What works in Relationship Education?

Lessons from Academics and Service Deliverers in the United States and Europe


Chapter descriptions


From the editors




Relationship education

Pre-relationship Education

Cohabitation and relationship education

Singles and other cultures

Challenges facing educators


Early interventions

Coping with stress

Screening distressed couples

Case study "The Marriage Course"


United States




chapter Downloads


From the editors




Stanley & Rhoades

Rhoades & Stanley


Markman et al




Widmer & Bodenmann

Snyder et al

Lee & Lee






Referencing these chapters


The editors

Harry Benson

After careers as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot and then businessman in Asia, Harry Benson is now one of the UK’s leading champions of marriage and relationship education. His charity Bristol Community Family Trust runs relationship and parenting courses for 1,000 people a year including engaged couples, new parents, and prison couples. Harry has personally run over 300 relationship courses and has written two new programmes and a book, Mentoring Marriages. His one hour relationship programme Let’s Stick Together, designed for use in health clinics, is already reaching one third of all new mothers in the Bristol area and is now being made more widely available. Harry’s work also extends into UK family research and policy. He has produced two groundbreaking research papers on family breakdown and marital status, both of which made front-page news. Last year he completed 18 months as deputy chairman of the independent group submitting family policy proposals to the Conservative party. Harry and his wife Kate went to the very brink of divorce fourteen years ago. Now thriving after 23 years of married life together, they have six lovely children aged from six to eighteen. He reckons they must be doing something right. He can be contacted on:

Samantha Callan

Samantha Callan, PhD, is a research and policy consultant who has worked with voluntary sector organisations, international family agencies and all three main UK political parties. She is also an honorary research fellow at Edinburgh University and is engaged in primary research into long-term marriage and committed relationships, a subject about which she frequently presents at national and international conferences. Working from a background in Social Anthropology and Islamic Studies, she holds Masters degrees from the Universities of Cambridge and Nottingham and a PhD from the University of Loughborough. She headed up the family breakdown work of the Social Justice Policy Group, which published Breakthrough Britain: Ending the costs of social breakdown in 2007. She also chaired the Centre for Social Justice’s Early Years Commission and Family Law Review before taking up the position of Family and Society Policy Specialist in the Leader of the Opposition’s policy unit. She can be contacted at:



The Authors

Scott Stanley

Scott Stanley, PhD, is a research professor and codirector of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely in terms of journal articles and book chapters, with research interests including commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors for divorce, the prevention of marital distress, and couple development. Along with Dr Howard Markman and colleagues, he has been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) for over 25 years. Stanley and Markman are currently engaged in a long-term study of the effectiveness of PREP disseminated in the community, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). They are also conducting a large, randomised trial of a variant of PREP in the US Army, also funded by NICHD; and Stanley, Galena Rhoades, and Howard Markman are conducting a longitudinal study of cohabitation and couple development, funded by NICHD.Stanley has authored or co-authored various books including Fighting for Your Marriage and The Power of Commitment. He is a founder of PREP and co-author of Within Our Reach, an experiential- based curriculum for couples, and Within My Reach, an experiential-based curriculum for individuals. He can be contacted on:

Galena Kline Rhoades

Galena Kline Rhoades, PhD, is a Senior Researcher for the Center for Marital and Family Studies in the Psychology Department at the University of Denver. Her research programme focuses on romantic relationship development and functioning, and the related implications for children and adults. Her research projects and collaborations to date include studies of cohabitation, mechanisms of change in couple interventions, infidelity, spouses’ perceptions of one another, relationship processes and psychopathology, as well as adolescent adjustment. She is currently working with Scott Stanley and Howard Markman on several federally-funded investigations, one focused on measuring and modelling early relationship development (funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development; NICHD) and three other studies on the effectiveness of relationship education (funded by NICHD and the Administration for Children and Families). In addition to conducting research, she has a longstanding interest in the policy implications of family research. She consults for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center and collaborates with PREP Inc. in the development of empirically-based relationship education programmes including Within My Reach, a curriculum aimed at helping individuals make healthy and safe relationship choices for themselves and their children, and Within Our Reach, a related programme for couples. She also teaches graduate-level courses in psychology, supervises doctoral students on their therapy cases, and is a practicing psychotherapist. Dr Rhoades received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Denver in 2007. She is the author or co-author of more than 25 published papers and book chapters. She can be contacted on:

