PREP®: The Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program

The Current Reality:

-  Younger people in the U.S. who are marrying for the first time face roughly a 40-50% chance of divorcing in their lifetime under current trends (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992, p. 5).

-  Of  first marriages that end in divorce, many end in the first 3 to 5 years.  (As one example, for first marriages ending in divorce among women aged 25 to 29, the median length of marriage before divorce in 1990 was 3.4 years; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992, p. 4).

-  Adults and children are at increased risk for mental and physical problems due to marital distress  (e.g., Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994; Coie et al. 1993; Coyne, Kahn, & Gotlib, 1987; Cowan & Cowan, 1992; Fincham, Grych, & Osborne, 1993).

-  Mismanaged conflict and negative interaction in marriage predict both marital distress and negative effects for children (e.g., Gottman, 1994; Markman & Hahlweg, 1993; Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Cowan & Cowan, 1992; and Grych & Fincham, 1990).

-  Marital problems are associated with decreased work productivity, especially for men (e.g., Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley, & Kessler, 1996).

-  A variety of studies suggest that the seeds of marital distress and divorce are there for many couples when they say, "I Do."  These studies show that premarital (or early marital) variables can differentiate between couples who will do well and those who will not do well with 80% up to 94% accuracy  (e.g., Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Fowers, Montel, & Olson, 1996; Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kelly & Conley, 1987; and Rogge & Bradbury, in press).

-  Married men and women in all age groups are less likely to be limited in activity (a general health index) due to illness than single, separated, divorced, or widowed individuals (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).

-  Children living with a single parent or adult report a higher prevalence of activity limitation and higher rates of disability. They are also more likely to be in fair or poor health and more likely to have been hospitalized  (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).

-  The "triple threat" of marital conflict, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births has led to a generation of U.S. children at great risk for poverty, health problems, alienation, and antisocial behavior.

Creating a Better Reality: The PREP® Approach:

PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) is one of the most comprehensive and well respected divorce-prevention/marriage strengthening programs in the world. PREP is a research-based, skills building curriculum designed to help partners say what they need to say, get to the heart of problems, avoid standoffs and connect with each other instead of pushing each other away. PREP emphasizes strategies under two crucial frameworks: strategies geared toward lowering risk factors and strategies for raising protective factors to help marriages succeed. This powerful approach is designed for premarital or marital couples, whether distressed or non-distressed.

PREP is not therapy. It is education. It is coaching very much like learning to play tennis or golf. There are many ways couples can learn PREP�s un-common sense approach. Couples can learn on their own using various PREP materials including video tapes, audio tapes, and best-selling books. Couples can also attend public workshops ranging from Weekend Workshops, to six weekly sessions two hours in length, to One-Day workshops taught by independent PREP Instructors. Couples may also be coached in the PREP approach by a private counselor,  clergy member or lay leader.

PREP�s Research Background:

PREP is the very definition of a sophisticated research-based program. Along with colleagues in Germany, Australia, Holland, the U.S., and elsewhere, Drs. Stanley and Markman have conducted numerous studies on marital success and distress.  Much of the research conducted at the University of Denver has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, which supports only the most rigorous and well controlled empirical research in the nation. The word "empirical" means that these researchers actually observed real couples over many years and compared them to similar couples who did not get the PREP education. Couples have discussed issues while being video-taped and the researchers have analyzed hundreds of hours of these videotapes. The researchers use complex coding systems to identify and categorize different aspects of the couples conversations, and they have tracked the couples in what is known as the largest longitudinal study of its kind. As a result of all this, the researchers (as well as others around the world) have been isolating risk factors that can make a real difference in whether a marriage will be happy or not.

The story doesn�t end there. The strategies of PREP are not only based on empirical research, PREP has been empirically tested to see if it actually works. In addition to studies spearheaded by Markman, Stanley, and colleagues at the University of Denver, other studies in the U.S. and abroad add to a growing base of knowledge about how couples benefit (or not) from variations of the program. These studies include research in Germany (Kurt Hahlweg et al.), Australia (Kim Halford et al.), Holland (Brigit van Widenfelt et al.), and in the U.S. (e.g., Blumberg and McCain; Trathen and Stanley; Sullivan; Schilling & Baucom; and Saiz).  Many studies find that couples not only like PREP, but they benefit significantly:

- PREP couples have lower rates of premarital break-up and post marital divorce.

In a large scale study in Denver, PREP couples as compared to control couples had 1/3 the likelihood of breaking up, through 5 years following the program (combining premarital and post-marital break up).  In a recent study in Germany, 3% of the PREP couples had divorced at a 5 year follow up while 16% of couples who received traditional pre-marital counseling (or no pre-marital counseling) had divorced.

-  PREP couples have shown, in one major long term study, a greater likelihood of maintaining relationship satisfaction following training.

-  PREP couples have lower levels of negative communication and higher levels of positive communication immediately following the program, and maintain these advantages up to 5 years later.  (Based on studies in the U.S., Germany, and Australia)

-  PREP couples have reported lower levels of physical aggression in the years after taking the program.

-  PREP couples enjoy taking the program because of the "hands on" skill oriented nature of the material with PREP couples reporting greater program satisfaction than couples taking other programs offered to couples.

-  Premarital couples taking PREP given by clergy or lay leaders in their religious organization (as well as when given by university staff) communicate more positively and less negatively following training compared to couples taking more typical premarital training in their religious organizations.

It is important to note that many couples appear to benefit from PREP as long as 4 or 5 years after the training.  Beyond that, the effects probably weaken over time, so we believe it�s a good idea for couples to review the material from time to time. Not all of the studies have found such dramatic results. In two out of seven of the major studies on PREP, couples did not seem to gain as much as we would like from the program. We don�t pretend to know everything there is to know about marriage. Frankly, we believe the beauty of love is a mystery. But, if two people have committed to love each other, then we believe we can help that couple reach their goal.

Over the past twenty-five years our research has been scrutinized and highly acclaimed. While other research-based programs exist (notably Couples Communication, Relationship Enhancement, and PREPARE), we know of no other program that has been empirically tested to the same degree in long-term, well-controlled, scientific investigations. In fact, the PREP program was included in the Institute of Medicine report released in January, 1994, Frontiers for Preventive Intervention Research, a report which singled out the most promising, empirically based approaches to prevention currently available in various domains.

The bottom line is this: The PREP program is one you can trust. As one PREP couple said, "No program is perfect, but this one is darned close!"

PREP�s Founders:

Howard J. Markman, Ph.D. and Scott M. Stanley, Ph.D. are world renowned for their ability to translate complex research findings into practical, powerful programs which help couples achieve results they never thought possible. From Norway to Australia to China, they serve as consultants to leaders and couples alike. From public policy debates to private practice, from religious to governmental issues, Stanley and Markman are recognized as voices to heed.

Dr. Markman  is a professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He is widely published in academic journals and internationally known for his work on the prediction and prevention of divorce and marital distress.  He has often appeared in broadcast and print media, including segments about PREP on 20/20, Oprah, and 48 Hours.  Along with his colleagues, he has co-authored the books We Can Work It Out: Making Sense of Marital Conflict , Fighting for Your Marriage, Becoming Parents, and Fighting for Your Jewish Marriage.

Dr. Stanley is co-Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies and an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Denver.  He is internationally known for his work on the PREP as well as research and theory on marital commitment. He has published widely--both research reports as well as writings for couples.  Along with Dr. Howard Markman and colleagues, Dr. Stanley is currently conducting NIMH funded research on the effects of premarital training. Dr. Stanley has co-authored the books Fighting for Your Marriage, A Lasting Promise, and Becoming Parents, and is the author of The Heart of Commitment.

World Wide Reach:

Though PREP continues to move forward with its cutting edge research, PREP is determined to move beyond academia to influence society at large.  PREP has formed vehicles (e.g., PREP, Inc.) for the dissemination of training and resources based on PREP and empirical marital research. These efforts are spearheaded by Natalie Jenkins, vice president of PREP, Inc.

Since 1989, PREP has been actively training clergy, mental health professionals and lay leaders around the world. To date PREP has trained 3,915 individuals to become PREP Instructors in 28 countries.

PREP Instructors are positioned in:

Columbia, South America
Hong Kong
New Zealand
Northern Ireland
Puerto Rico
Saudi Arabia
So. Africa
United States

PREP has reached couples in 52 countries:

Hong Kong
New Zealand
Northern Ireland
Papua New Guinea
Puerto Rico
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Virgin Islands

PREP has been privileged to have served the men and women of the United States Armed Services since 1990. PREP has been awarded numerous contracts to conduct trainings for the Air Force, Army, Marines & Navy.  Scores of chaplains and social workers in all branches of the armed forces have been trained to deliver the program to military couples.  Further, we are currently engaged in a large program evaluation project with the U.S. Army. At this point in time, nearly all incoming chaplains in the Navy and the Army receive training in PREP.

PREP has both secular and religious programs so it has the capacity to reach individuals in various segments of society. We have extensive experience in dissemination and in reaching entire communities with our program. For example, we have a large-scale project permeating the entire country of Norway.

Wide Spread Media Attention:

Because of PREP's strong empirical base, and the ability of our team to effectively communicate important research findings to the public, the media has taken great interest in our work.  For example, the underlying research, or the program itself has been featured on 20/20, 48 Hours, Oprah, CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Jim Bohannon Show, and others.  Print media has included coverage in such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Health Magazine, Redbook, Psychology Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, Men's Health, Parade Magazine, and others. Over the last few years, PREP or one of the founders has been quoted in over 300 media articles. This public relations attention provides a means of building credibility with couples and often fosters interest in participation in the program.

The PREP Advantage:

PREP offers these advantages over the competition in general:

1) Empirically Based.  PREP is a program thoroughly based throughout on empirical research--both in terms of the derivation of content and in the testing of effectiveness.  That means that PREP is empirically informed and empirically tested. We know of no competitor, which has the same degree of scientific basis.  Surely we need to know more over time about what kinds of couples respond best to what kinds of programs. Through ongoing research programs by the developers of PREP as well as others around the world, we are assembling such a knowledge base to help guide future developments and opportunities.

2) Comprehensive Coverage of Important Relationship Dimensions.  As mentioned, PREP covers a wider range of strategies and techniques across a spectrum of important areas of marital and relationship functioning.  While various products in the market focus well on specific areas, PREP is focused on helping couples lower risks and raise protective factors in a wide range of domains which are critical for relationship functioning.

3) Extensive Experience in Dissemination. PREP has been a pioneer in bringing Marriage Education out of the research lab and placing it in the hands of couples. Recognizing the need to adapt to individual program needs, PREP has developed flexible and adaptable formats.

Brief Publication List:

Key Books
All authored or co-authored by Dr. Howard Markman and/or Dr. Scott Stanley.

-  We Can Work It Out: Making Sense of Marital Conflict (Putnam and Berkley editions, 1993)

-  Fighting for Your Marriage:  Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and  Preserving a Lasting Love (Jossey Bass/Wiley) (1994)
Translated (or in progress) into:  Spanish (Latin American Edition and a edition to be published in Spain), Chinese, Finnish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portuguese

-  Clinical Handbook of Marriage and Couples Interaction (Wiley, 1997)

-  A Lasting Promise:  A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage
(Jossey-Bass, 1998)

-  The Heart of Commitment:  Compelling Research that reveals the secrets of a life long, intimate marriage (Thomas Nelson Press, 1998)

-  Becoming Parents:  How to strengthen your marriage as your family grows (Jossey-Bass, 1999)

-  Fighting for Your Empty Nest Marriage (Jossey-Bass,  2000)

-  Fighting for Your Jewish Marriage  (Jossey-Bass,  2000)

-  Fighting for Your African-American Marriage (Jossey-Bass, publication date, 2001)

-  Why do fools fall in Love?:  The Magic, Mystery and Meaning of Love (Jossey Bass/Wiley, 2001)

Sampling of Scholarly Articles:

Behrens, B., & Halford, K. (1994, August).  Advances in the prevention and treatment of marital distress.  Paper presented at the "Helping Families Change" Conference, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
Floyd, F., Markman, H., Kelly, S., Blumberg, S., & Stanley, S.  (1996).  Prevention:  Conceptual, Research, and Clinical Issues.  In N. Jacobson & A. Gurman (Eds.), Handbook of Marital Therapy, (second edition).
Forthofer, M. S., Markman, H. J., Cox, M., Stanley, S., & Kessler, R. C. (1996). Associations between marital distress and work loss in a national sample.  Journal of Marriage and Family, 58, 597-605.
Hahlweg, K., Markman, H.J., Thurmaier, F., Engl, J., & Eckert, V. (1998). Prevention of marital distress: Results of a German prospective longitudinal study. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 543-556.
Halford & H. J. Markman (1997). Clinical handbook of marriage and couples intervention. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Markman, H.J. (1981).  The prediction of marital distress:  a five year follow-up.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 49, 760-762.
Markman, H., Floyd, F., Stanley, S. & Jamieson, K. (1984).  A Cognitive-Behavioral Program for the Prevention of Marital and Family Distress:  Issues in Program Development and Delivery.  In K. Hahlweg & N. Jacobson (eds), Marital Interaction.  NY, NY: The Guilford Press.
Markman, H., Floyd, F., Stanley, S. & Storaasli, R. (1988).  The Prevention of Marital Distress: A Longitudinal Investigation.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 210-217.
Markman, H.J., & Hahlweg, K. (1993). The prediction and prevention of marital distress: An international perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 13, 29-43.
Markman, H. J., Halford, W. K., & Cordova, A. D. (1997). A grand tour of future directions in the study and  promotion of healthy relationships. In W. Halford & H. Markman (Eds.), Clinical handbook of marriage and couples interventions. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Markman, H.J., Renick, M.J., Floyd, F., Stanley, S., & Clements, M. (1993). Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management training: A four and five year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 1-8.
Renick, M. J., Blumberg, S., & Markman, H. J. (1992). The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP): An empirically-based preventive intervention program for couples. Family Relations, 41, 141-14.
Stanley, S.M. (In press).  Making the Case for Premarital Training. Family Relations.
Stanley, S.M. (1997).  What�s important in premarital counseling?  Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal, 1, 51-60.
Stanley, S.M., Blumberg, S.L., & Markman, H.J.  (1999).  Helping Couples Fight for Their Marriages: The PREP Approach.  In R. Berger & M. Hannah, (Eds.), Handbook of preventive approaches in couple therapy.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Stanley, S. M., Bradbury, T.N., & Markman, H.J.  (2000).  Structural flaws in the bridge from basic research on marriage to interventions for couples: Illustrations from Gottman, Coan, Carrere, and Swanson (1998).  Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(1), 256-264.
Stanley, S.M., Lobitz, W.C., & Dickson, F. (1999). Using what we know: Commitment and cognitions in marital therapy.  In W. Jones & J. Adams (Eds), Handbook of interpersonal commitment and relationship stability.  New York: Plenum.  pp. 411-424.
Stanley, S.M. & Markman, H.J. (1992).  Assessing commitment in personal relationships.  Journal of Marriage and The Family, 54, 595-608.
Stanley, S.M., & Markman, H.J.  (1998).  Acting on what we know: The hope of prevention.  In Strategies to strengthen marriage: What we know, what we need to know. Washington D.C.: The Family Impact Seminar.
Stanley, S.M., Markman, H.J., Prado, L.M., Olmos-Gallo, P.A., Tonelli, L., St. Peters, M.,  Leber, B.D., Bobulinski, M., Cordova,  A.,  &  Whitton, S.  (2001).  Community Based Premarital Prevention:  Clergy and Lay Leaders on the Front Lines . Family Relations,50, 67-76.
Stanley, S.M., Markman, H.J., St. Peters, M., & Leber, D.  (1995)  Strengthening Marriages and Preventing Divorce: New Directions in Prevention Research. Family Relations, 44, 392-401.
Whitton, S. W. , Stanley, S. M. & Markman, H. J. (in press). Sacrifice in romantic relationships: An exploration of relevant research and theory. In Reiss, H.T., Fitzpatrick, M. A., Vangelisti, A. L. (Eds), Stability and Change in Relationship Behavior across the Lifespan. Cambridge University Press.

How To Reach PREP:

PREP, Inc. is a company formed by Dr. Howard Markman and Dr. Scott Stanley to provide a vehicle for the dissemination of training and products based on PREP and empirical marital research. Visit PREP�s website at  Or, you can reach PREP, Inc. by calling 800-366-0166 (303-759-9931 in Denver) or by writing to:

   PREP, Inc.
   P.O. Box 102530
   Denver, Colorado 80250-2530

You can write to the research team about research on PREP at the University of Denver at this address:
Dr. Howard J. Markman or Dr. Scott M. Stanley
 Department of Psychology
 Frontier Hall
 2155 S. Race St.
 University of Denver
 Denver, Colorado  80208

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