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Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education

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The study presents findings from interviews of 52 divorced individuals who received the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) while engaged to be married. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, the study sought to understand participant reasons for divorce (including identification of the "final straw") in order to understand if the program covered these topics effectively. Participants also provided suggestions based on their premarital education experiences so as to improve future relationship education efforts. The most commonly reported major contributors to divorce were lack of commitment, infidelity, and conflict/arguing. The most common "final straw" reasons were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance use. More participants blamed their partners than blamed themselves for the divorce. Recommendations from participants for the improvement of premarital education included receiving relationship education before making a commitment to marry (when it would be easier to break-up), having support for implementing skills outside of the educational setting, and increasing content about the stages of typical marital development. These results provide new insights into the timing and content of premarital and relationship education.
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Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention:
Implications for Improving Relationship Education
Shelby B. Scott, Galena K. Rhoades,
and Scott M. Stanley
University of Denver
Elizabeth S. Allen
University of Colorado – Denver
Howard J. Markman
University of Denver
The study presents findings from interviews of 52 divorced individuals who received the
Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) while engaged to be married.
Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, the study sought to understand participant
reasons for divorce (including identification of the “final straw”) to understand whether the
program covered these topics effectively. Participants also provided suggestions based on
their premarital education experiences so as to improve future relationship education
efforts. The most commonly reported major contributors to divorce were lack of commit-
ment, infidelity, and conflict/arguing. The most common “final straw” reasons were
infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse. More participants blamed their partners
than blamed themselves for the divorce. Recommendations from participants for the
improvement of premarital education included receiving relationship education before
making a commitment to marry (when it would be easier to breakup), having support for
implementing skills outside of the educational setting, and increasing content about the
stages of typical marital development. These results provide new insights into the timing
and content of premarital and relationship education.
Keywords: divorce, relationship education, couples, premarital, prevention
Divorced individuals, compared with their mar-
ried counterparts, have higher levels of psycho-
logical distress, substance abuse, and depression,
as well as lower levels of overall health (Amato,
2000;Hughes & Waite, 2009). Marital conflict
and divorce have also shown to be associated with
negative child outcomes including lower aca-
demic success (Frisco, Muller, & Frank, 2007;
Sun & Li, 2001), poorer psychological well-being
(Sun & Li, 2002), and increased depression and
anxiety (Strohschein, 2005). Given these negative
outcomes of marital conflict and divorce, the over-
arching goal of premarital relationship education
has been to provide couples with skills to have
healthy marriages.
The Prevention and Relationship Enhance-
ment Program (PREP; Markman, Stanley, &
Blumberg, 2010) focuses on teaching appro-
priate communication and conflict skills, and
provides information to help couples evaluate
expectations, understand relationship com-
mitment, and enhance positive connections
through friendship and fun (Ragan, Einhorn,
Rhoades, Markman, & Stanley, 2009). Most
research indicates that compared with control
groups, PREP helps couples learn to communi-
Shelby B. Scott, Galena K. Rhoades, and Scott M. Stan-
ley, Department of Psychology, University of Denver; Eliz-
abeth S. Allen, Department of Psychology, University of
Colorado – Denver; Howard J. Markman, Department of
Psychology, University of Denver.
Scott M. Stanley and Howard J. Markman own a business
that develops, refines, disseminates, and sells the Prevention
and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). Galena K.
Rhoades has coauthored curricula that are based on PREP
and receives royalties on the sale of those curricula.
This research was supported by award number
R01HD053314 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The
content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does
not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice
Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development or National Institutes of Health.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Shelby B. Scott, Department of Psychology,
University of Denver, 2155 S. Race St., Denver, CO 80208.
E-mail: Shelby.Scott@du.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice © 2013 American Psychological Association
2013, Vol. 2, No. 2, 131–145 2160-4096/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0032025
131
cate more positively and less negatively (e.g.,
Laurenceau, Stanley, Olmos-Gallo, Baucom, &
Markman, 2004;Markman, Renick, Floyd,
Stanley, & Clements, 1993), increases satisfac-
tion, and reduces risk for divorce in the years
following the program (e.g., Hahlweg, Mark-
man, Thurmaier, Engl, & Eckert, 1998;Hahl-
weg & Richter, 2010;Markman & Hahlweg,
1993;Stanley, Allen, Markman, Rhoades, &
Prentice, 2010). A few studies have shown more
mixed or moderated results (e.g., Baucom,
Hahlweg, Atkins, Engl, & Thurmaier, 2006;
Markman, Rhoades, Stanley, & Peterson, in
press;van Widenfelt, Hosman, Schaap, & van
der Staak, 1996). In an evidence-based tradi-
tion, the growing knowledge base can and
should be used to generate insights about how to
refine future efforts (Stanley & Markman,
1998). One methodology that could improve
PREP is to interview divorced individuals who
participated in the program about their reasons
for divorce and premarital education experi-
ences to understand whether the program cov-
ered these topics effectively.
Few studies have directly examined retro-
spective reports of reasons for divorce, particu-
larly within the past two decades (see Bloom,
Niles, & Tatcher, 1985;Gigy & Kelly, 1992;
Kitson & Holmes, 1992;Thurnher, Fenn,
Melichar, & Chiriboga, 1983), and no study, to
our knowledge, has examined reasons for di-
vorce in a sample of individuals who partici-
pated in the same relationship education pro-
gram. Within a sample of divorcing parents,
Hawkins, Willoughby, and Doherty (2012b)
found that the most endorsed reasons for di-
vorce from a list of possible choices were grow-
ing apart (55%), not being able to talk together
(53%), and how one’s spouse handled money
(40%). Amato and Previti (2003) found that
when divorced individuals were asked open-
endedly to provide their reasons for divorce, the
most cited reasons were infidelity (21.6%), in-
compatibility (19.2%), and drinking or drug use
(10.6%). A statewide survey in Oklahoma
found that the most commonly checked reasons
for divorce from a list of choices were lack of
commitment (85%), too much conflict or argu-
ing (61%), and/or infidelity or extramarital af-
fairs (58%; Johnson et al., 2001). International
studies have found highly endorsed reasons for
divorce to be marrying too young, communica-
tion problems, incompatibility, spousal abuse,
drug and alcohol use, religious differences, fail-
ures to get along, lack of love, lack of commit-
ment, and childlessness, to name a few (Al
Gharaibeh & Bromfield, 2012;Mbosowo, 1994;
Savaya & Cohen, 2003,2004).