Howard J. Markman

Howard J. Markman, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology of the University of Denver and Co- Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies. He is the leading researcher in the prediction and prevention of marital distress and divorce and in research-based relationship and marriage education and intervention programmes. He is the co-founder of the internationally known PREP programme (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) and Love Your Relationship Couples Retreats, and has co-authored over 125 articles and 10 books including We Can Work It Out, 12 Hours to a Great Marriage and the best seller, Fighting For Your Marriage. He has received many awards and honours including the 2008 Distinguished Contributions to Family Therapy Research Award (from AFTA) and the 2007 University of Denver Distinguished Scholar Award. He is often featured as an expert on marriage and divorce in the media, including Oprah, The Today Show, NY Times, Time Magazine, Washington Post and USA Today. He also has a practice in couples therapy and offers Love Your Relationship workshops for couples. He can be contacted on:

Brian D. Doss

Brian D. Doss, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University. He received his doctoral degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2004. His programme of research seeks to further our understanding of research-based couple interventions and apply these findings to intervene with couples in more flexible ways. Within this broader framework, his research has three specific aims: to elucidate how and why couples seek help for their relationship, identify mechanisms of couple interventions, and develop and evaluate alternative ways to intervene with couples. Dr. Doss has been funded by the National Institute of Health (USA) to investigate mechanisms of change in marital therapy and to develop and test two new interventions for couples having their first child. He can be contacted at:

Penny Mansfield

Director of One Plus One Marriage and Partnership Research since 1996, Penny Mansfield is a sociologist, specialising in qualitative research on marriage and couple relationships and on evidence-based practice and policy. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio programmes on family issues and the author of numerous articles and books. Her previous positions include Deputy Director and Head of Research and Information at One Plus One from 1991 – 1996, and Senior Research Officer at the Marriage Research Centre at Central Middlesex Hospital in London. Penny was also the principal investigator on the Early Years Study, a study of the early years of marriage and the transition to parenthood (Mansfield, P. & Collard J. 1988 The Beginning of the Rest of Your Life Basingstoke: Macmillan) and a research officer at the University of Surrey’s Department of Sociology. She can be contacted on:

Kathrin Widmer

Kathrin Widmer, PhD, is the head of Couples Counselling and Therapy at the Department of Clinical Psychology at the University of Zurich. She was previously the coordinator of the Institute of Family Research and Counselling at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) for seven years. Her research topics are stress prevention in couples, gender issues, communication, marital therapy, and depression and close relationships. She has worked as a marital therapist since 1999, supervises trainees in the stress prevention programme PAARLIFE (also known as Couples Coping Enhancement Training, CCET), and trains psychiatrists and psychotherapists in coping-oriented marital therapy. She can be contacted on:

Douglas K. Snyder

Douglas K. Snyder, PhD, is Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology Training at Texas A&M University in College Station. He has been recognised nationally for his research on marital assessment and for his outcome research on marital therapy. He is the author of the widely-used Marital Satisfaction Inventory. He has published one of the few controlled studies comparing behavioural with non-behavioural approaches to couples therapy. A four-year follow-up study of his couples treatment research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health was recognised by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy as the Outstanding Research Contribution in 1991. Dr Snyder is co-editor of two texts on Treating Difficult Couples and Emotion Regulation in Couples and Families. He has two additional books targeting couples recovering from infidelity, including Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On, and Treating Couples Recovering from Infidelity: An Integrative Approach. Dr. Snyder received the 2005 Award from the American Psychological Association for Distinguished Contributions to Family Psychology. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in Divisions of Family Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy, and Evaluation and Measurement. Dr. Snyder has served as Editor of the Clinician’s Research Digest and as Associate Editor for the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and for the Journal of Family Psychology. In addition to his research and teaching, Dr. Snyder maintains a clinical practice emphasising couple therapy. He can be contacted at:

Nicky and Sila Lee

Nicky and Sila Lee developed The Marriage Course, a seven week course designed to help married couples build a healthy marriage that will last a lifetime, in 1996. The Marriage Course is now run in over 3,000 locations in 76 countries worldwide, reaching an audience of 95,000 couples to date. The Marriage Book, based on The Marriage Course and The Marriage Preparation Course, was published in August 2000 and has sold over 100,000 copies. More recently, they have also developed and run The Parenting Course and The Parenting Teenagers Course. Nicky and Sila live in central London and have four children, all in their 20s, two of whom are now married.

