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

Chapter 4

Back off or Fire back?


Harry Benson’s study of bad habits in 236 parents attending post-natal clinics in the UK draws heavily on the theories espoused by the Denver group, in particular commitment theory and the principle of “sliding or deciding”.

Current UK studies show that during the first few years of parenthood unmarried couples are twice as likely to split up compared to married couples of similar age, income, education and ethnic group. Benson’s study looks at the distribution of negative behaviours that predict stability to see how and whether parents differ. These negative behaviours or bad habits are described as STOP signs: S=Score points; T=Think the worst; O=Opt out; P=Put down.

The findings in this study are striking. In terms of use of each individual bad habit, parents differ by gender but not by marital status. For example, mothers are more likely to ‘score points’ more whereas fathers are more likely to ‘opt out’, highlighting the gender-specific nature of the wife-demand—husband-withdraw phenomenon. However mothers score points and fathers opt out similarly, regardless of their marital status.

Nevertheless in terms of the way couples interact, two specific complex patterns of negative behaviour are found more often amongst unmarried parents than married parents. One half of unmarried parents, compared to one quarter of married parents, either “back off” – where both parents opt out - or “fire back” – where fathers put down and mothers think the worst and either score points or put down.

Benson argues that these combinations of behaviours are consistent with the nature of a relationship where fathers are less committed and mothers are less secure. These new findings point the way to further investigation of the links between commitment, security, behaviour and stability.

For relationship educators, the study also highlights the utility of a short relationship intervention applied in antenatal and postnatal groups. Almost all parents in the study report that they found the one hour “Let’s Stick Together” programme useful. Best of all, regardless of whether married or cohabiting, two thirds of mothers in the “back off” or “fire back” categories report that they are likely to change their behaviour as a result of recognising their own STOP signs.