In sum, across studies some consistency exists
regarding the importance of issues such as com-
munication, incompatibility, and commitment as
reasons for divorce, whereas other issues seem to
vary across samples. Thus, it would be helpful to
understand the reasons for divorce in former
PREP participants to highlight specific areas that
the program could have addressed better and to
improve that program’s effectiveness. In addition,
no study, to our knowledge, has asked divorced
participants who all participated in the same pre-
marital program to provide suggestions for im-
proving relationship education programs based on
their own experiences in the program and consid-
ering that their marriages ended in divorce. These
results could be valuable for practitioners to con-
sider to improve the PREP model specifically and
relationship education efforts more generally. The
current study qualitatively interviewed individuals
who had completed PREP and later divorced
about their premarital education, including what
they wished would have been covered, as well as
their marital experiences, particularly regarding
their reasons for divorce. Therefore, this study
sought to understand both participants’ reasons for
divorce as well as how they thought relationship
education could have better addressed their needs.
The ultimate goal of the current study was to
provide new knowledge on potential ways to help
relationship education best prevent marital distress
and divorce.
Method
Participants
Data were collected from 52 individuals who
received PREP premaritally but subsequently di-
vorced at some point in the following 14 years.
These individuals were all initially participants of
a larger study of the effectiveness of premarital
education (N306 couples; Markman et al.,
2004;Stanley et al., 2001). All participants in the
current study either received PREP through the
religious organization that performed their wed-
dings (n24) or PREP through a university (n
28). The sample included 31 women and 21 men.
Of these, 18 men and 18 women had been married
132 SCOTT, RHOADES, STANLEY, ALLEN, AND MARKMAN
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to each other (we were unable to assess the former
spouse of the other 16 individuals). At the first
time point of the larger study (i.e., the premarital
assessment), these participants were 25.4 years
old on average (SD 6.67), with a median edu-
cation of 14 years, and median income of $20,000
to $29,999. At the time of the postdivorce inter-
view, the average age was 37.2 (SD 6.5), the
median education level was 16 years, and 32 of
the participants (61.5%) had a least one child. The
average number of years since premarital inter-
vention to the postdivorce interview was 12.2
years, and the average number of years from fi-
nalized divorce to participating in the interview
was 5.2 years. The sample was 88.2% Caucasian,
5.9% Native American, 3.9% Black, and 2.0%
Asian; one participant did not report race. In
terms of ethnicity, 84.3% of the sample iden-
tified as Non-Hispanic and 15.7% as His-
panic.
Procedure
Couples (N306) were recruited for the larger
study through the religious organizations that
would later perform their wedding services. At the
initial wave of the study in 1996, participants were
required to be planning marriage with someone of
the opposite sex and needed to participate as a
couple. As mentioned earlier, they were assigned
to either receive PREP through the religious or-
ganization that would perform their wedding,
PREP at a university, or naturally occurring ser-
vices. Throughout the duration of the larger study,
participants were asked to complete annual assess-
ments that included questionnaires and videotaped
discussions. If a participant expressed that he or
she was divorced or currently divorcing through-
out the larger study, this information was re-
corded. From 2010 to 2012, we attempted to con-
tact all divorced participants (n114 individuals)
to ask whether they would participate in the cur-
rent study. Of these individuals, we were unable to
contact 35 participants, 18 declined an invitation
to participate, and 1 participant was deceased.
Participants who divorced and had received natu-
rally occurring services (n8) were excluded
from these analyses because we could not know
exactly what premarital services they had re-
ceived. There were no significant differences be-
tween divorced individuals who participated in
this study compared with divorced individuals
who did not participate across age at marriage,
ethnicity, personal income, or relationship adjust-
ment at the premarital assessment (ps.05).
All participants completed an individual 30-
min audio-recorded interview over the phone
about their divorce and their recollections of
their premarital intervention. They received $50
for participating in this interview. All inter-
views were transcribed verbatim for analyses.
All study procedures were approved by a uni-
versity Institutional Review Board.
Measures
Reasons for divorce. Using items from a
previous survey on reasons for divorce (Johnson
et al., 2001), participants were asked to indicate
whether or not each item on a list of common
problems in relationships was a “major contrib-
utor to their divorce” (“yes” or “no”). These
items included lack of commitment, infidelity/
extramarital affairs, too much arguing or con-
flict, substance abuse, domestic violence, eco-
nomic hardship, lack of support from family
members, marrying too young, little or no pre-
marital education, and religious differences.
Qualitative feedback on progression of
divorce. If participants indicated any of the rea-
sons for divorce, they were subsequently asked to
elaborate on how this problem progressed to their
eventual divorce by the questions “Considering
the problems you were telling me such as [the
major reasons for divorce the participant listed],
how did they move from problems to actually
getting a divorce?” and “You said that [cited rea-
son] was major contributor to the divorce. Can
you tell me more about that?” We will only pres-
ent detailed results from this qualitative feedback
on reasons for divorce that were endorsed by at
least 20% of participants.