Bill Coffin

Bill Coffin, the Special Assistant for Marriage Education, joined the Administration for Children and Families (US Department of Health and Human Services) in Jan 2002. Working with the Assistant Secretary he is helping to orchestrate an important culture change, where those who marry will have better access to the knowledge and skills to form and sustain a healthy marriage. In recognition of his important contributions to this work he was awarded the 2006 Smart Marriages Impact Award. Bill spent most of the previous three decades working for the Navy, initially on active duty and then as a civilian in the Navy’s Family Support Program Headquarters in DC. In the early 1980s he developed Healthy Families: A Series of Workshops. One of those sessions was ‘Achieving Your Marriage Potential’ which featured the work of Dr David Mace, who along with Dr Herbert Gray and colleagues, began the National Marriage Guidance Council (now Relate) in the UK seventy years ago. In 1990 Bill initiated the first PREP training with military chaplains and social workers and continued that seminal work throughout the decade. His passion is prevention, marriage education and enrichment. Bill has served as the Marriage Preparation Coordinator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and as a consultant to the US Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family Life. He co-authored a book chapter on ‘Preventive Interventions for Couples’. Bill has Masters degrees in Human Relations and in Counselling. He has been married to Pat for almost 40 years. To learn more about the Healthy Marriage Initiative please visit: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage. He can be contacted at:

Guro Hansen Helskog

Guro Hansen Helskog is the Functioning Director of, and Professional Consultant to, the Family Relations Centre, Norway. She has a Masters degree in educational science. Her Masters thesis was part of a large research project studying the historical and cultural development of educational ideas over 250 years, from the perspective of German humanist thought. She has been at the Family Relations Centre for the last four years, where she has been the co-editor of a collection of articles about the relationship education programme PREP in Norway; a ghostwriter on a relationship education programme for families of a non-western minority background, and a co-writer on all the Norwegian PREP material. This work included contextualising PREP to fit the cultural reality in Norway. She has also done ground work for an extensive survey on divorce risk in the Norwegian Army, Marines and Air Force. Over the last two years she has been leading the development of a relationship education programme on parental cooperation after divorce. In parallel with the work at the Family Relations Centre, she has been working on a series of material on philosophical and ethical dialogue. She sees philosophical dialogue as a way of helping people develop their philosophy of life, and to create and sustain healthy relationships. She can be contacted at:

Angela Abela

Angela Abela, PhD, is senior lecturer at the University of Malta where she is Course Director of the professional Masters programme in Clinical, Counselling and Educational Psychology. She supervises doctoral students in the area of children and families. She has published on marital conflict, children and families, including those in poverty and social exclusion, and in the area of clinical supervision. She is also a practising clinical psychologist and a family therapist and supervisor. She is a clinical consultant and supervises professional teams working with children and families in government agencies. Between 2002 and 2006 she chaired the National Family Commission in Malta. Between 1998 and 2004 she held the position of President of the Maltese Psychological Association for two consecutive terms. In 2005 she was elected by fellow psychologists to sit on the Malta Psychology Profession Board, and in 2007 she was elected by fellow academics in Psychology at the University of Malta to sit on the same board. She chaired the Steering Committee to set up the Maltese Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice. Currently she is the international secretary of the same association. In 2005 she was appointed by the Council of Europe to form part of a European Working Party on Parenting Children at Risk of Social Exclusion. She has also been appointed by the Council of Europe to act as an expert in the Russian Federation where she has worked alongside Russian professionals in the area of children and families. She holds a clinical PhD in Children and Families from the Tavistock Clinic and the University of London, and a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from the Université de la Sorbonne Paris V. She can be contacted on: