Connecting Families: A Relationship Enhancement Program

and researched a couple
communication enhancement program, The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement
Program (PREP) that has received national prominence.
Following this overview of the curriculum’s research base, are research briefs that provide
more details about research that has been used in the curriculum’s development. These
individual briefs provide the references that have been used to develop each brief and
impact the curriculum’s development.
Cognitive Distancing Cascade
to the Negative
Recasting the
Marital History
Emotional Distancing
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Communication Based Relationship 57 2004
Enhancement Program
Communication Based Relationship Enhancement Program
Within the marriage counseling community debate over what are the skills that couples
need to have successful relationship is on-going. One of the strongest voices that support
the position that communication skills are key to martial success is the founders of The
Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). PREP has received
extensive publicity and attention for its formalized program that teaches communication
strategies to resolve conflict.
The basic premise of PREP is that couples arguments are the function of both
expectations and their ability to communicate and negotiate effectively (Markman,
Stanely, & Blumberg, 1994). Most of how individuals learn these skills is from their
experience in life with family of origin, past relationships, and the cultural context.
When destructive patterns exist, over time the presence of the partner becomes
increasingly associated with pain and frustration, not pleasure or support (Markman,
Stanley and Blumberg, 2001). As constraints keeping the relationship together weaken,
the couple weighs the cost of staying versus the cost of leaving. When the cost of leaving
outweighs that of staying, divorce occurs.
Intervention in the patterns of communication and conflict management are proposed to
rebuild the relationship. The major goals of the program are: (a) the development of
constructive communication and conflict resolution skills, (b) the clarification of
relationship beliefs and expectations, (c) enhancement of fun, friendship and spiritual
connection, (d) established and agreed upon set of ground rules for disagreements
(Markman, Stanley, & Bloomberg, 2001). The major thrust of the program is to teach
communication strategies that assist couples to talk and listen with respect and
Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Bloomberg, S. (2001). Fighting for your marriage: Positive steps
for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Bloomberg, S. (1994). Fighting for your marriage: Positive steps
for a loving and lasting relationship. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Changing American Family 58 2004
Changing American Family
Remarkable changes in family demography occurred in the United States during the last
half of the 20th Century. These changes transformed many family behaviors and
practices, especially in the areas of marriage and fertility (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2003;
Sigle-Rushton & McLanahan, 2003). Two dramatic changes occurred that affect children
and families, especially low-income families. Cohabitation became a common living
arrangement for adults and continues to increase in prevalence (Osborne, McLanahan &
Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Today, about 40 percent of all non- marital births are to mothers
living with the baby’s father, an increase from 25 percent in the 1980s (Bumpass & Lu,
2000). Even though cohabitation is a more tenuous relationship than marriage, lasting on
average only 1.3 years, about 53 percent of cohabiting unions “end” in marriage
(Bumpass & Lu, 2000). However, even for the total population, cohabitation is now the
modal path of entry into marriage (Brown, 2000). Today, in the United States there are
more than four million cohabitating couples, which is eight times the number in 1970
(U.S. Bureau of Census, 1999).
Changes in behaviors related to fertility have simultaneously been observed, alongside
declines in marriage rates. Larger numbers of children are being born to unmarried
women ages 15-44 (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2003). Most children born outside of
marriage will live below or just above the poverty line and many will spend time on
welfare (Carlson, Garfinkel, McLanahan, Mincy & Primus, 2003). Parents living a
lifetime in cohabiting households will rear many of these children (Osborne, McLanahan
& Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Children’s lives are less stable when their parent, most typically
their mother, moves from one relationship to another. For a substantial number of
children, the model of cohabitation leads to the development of gender attitudes and
marriage beliefs that influence behaviors and decision- making in adolescents and
adulthood (McGinnis, 2003; Manning & Lamb, 2003).
Those parents choosing cohabitation are most frequently younger, less educated and
minority women (Osborne, 2003). These factors alone often create obstacles for singleparent
families that predispose them to experience poverty (Bumpass & Lu, 2000).
Economic uncertainty and scarcity of economic resources increases the likelihood of
cohabitation (Seltzer, 2000). These patterns of family unions that occur more frequently
in low-income, high-stress households increase the likelihood that children will
experience living with a cohabiting parent at sometime in their formative years. In the
1970s, about 60% of cohabiters were married at the age of 25 or older; in the early 1990s
only 35% married (Bumpass, Sweet & Cherlin, 1991), increasing the trend of fewer
cohabitations ending in marriage. As the pattern of cohabitation becomes more socially
accepted, so does the number of children born within these relationships. Recognizing
that this form of adult union is not going to disappear, but most likely will increase; it
becomes critical to develop a greater understanding of these unions.
The social and economic cost of families living in poverty is staggering. The increase of
cohabitating poor families is influenced by complex factors, which is especially true of
rural poor families. These families have fewer employment opportunities available and
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Changing American Family 59 2004
limited access to human service agencies (Logan, Walker, Cole, Ratliff & Leukefeld,
2003). For some the social isolation may prevent them from engaging in activities to
increase their skills that ultimately limit them to the context in which they have “grown
up.” Efforts to strengthen the skills and change the perceptions of this population will
require the development of programs and services that are tailored to the circumstances
of poor families (Ooms, 2002). The decision to marry or cohabitate is likely influenced
by many factors that interact within the life situation of low- income individuals. Given
that these factors will not radically change for them, it is imperative to determine which
factors can be influenced by intervention.
Brown, S. (2000). Union transitions among cohabitors: The significance of relationship
assessments and expectations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, (3), 833-846.
Bumpass, L., & Lu, H. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children’s family
contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29-41.
Bumpass, L., Sweet,