Final straw. Participants were also asked
whether there was a “final straw” to their rela-
tionship ending, and to expand on that reason if
there was one.
Who should have worked harder?
Participants were asked two questions (Johnson et
al., 2001): “Again looking back at your divorce,
do you ever wish that you, yourself, had worked
harder to save your marriage?” (with response
options of “Yes, I wish I had worked harder.” or
“No, I worked hard enough.”), and “Do you ever
wish that your spouse had worked harder to save
your marriage?” (with response options of “Yes, I
133DIVORCE AND RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
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wish my spouse had worked harder.” or “No, my
spouse worked hard enough.”).
Qualitative feedback on PREP.
Participants were asked to report and elaborate
on what they remembered, found difficult, or
wished was different about their premarital ed-
ucation experience in an open-ended format.
Example questions from the interviews include
“What do you remember about the premarital
preparation or training you and your ex-spouse
took part in?” and “Based on your experience in
a marriage that didn’t work out as you planned,
do you think there is any kind of information or
education that would have made a difference in
how things turned out?”
Analytic Approach
Both quantitative and qualitative approaches
were used to address our research questions. For
the first phase of analysis, answers were
counted for close-ended questions, such as the
list of major reasons for divorce (see Table 1)
and whether there was a “final straw” (yes or
no). For open-ended questions, we followed a
grounded-theory methodology (Creswell, 2006;
Strauss & Corbin, 1998). For the first phase of
coding, after repeated readings of the tran-
scripts, two coders, including the first author
and a research assistant from the larger project,
followed a grounded-theory methodology to
generate common themes related to partici-
pants’ recollections of their premarital educa-
tion and reasons for divorce (from open-ended
items; Creswell, 2006;Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
The two coders then met repeatedly to compare
results and to establish consistency. If the cod-
ers disagreed across codes, they discussed their
codes with the second author to come to a
conclusion. Next, axial coding was used to an-
alyze how different codes vary in order to create
specific categories of the individual codes (Cre-
swell, 2006;Strauss & Corbin, 1998). For ex-
ample, axial coding involved examining how re-
spondent reports of general themes (e.g., commu-
nication problems) varied in their presentation (e.
g., communication problems throughout the
relationship vs. communication problems only at
the end of marriage).
The final stage of coding included selective
coding in which categories were refined and
relationships between concepts were noted,
such as how reasons for divorce related to
difficulties using PREP skills. Once all codes
were determined, the first author and a new
coder, another research assistant on the proj-
ect, coded all transcripts with the established
coding system. Codes were counted for all
individuals, as well as couples as a whole
(partner agreement on the same code) and
couples in which only one partner from the
Table 1
List of Major Reasons for Divorce by Individuals and Couples Who Participated
in PREP
Reason for divorce
Individuals
(N52)
Couples
(
N36)
Couple
agreement
Lack of commitment 75.0 94.4 70.6
Infidelity or extramarital affairs 59.6 88.8 31.3
Too much conflict and arguing 57.7 72.2 53.8
Getting married too young 45.1 61.1 27.3
Financial problems 36.7 55.6 50.0
Substance abuse 34.6 50.0 33.3
Domestic violence 23.5 27.8 40.0
Health problems 18.2 27.8 25.0
Lack of support from family 17.3 27.8 20.0
Religious differences 13.3 33.3 0.0
Little or no premarital education 13.3 22.2 25.0
Note. The individuals column reflects the percentage of individuals in the total sample who
said yes to each reason. The couples column reflects the percentage of couples who had at
least one partner say yes to each reason. The couple agreement column represents how many
couples had both partners cite each reason out of the couples that had at least one partner
mention that reason.
Refers to individuals. N18 for couples.
134 SCOTT, RHOADES, STANLEY, ALLEN, AND MARKMAN
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relationship reported a specific code (partner
disagreement on the same code). The average
Cohen’s Kappa (per code) was .71 (SD .28)
and the median was .80.
Analyses are presented at the individual level
by using data from all 52 participants, as well as
at the couple level by using data from the 18
couples (n36) in which both partners com-
pleted interviews.
Results
Reasons for Divorce
Table 1 presents the “major contributors for
divorce” list. Overall, the results indicate that
the most often cited reasons for divorce at the
individual level were lack of commitment (75.
0%), infidelity (59.6%), and too much conflict
and arguing (57.7%), followed by marrying too
young (45.1%), financial problems (36.7%),
substance abuse (34.6%), and domestic vio-
lence (23.5%). Other problems, such as reli-
gious differences, were endorsed 20% of the
time. The order of these rankings was essen-
tially identical at the couple level, although
rates of endorsement increased because both
partners were reporting. The following provides
qualitative elaborations by participants on these
specific reasons for divorce.
Commitment. Results indicated that the
most common major contributing factor to di-
vorce reported by participants was lack of com-
mitment, reported by 75% of individuals and by
at least one person in 94.4% of couples. Of the
couples in which at least one partner mentioned
commitment as a problem, 70.6% represented
couples in which both partners agreed that lack
of commitment was a major reason for divorce.
Some participants reported that commitment
within their relationships gradually eroded until
there was not enough commitment to sustain the
relationship, whereas others reported more dras-
tic drops in commitment in response to negative
events, such as infidelity.
I realized it was the lack of commitment on
my part because I didn’t really feel romantic
toward him. I always had felt more still like he
was a friend to me.
It became insurmountable. It got to a point
where it seemed like he was no longer really
willing to work [on the relationship]. All of the
stresses together and then what seemed to me to
be an unwillingness to work through it any
longer was the last straw for me.
Infidelity. The next most often cited major
contributing factor to divorce was infidelity, en-
dorsed by 59.6% of individuals and by at least
one partner in 88.8% of couples. Of those cou-
ples who had at least one partner report infidel-
ity as a reason for divorce, only 31.3% repre-
sented couples in which both partners agreed
that infidelity was a major contributor to the
dissolution of their marriage. Thus, the majority
of couples with apparent infidelity in their rela-
tionships had only one partner mention it as a
contributing factor to their divorce. Overall, in-
fidelity was often cited as a critical turning point
in a deteriorating relationship.
It was the final straw when he actually ad-
mitted to cheating on me. I kind of had a feeling
about it, but, you know, I guess we all deny
[...] we never think that the person you are
married to or care about would do that to us.
He cheated on me [...] Then I met somebody
else and did the same thing. [...] And when he
found out about it we both essentially agreed
that it wasn’t worth trying to make it work
anymore because it just hurt too bad.
Conflict and arguing. Too much conflict
and arguing was endorsed by 57.7% of individ-
uals, and 72.2% of couples had at least one
partner report that conflict and arguing was a
major contributor to divorce. Of these cou-
ples, 53.8% of couples agreed that too much
conflict and arguing was a contributor to di-
vorce. Overall, participants indicated that
conflicts were not generally resolved calmly
or effectively. Respondents also reported that
such communication problems increased in
frequency and intensity throughout their mar-
riages, which at times, seemed to coincide
with lost feelings of positive connections and
mutual support. By the end of the marriage,
these respondents indicated that there was a
significant lack of effective communication.
I got frustrated of arguing too much.
We’d have an argument over something re-
ally simple and it would turn into just huge,
huge fights [...] and so our arguments never
got better they only ever got worse.
Marrying too young. Getting married too
young was reported as a major contributing
factor to divorce by 45.1% of individuals and by
at least one partner from 61.1% of couples. Both
partners mentioned this reason in 27.3% of
135DIVORCE AND RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
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these couples. Participants who endorsed this
item were an average of 23.3 years old at the
time of marriage (SD 5.5), and participants
who did not endorse this item were 29.2 (SD
6.7). In commenting about this issue, some par-
ticipants reported that they had only known
their partners for short periods of time before
their marriage and/or that they wished they had
dated their partners longer to either gain a better
perspective on the relationship or to make a
more rational decision as to whom they should
marry. Additional comments about this issue
included reports that participants were too
young to make mature objective decisions re-
garding their marriage decisions.
The main reason [we divorced] was because of
our age. I think that being 19 at the time we got
married, it just didn’t take. I think that we didn’t
take anything as seriously as we should have.
I wish that we wouldn’t have [...] gotten
married so young. I wish we would have waited
a little bit longer before we actually got mar-
ried.
Financial problems. Financial problems
were cited as a major contributor to divorce by
36.7% of participants and by at least one partner
from 55.6% of couples. Of couples who had at
least one partner endorse financial problems as a
contributor to divorce, 50% represented couples in
which both partners agreed that financial problems
were a major reason for divorce. In elaborating
about this issue, some participants indicated that
financial difficulties were not the most pertinent
reason for their divorce, but instead contributed to
increased stress and tension within the relation-
ship. Other participants also expressed that some
financial difficulties were linked to other problems
(e.g., health problems, substance abuse).
I had a severe illness for almost a year and I
was the only employed person [before that] so
obviously money ran very short.
The stress of trying to figure out the finances
became a wedge that was really insurmountable.
Substance abuse. Substance abuse was re-
ported as a major contributing factor to divorce
by 34.6% of participants, and by at least one
partner in 50% of couples. Of these couples,
only 33.3% of partners agreed that substance
abuse was a major contributing factor to di-
vorce. Thus, similar to reports of infidelity, the
majority of couples who listed substance abuse
as a reason for divorce had only one partner cite
this reason. Generally, participants expressed
that the severity of the substance abuse problem
in their relationship was either minimized over
the duration of the relationship, or if attempts to
address the problem were made, the partner
with the substance abuse problem would not
improve and/or seek help. After several at-
tempts to address the problem, the relationship
finally ended.
I said “absolutely no more bars” and as soon
as I found out he was back in them, I asked for
[a divorce].
He never admitted that he even drank. It
wasn’t me against him. It was me against him
and the disease.
Domestic violence. Domestic violence was
cited as a contributing factor to divorce by
23.5% of participants and by at least one partner
from 27.8% of couples. Of those couples in
which one partner listed domestic abuse a
major contributor to divorce, 40.0% of part-
ners agreed that it was a major contributor to
divorce. Elaborations of this item included
descriptions of both physical and emotional
abuse. Participants often expressed how the
abuse in their relationship developed gradu-
ally, with intensified cycles of abuse and con-
trition, until the severity of the abuse intensi-
fied to insurmountable levels.
[There was] continuous sexual abuse and
emotional trauma which only got worse over
time.
There were times that I felt very physically
threatened. There was a time that there was a
bit of shoving. I got an elbow to my nose and I
got a nose bleed. Then there was another time
that he literally just slid me along the floor.
[...]We’d work on it. It would happen again.
Final Straw
After assessing participant major reasons for
divorce, we were interested to see whether par-
ticipants indicated a single event or reason that
constituted a “final straw” in the process of their
marriage dissolution. Overall, 68.6% of partic-
ipants and at least one partner in 88.9% of
couples reported that there was a final straw
leading to the end of their marriage. General
themes of final straw issues were generated
through qualitative methods for participants
who reported a final straw. Of the individuals
who indicated that there was a final straw in-
volved in ending their marriages, the most com-
136 SCOTT, RHOADES, STANLEY, ALLEN, AND MARKMAN
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mon cited reason was infidelity, which was re-
ported by 24% of these participants, followed
by domestic violence (21.2%) and substance
abuse (12.1%). At the couple level, no couples
(0%) had both partners report the same reason
for the final straw. Participants expressed that
although these final straw events may not have
been the first incident of their kind (e.g., the first
time they realized their partner had a substance
abuse problem), an event involving these be-
haviors led to the final decision for their rela-
tionship to end. Also, there were some situa-
tions in which individuals expressed that these
three issues may have interacted with one an-
other or other relationship issues.
[My ex-husband] and I both had substance
abuse problems which led to infidelity [...]
which also led to domestic violence.
Along with him having alcohol and drug is-
sues as well as infidelity issues [and] the stress,
came the physical and verbal abuse.
Who Is to Blame?
Considering that infidelity, domestic violence,
and substance abuse were the most often endorsed
“final straw” reasons for divorce, we were inter-
ested in deciphering which member of the rela-
tionship participants saw as responsible for these
behaviors. In examining participant elaborations
of infidelity, substance abuse, and domestic vio-
lence in their marriages, we found that 76.9%,
72.2%, and 77.8%, respectively, described these
events in terms of their partner engaging in these
negative behaviors, and only 11.5%, 11.1%, and
0%, respectively, volunteered that they engaged in
the behavior themselves.
Furthermore, when participants were asked
whether their partner should have worked harder
to save their marriages, 65.8% of men and 73.8%
of women believe that their ex-spouse should have
worked harder to save their marriages. Con-
versely, when participants were asked whether
they, personally, should have worked harder to
save their marriages, only 31.6% of men and
33.3% of women expressed that they, personally,
should have worked harder. Further, at the couple
level, 70.6% of couples showed a pattern in which
the women believed their ex-husbands should
have worked harder to save their relationships,
whereas their ex-husbands did not believe they,
themselves, should have worked harder. Only
11.7% agreed that the husband should have
worked harder, and 11.7% had the husband
endorse that he should have worked harder,
with the wife disagreeing. Conversely, only
35.3% of couples displayed the pattern in which
the men blamed their ex-wives for not working
harder, whereas their ex-wives, themselves, de-
nied that they should have worked harder. Only
11.7% agreed that the wife should have worked
harder, and 17.7% had the wife endorsed that
she should have worked harder, with her hus-
band disagreeing. Further, 35.3% of couples
agreed that the wife had not needed to work
harder to save the marriage, whereas only 5.9%
of couples agreed that the husband had not
needed to work harder. Thus, most participants
believed their ex-partners should have worked
harder, but at the couple level, there were more
couples in which both partners agreed that the
wife did not need to work harder than there were
couples in which both partners agreed the husband
did not need to work harder. When asked who
filed for the divorce, 63.5% of participants indi-
cated that the woman filed for divorce and only
25% participants indicated that the man filed for
divorce.
Feedback on PREP
Next, we provide the findings on the most
commonly cited qualitative feedback reported
by participants regarding how to improve pre-
marital education. The following results and
percentages refer to counts of qualitative codes
created by the research team based on common
themes in the interviews.
Learning more about one’s partner.
Results show that 42.3% of participants and
77.8% of couples expressed that they wished
they had known more about their ex-spouse
before they were married. Of these couples,
28.6% of partners agreed. These statements in-
cluded desires to understand their partner better
to improve their communication and better pre-
pare for the marriage, or conversely, informa-
tion that would have led them to never marry
one’s partner in the first place. Indeed, 30.8% of
participants specifically mentioned that they
wished they had recognized “red flags” to leave
the relationship before they entered their mar-
riage.
I think the only information that could have
[helped] would’ve been information that might
have led me to not marry him.
137DIVORCE AND RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
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I probably wish that we would have had more
premarital counseling and had somebody tell us
we should not be getting married.
Participating in the program before con-
straints to marry. Twenty-five percent (25.
0%) of participants and 50% of couples specifi-
cally reported that they were influenced by con-
straints to stay in the relationship already in place
during the program. Of the couples in which one
partner mentioned the influence of constraints to
stay in the relationship, no couples (0%) had both
partners agree. Example constraints included hav-
ing become engaged, set a wedding date, sent out
invitations, or purchased a dress, which made it
difficult for participants to objectively reconsider
whether they were marrying the right person
through the educational experience. Thus, a large
portion of participants expressed that receiving
PREP just before marriage made it difficult for
them to seriously consider delaying their wedding
plans to make more objective decisions about the
relationship.
It was one of those things where you’re like,
“Well, I already have the dress. We’re already
getting married. We already have all the people.
Everything is already set up and we bought the
house.” And you just kind of think, “Well you
know I’m sure things will get better.” You see the
red flags but you kind of ignore them.
I just didn’t have the guts to say, “You know
what, I understand the dresses have been paid
for. The churches have been booked. The invi-
tations have gone out. But I don’t think I want to
do this.”
Improved support for ongoing
implementation. Thirty-one percent (30.
8%) of individuals and 38.9% of couples had
at least one partner express that although they
found PREP skills helpful during the duration
of the program, they had difficulty using these
skills in their daily lives outside of their pre-
marital education classes. Of these couples,
42.9% of partners agreed that they had diffi-
culty implementing program skills in their
marriage. In general, these participants ex-
pressed that, in the heat of the moment, it was
hard to use their communication skills, such
as staying calm, actively listening, working
toward the problem as a team, or taking “time
outs” as suggested in PREP. Other partici-
pants simply expressed that it was hard to
remember and perfect their skills after the
program ended because they did not practice
them regularly.
I think that the techniques [...] were helpful.
I just think it mattered if you were going to
apply the principles or not. And I don’t think a
lot of them were applied.
It helped with discussion and listening tools.
I think, it’s just the follow through, you know.
We didn’t remember those things when it came
down to it.
He tried to use it at the beginning, but it was
just the continual using of the techniques that
were given to us.
