PREPARE/ENRICH: What Works and What Does Not…

A recent follow-up study by Elizabeth Schilling , Donald Baucom, Charles Burnett, Elizabeth Allen and Lynelle Ragland (2003) of premarital couples participating in a relationship enhancement program, found that couples participating in the program significantly increased their communication, with both men and women increasing their positive communication and decreasing their negative communication (Altering the Course of Marriage: The Effect of PREP Communication Skills Acquisition on Couples' Risk of Becoming Maritally Distressed, Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 41–53).

What was especially interesting and encouraging was that couples with men relatively high on premarital risk factors demonstrated a greater benefit from learning to use positive communication skills. They were able to learn these positive skills, and hence it was less likely that these couples would become distressed in the future.

Unexpectedly, increases in female positive communication predicted an increased risk of distress onset for both genders. This appeared to be due to avoidance of problem discussion by some women. The authors commented that some women could be “…using the communication skills in a manner that leads to avoidance of raising concerns or expressing appropriate negative feelings”. These women appear to have incorrectly assumed that being assertive is not a positive communication skill.

Two important conclusions are stated by the authors of this study:

  • The importance of constructive engagement (helpful assertiveness) could be strengthened in preparation programs. Women might need to be encouraged to be more assertive in interacting with their male partners, differentiating between assertion and aggression.
  • Some women in a premarital preparation program might actually enter it with a good understanding of how to communicate with their partners, and the program could actually interfere with these existing skills by inadvertently and unintentionally encouraging them to become less constructively engaging. That is, by replacing assertiveness with avoidance on the assumption that this is a more positive form of communication.
  • The authors commented that sometimes “…interventionists must be cautioned, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it’, at least with women”.

    Recent Posts


    See all