Is skills training necessary for the primary prevention of marital distress and dissolution? A 3-year experimental study of three interventions

Ronald D. Rogge, Rebecca J. Cobb, Erika Lawrence, Matthew D. Johnson, Thomas N. Bradbury*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Objective: Evidence in support of skill-based programs for preventing marital discord and dissolution, while promising, comes mainly from studies using single treatment conditions, passive assessment-only control conditions, and short-term follow-up assessments of relationship outcomes. This study overcomes these limitations and further evaluates the efficacy of skill-based programs. Method: Engaged and newlywed couples (N = 174) were randomly assigned to a 4-session, 15-hr small-group intervention designed to teach them skills in managing conflict and problem resolution (PREP) or skills in acceptance, support, and empathy (CARE). These couples were compared to each other, to couples receiving a 1-session relationship awareness (RA) intervention with no skill training, and to couples receiving no treatment on 3-year rates of dissolution and 3-year trajectories of self-reported relationship functioning. Results: Couples in the no-treatment condition dissolved their relationships at a higher rate (24%) than couples completing PREP, CARE, and RA, who did not differ on rates of dissolution (11%). PREP and CARE yielded unintended effects on 3-year changes in reported relationship behaviors. For example, wives receiving PREP showed slower declines in hostile conflict than wives receiving CARE, and husbands and wives receiving CARE showed faster declines in positive behaviors than husbands and wives receiving PREP. Conclusions: These findings highlight the potential value of cost-effective interventions such as RA, cast doubt on the unique benefits of skill-based interventions for primary prevention of relationship dysfunction, and raise the possibility that skill-based interventions may inadvertently sensitize couples to skill deficits in their relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-961
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • couples
  • intervention
  • marriage
  • prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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