Education regarding the realities of
marriage. In addition to not knowing enough
about one’s partner, 48.1% of participants and
72.2% of couples expressed that they did not
know enough about the realities or stages of
marriage after participating in the program.
Of these couples, 38.5% of partners agreed.
These comments included surprise that their
partners changed over the course of the mar-
riage, as well as trouble facing new problems
when they emerged (e.g., lack of attraction/
connection, decreases in commitment and sat-
isfaction, and new abuse problems).
Premarital counseling teaches you how you
get along, and that you should communicate,
but it doesn’t really talk about the phases of a
marriage over time.
[I wish I had learned] that the biggest area in
life in an ongoing relationship is knowing that
things are going to come up that aren’t perfect.
That after the wedding day, and the build up to
the wedding day, real life is going to kick in and
you have to really have some tools to deal with
it.
Discussion
The goal of this study was to increase under-
standing of divorced individuals’ perspectives
on whether their premarital education prepared
them for marriage and how relationship educa-
tion could be modified to better address cou-
ples’ needs. Thus, among individuals who re-
ceived PREP premaritally and later divorced,
this study addressed reasons for divorce as well
as ideas for what else would have been helpful
in relationship education. It is the first study to
qualitatively assess divorced participants’ rec-
ommendations for relationship education ser-
vices. Given the small sample and qualitative
138 SCOTT, RHOADES, STANLEY, ALLEN, AND MARKMAN
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nature of the reports, the implications discussed
below ought to be considered preliminary.
We asked about reasons for divorce to eval-
uate whether PREP addressed the kinds of prob-
lems that couples who went on to divorce
tended to experience. The most commonly cited
reason for divorce was lack of commitment,
followed by infidelity and too much conflict and
arguing. These top-rated major reasons for di-
vorce noted here are similar to those found in
large random surveys of divorced participants
(cf. Hawkins et al., 2012b;Johnson et al., 2001).
Overall, these findings support the importance
of covering communication and commitment in
premarital education programs to help foster
successful marriages; however, in light of par-
ticipant feedback on PREP, the program may
have been able to cover these and other topics
more effectively.
Whereas issues like communication and
commitment overlap with core content in PREP
and other programs (see Markman & Rhoades,
2012), a substantial portion of responses sug-
gested that although the skills taught in PREP
may be helpful, they did not implement them in
real-life situations, particularly during heated
discussions. Research indicates that commit-
ment and conflict management are related in
that commitment helps partners inhibit negative
behaviors and engage in more positive behav-
iors at critical moments (Slotter et al., 2012);
thus, the issues of commitment and conflict
management are likely intertwined in important
ways. Further, consistent with other research on
a German version of PREP (Hahlweg & Rich-
ter, 2010), participants also reported that they
forgot some of the communication skills over
time.
These findings highlight a key question for
the couples research field regarding how to en-
hance couples’ ability to use beneficial strate-
gies when they are most needed. One solution
could be to increase the time couples spend in
premarital education in order for them to master
essential skills and to help them become more
likely to constructively derail negative pro-
cesses as they emerge. At the same time, the
version of PREP that these couples received
was 12 hr long, which is both on the long end of
what most couples receive in premarital educa-
tion (Mdn 8 hr; Stanley, Amato, Johnson, &
Markman, 2006) and in the range of what tends
to be the most effective dose (Hawkins, Stanley,
Blanchard, & Albright, 2012a). Longer curri-
cula do not seem to lead to stronger effects
(Hawkins et al., 2012a), but future random-
assignment studies could address this question
better.
With most premarital education services,
including PREP, couples are not provided op-
portunities to practice new skills or receive
coaching while they are upset or experiencing a
difficult disagreement. A group or workshop
format likely inhibits such real-world discus-
sions. It could be that couples would benefit
from new program content that helps them prac-
tice their skills better when they are having
trouble. Couples may also benefit from addi-
tional opportunities to perfect the use of pro-
gram strategies after the intervention has ended,
such as through booster classes or individual
meetings with coaches. Research indicates that
such boosters may be effective (Braukhaus,
Hahlweg, Kroeger, Groth, & Fehm-Wolfsdorf,
2003). New technologies now offer innovative
ways to deliver such boosters, such as through
online training or smart phone applications.
Content Considerations for Premarital
Education
Introducing new content on the issues that
participants identified as final straws in their
marriages may also be beneficial. These issues
were infidelity, aggression or emotional abuse,
and substance abuse. Addressing these behav-
iors directly in relationship education raises
some questions regarding which couples rela-
tionship education providers might seek to help
stay together as opposed to help breakup. We
believe premarital education should serve as a
prevention effort to help healthy and happy
couples stay that way and that keeping dis-
tressed, abusive, or otherwise unhealthy couples
together would not be a positive outcome. Re-
search on the development of these “final straw”
behaviors seems particularly important in the fu-
ture. A limitation of the current study is that the
preintervention assessment did not include the
kinds of measures necessary to determine the ex-
tent to which couples in this study presented with
these problems before marriage. Thus, future re-
search is needed to investigate whether premar-
ital education can help prevent couples from
developing some of these “final straw” behav-
iors and whether it may help some couples with
139DIVORCE AND RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
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problems such as aggression or substance abuse
either get the additional help they will need to
change these behaviors or breakup. We discuss
preliminary ideas about whether/how premarital
education might cover each of these final straw
issues below.
Infidelity. More than one-half of all partic-
ipants cited infidelity as a major reason for
divorce, and infidelity was the most often en-
dorsed “final straw” reason. Infidelity is not a
major focus in PREP, though the curriculum
does address the importance of commitment,
including protecting one’s relationship from at-
traction to others. Based on participants’ reports
from this study, it may be that premarital pro-
grams could be improved by more directly ad-
dressing how to reduce the potential for extra-
marital involvement.
