to
end up a statistic (according to the latest, albeit fuzzy, figures: 50
percent of first marriages, and 70 percent of second marriages, end in

3Verbalize your expectations,2 said Karen, one of the retreat facilitators.
3Unmet expectations are the number-one conflict in marriages,2 she added.

In the book, the authors write: 1. Be aware of what you expect 2. Be
reasonable in what you expect 3. Be clear in what you expect

Now it was my wife1s turn to nod her head in understanding. By the way, my
pet nickname for her is 3Mindreader2 (as in, Me: 3How was I to know that you
needed me to pick up some more Sure I1m Dry deodorant while I was at the
grocery store?2 Her: 3I just figured you noticed that I was out and I
expected you to buy some for me. Sheesh!2).

Later, PascalÐanother of the retreat facilitatorsÐexplained how one partner
(usually the wife) pursues, while the other spouse avoids or withdraws from

3Getting him to talk to me is difficult sometimes,2 said one wife sitting at
the tables grouped in a horseshoe. 3He1ll tell me about his day and I1ll
tell him about mine, but sometimes it seems like we1re talking in foreign
languages. How do I get him to open up?2

>From where he sat next to her, arms crossed and head bobbing like a
rear-window doggie, the husband said, 3It1s definitely something we need to
work on.2

They1re not alone. According to Fighting For Your Marriage, 3Many couples do
this kind of dance when it comes to dealing with difficult issues.2

Among the many other topics of discussion at PREP are Resolving Religious
Conflicts, Intimacy Issues and something called 3Negative Communication and
Constructive Griping2Ða class which, Pascal said, 3Helps us own our feelings
by being specific. If the other person knows how you feel, that1s a
motivator for constructive communication.2

Recognizing there1s a need for conflict resolution is the first step couples
attending a marriage retreat usually take. 3You have to realize it1s no
longer 50-50 in a marriageÐit1s 100-100,2 Pascal told our group just before
we broke into pairs to work on practical exercisesÐquestionnaires which
required them to answer and discuss hot-button issues: 3During problem
discussions, my stomach often feels as if it1s all tied up in knots2 (True,
I scribbled), 3I often sit and stare at my partner, not saying anything2
(True, I jotted, then peeked at Jean1s paperÐshe, of course, had marked
False for that one).

If nothing else, after a weekend retreat like this or reading a book like
Fighting For Your Marriage, you1ll know exactly how to rate your
relationship on a scale of one to 10.

PREP is designed to get couples talking to one another. Men and women who
entered the room in the morning barely looking at each other are, by the end
of the second break, chattering with the romantic energy of high school

The retreat also gives husbands and wives plenty of time for walks along the
beach or an intimate dinner at one of the harbor-front restaurants (I highly
recommend the Chocolate Praline Fantasy at Ray1s). For many hard-working
couples, it1s a much-needed second honeymoon. I1d always promised Jean I1d
take her to ParisSbut now we realized Seward, Alaska would have to do.

And a curious thing started happening between the Mindreader and the Stoic
during this weekend: we really started to hone in on each other. Away from
the buzzing distractions of our everyday world, we found ourselves looking
deeper into each other's eyes and really hanging on every word of every
conversation. If this was a romantic movie, this is where they'd start
playing the sappy music.

3Your relationship will never be the same as it was before you came down
here this weekend,2 Karen said as PREP came to a close.

Every time I pass our refrigerator and see that big magnet, I1m inclined to
agree with her.

PREP, Inc.

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