If providers or programs choose to address
infidelity explicitly, Markman (2005) provides
useful guidelines for covering the topic. These
recommendations include informing partici-
pants that there are specific situations and de-
velopmental time periods within relationships
with increased risks for engaging in extramarital
relationships (e.g., transition to parenthood,
close relationships with attractive alternatives,
significant drinking). Furthermore, participants
could be informed that the risk for extramarital
relationships may increase during stressful
times—such as when partners are separated for
long periods by work demands or experiencing
low marital satisfaction. Partners could also be
given structure to talk with each other about
expectations for fidelity, management of rela-
tionships with friends or coworkers who could
be attractive alternatives, and boundaries for
their relationship. However, one barrier to in-
creasing focus on the prevention of infidelity in
premarital education is that relationship com-
mitment and satisfaction is highest right before
marriage (Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman,
2006), so engaged couples may not be receptive
or eager to directly address the possibility of
future extramarital affairs during this time (Al-
len et al., 2005).
Substance abuse. Substance abuse also ap-
peared to be a prevalent problem at least for
one-half of divorced couples in this sample.
Overall, reports indicate that although substance
abuse problems may have developed gradually
throughout these relationships, this issue consti-
tuted the final straw to end the relationship for a
number of individuals once the situation was
perceived as insurmountable. Substance abuse
is not currently addressed in PREP except that
all couples attending PREP are provided with
information on how to get more help for a range
of problems, including substance abuse.
Premarital programs may benefit from edu-
cating participants on how substance abuse is
not uncommon as a reason for divorce in an
effort to encourage participants to address sub-
stance abuse problems as early as possible.
Such program additions could also include how
to recognize and get help for substance abuse
and could encourage partners to discuss their
expectations for substance use in the relation-
ship. Partners may also benefit from discussing
how to support each other in seeking help,
should the need ever arise. Furthermore, cou-
ples could be taught that if a substance abuse
develops in the relationship, there is often a
discrepancy between partners regarding per-
spectives on the extent of the problem, which is
evident by this study’s findings.
Domestic violence. Domestic violence was
cited by more than a quarter of couples as a
reason for divorce. When asked to elaborate,
some described verbal abuse, whereas others
described physical aggression. Often partici-
pants explained that they initially believed they
could work through the problem, but later found
it unbearable, as some participants considered
an act of physical aggression as the final straw
in their relationship. As others have suggested
(Halford, Markman, Kline, & Stanley, 2003),
premarital education programs may benefit
from teaching participants about recognizing,
preventing, and getting help for aggression in
relationships. In current models of PREP, all
participants learn that aggression is unaccept-
able, and they all receive basic information on
ways to get help (e.g., through shelters), as to
not put particular couples or individuals in awk-
ward or unsafe circumstances in class. Still,
more could be done.
The field continues to debate how to best
address this issue, as different types of violence
and couples of varying risk may warrant differ-
ent approaches. Johnson (1995) distinguishes
between situational couple violence and inti-
mate terrorism. Specifically, situational couple
violence tends to be much more common and
represents aggression that comes out of conflict.
It is typically initiated by either partner,
140 SCOTT, RHOADES, STANLEY, ALLEN, AND MARKMAN
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whereas intimate terrorism encompasses more
controlling, threatening behavior, typically by
the male partner.
With 36% of unmarried couples having ex-
perienced some form of physical aggression in
the last year (Rhoades, Stanley, Kelmer, &
Markman, 2010), relationship education pro-
grams should take care not to scare couples who
have experienced aggression away from seek-
ing help. As is done routinely in PREP, it seems
necessary in relationship education that provid-
ers and program content emphasize to all par-
ticipants that any aggression is unacceptable
and also suggest specific local ways to seek help
for problems with aggression. To develop fur-
ther content, an understanding of the literature
on aggression and violence, including men’s
versus women’s roles, and the different types of
violence, is likely particularly important, as rec-
ommendations may be different for different
kinds of problems. For example, recommenda-
tions for situational couple violence might in-
clude couple and/or individual therapy focused
on intensive skills to help better manage neg-
ative affect and conflict effectively, whereas
intimate terrorism would most likely call for
referrals to shelters or law enforcement. For
further recommendations regarding domestic
violence and relationship education, see sug-
gestions by Derrington, Johnson, Menard,
Ooms, and Stanley (2010).
Financial hardship. Financial hardship
was cited as a major reason for divorce, which
provided stress on their relationship, by more
than one-half the sample. Although PREP helps
couples learn communication skills to discuss
stressful topics in general, it is worth consider-
ing whether specific content on money and eco-
nomic stress is warranted. Participants could be
asked to more directly share expectations about
finances and learn coping skills for times of
significant financial strain. They could also be
provided with appropriate community resources
to improve or stabilize their financial situations
or these resources could be incorporated into
relationship education efforts.
Marriage expectations. Almost one-half
of interviewees commented that they did not
know enough about the typical course of events
in marriage. PREP typically addresses expecta-
tions by encouraging participants to recognize
and discuss their own expectations for marriage
(Markman et al., 2010), but it does not provide
explicit information about how marriages and
families tend to develop over time. More con-
tent on normal marital development could be
helpful. For example, information could be pro-
vided about how satisfaction typically drops
and conflict tends to increase during the transi-
tion to parenthood (e.g., Doss, Rhoades, Stan-
ley, & Markman, 2009b) and about the course
of attraction and sexual desire in relationships.
Previous research has shown that couples
who develop serious difficulties, and eventually
seek help, usually do so long after the problems
have become deeply entrenched (Doss,
Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009a). Thus,
relationship education programs may benefit
from providing guidelines regarding when to
seek professional help and even have couples
practice these difficult conversations to encour-
age them to seek help early and at times when
changes are easiest to make. There is survey
evidence that premarital education is associated
with being more likely to use services later in
the marriage (Williamson, Karney, Trail, &
Bradbury, 2012), but more direct content on
how and when to seek help may be warranted.
This point about seeking help early is com-
plicated by the fact that the majority of partic-
ipants saw their partner as primarily responsible
for participating in the “final straw” behaviors
(infidelity, domestic violence, and substance
abuse) and for not working hard enough to save
the marriage. Most participants also believed
that they, personally, should not have worked
harder to save their marriages. Therefore, pre-
marital education may need to focus on encour-
aging help-seeking behaviors in couples with
the understanding that most individuals may see
their partners as primarily responsible for their
difficulties, and therefore, may not feel person-
ally responsible. In addition, the majority of
couples displayed a pattern in which the women
blamed their ex-husbands, whereas their ex-
husbands did not see themselves as responsible.
Interestingly, as has been found elsewhere
(Amato & Previti, 2003;Johnson et al., 2001),
women in this sample were also more likely to
eventually file for divorce than men. Thus, it
may be especially important that husbands and
wives develop realistic expectations about seek-
ing help together so that they later do not dis-
agree about what circumstances might consti-
tute a need for help.
141DIVORCE AND RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
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The Timing of Premarital Education
Our findings show that a considerable num-
ber of participants wished that they had known
more about their partner before marriage, say-
ing they would have either learned how to han-
dle differences better or left the relationship.
Many others believed they had married too
young. Also, a portion of participants men-
tioned that they participated in PREP during a
time when the constraints of wedding plans
made it more likely for them to ignore factors
that may have otherwise ended their relation-
ship. These participant comments highlight the
difference between when couples might ideally
benefit from premarital education compared
with when couples typically seek it. One of the
potential benefits of relationship education is
that it can help some couples on an ill-advised
or premature path toward marriage to reconsider
their plans (see Stanley, 2001); however, cou-
ples typically participate in these programs
close to their wedding dates, a time when end-
ing the relationship may be especially difficult.
A potentially stronger overall prevention
strategy is to reach people earlier in their rela-
tionships, before constraints to marry are in
place, or even before individuals enter relation-
ships (Rhoades & Stanley, 2009). Early, indi-
vidual-oriented relationship education can help
individuals develop and practice healthy rela-
tionship skills and also help them end unsafe or
unhealthy relationships (Rhoades & Stanley,
2011). One recently developed relationship ed-
ucation curriculum designed for individuals,
Within My Reach (Pearson, Stanley, &
Rhoades, 2008), has shown success in teaching
these skills and helping individuals reach their
personal relationship goals (Antle, Karam,
Christensen, Barbee, & Sar, 2011). Thus, future
research may wish to consider how to encour-
age individuals and/or couples who have yet to
make commitments to marry to participate in
relationship education programs, as well as how
and when these programs should advise indi-
viduals to leave damaging relationships.
Conclusions and Limitations
This study provides new information regard-
ing the reasons for divorce and possible im-
provements to relationship education programs
based on feedback from divorced individuals
who participated in PREP premaritally. Al-
though the study focuses on improving the
PREP model specifically, relationship education
programs working with premarital populations
may also find value in our findings, particularly
regarding how to cover specific topics deemed
important by our participants. Other programs
may also benefit from suggestions to provide
relationship education earlier and to provide
services to help couples master their skill de-
velopment over time.
This study also has several limitations that
warrant discussion. First, respondent reports of
their progression toward divorce and premarital
education experiences were retrospective and
may therefore be biased by the passing of time.
Future studies may wish to evaluate relationship
problems and reasons for divorce closer to the
couple’s decision to divorce. Second, the sample
was mostly White and only included participants
in heterosexual relationships who married within
mostly Christian-based religious organizations.
Therefore, future studies are needed to examine
whether these findings would be replicated with
other groups or cultures. A third limitation is the
lack of a comparison group of couples who par-
ticipated in PREP but did not divorce. As a result,
it is not clear whether or not the problems and
recommendations these participants identified are
specific to this divorced sample, or would translate
to couples who remain married. Finally, all par-
ticipants in this study received PREP when they
were engaged to be married, so research is needed
to evaluate reasons for relationship dissolution and
how to improve programs that target individuals
and couples in different relationship stages (e.g.,
dating or married). Nevertheless, this study pro-
vides new insight in potential improvements to the
content and timing of relationship education.
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This article compares reasons for divorce among two groups of Arab women: regular divorcees, who divorced after living with their husbands, and contract divorcees, who divorced during the waiting period between the signing of the marriage contract and actual cohabitation. The regular divorcees reported more reasons for divorcing than the contract divorcees and were considerably more prone to cite their husband's physical, sexual, and verbal abuse; lack of commitment to the marriage and family; and alcoholism and mental illness, as well as interference by their in-laws. The contract divorcees were more prone to cite failure to get along, lack of communication, and conflicts over traditional andor modern lifestyle. These patterns suggest that the regular divorcees divorced for more concrete reasons and only after their marriage had become unbearable, whereas the contract divorcees ended their unions when they realized they would not find compatibiity, communication, and a shared lifestyle.
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Although previous research has noted the detrimental impact of parents' marital disruption on children's schooling, less is known about whether such detriments are observable prior to the disruption. Based on two waves of a nationally representative longitudinal data set, this study has found that even prior to family dissolution, both boys and girls from families that subsequently dissolve perform less well than their peers whose parents remain married. Families at the predisruption stage are also characterized by a shortage of financial, cultural, human, and social capital, even after demographics are controlled. In addition, some parental investment measures yield a smaller educational return for students whose families subsequently dissolve than for those whose parents remain married. Our results also indicate that the negative postdisruption effects on children's academic achievement can be either largely or completely predicted by performance and investment differences at the predisruption stage.