Frequently Asked Questions and Common Concerns

Selecting the best method or program to improve your relationship is really important, so it’s not surprising if you have some concerns or questions about the program you want answered before beginning.

Frequently Asked Questions

The current programs are the PREP Online program and the OurRelationship program. (You will have access to only one program). The goal of each online program is to improve and strengthen relationships. Each program consists of some activities that are completed individually (i.e., on your own), and other activities that are completed together (i.e., with your partner). PREP Online and OurRelationship also each offer couples a “Coach” who provides assistance and guidance during brief video (e.g., Skype, Facetime) or phone calls.
Each program is designed to be completed in about 1.5 months (taking roughly 7-8 hours’ time). We will help you achieve this goal by helping you set up appointments during the week to sit down and work on the program. If you or your partner expects to be very stressed, busy, or out of town for a long time in the next couple of months, it might be a better idea to wait to start the program.

In this program, you’ll develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of a relationship problem. Based on this new understanding, the two of you will work together to develop solutions around the problem. The program is centered around three separate conversations with your partner– a conversation to clarify the problem or problems you want to work on, a conversation to share what each of you think causes the problem, and a final conversation to share what you’d like to do to solve that problem. To prepare for each of those conversations, you and your spouse will work separately viewing tailored information and feedback.  You can read more about the programs by clicking on “Programs” in the menu above.

In this program, couples work together to complete a computer-based divorce prevention and relationship enhancement intervention. The program includes written information as well as video examples and tutorials that will help you to recognize and address common problems that often lead to arguments. Specifically, PREP Online teaches communication techniques and problem-solving skills that help couples to effectively deal with conflict. It also teaches couples how to enhance positive aspects of their relationship by fostering fun and friendship. You can read more about the programs by clicking on “Programs” in the menu above.
The programs offered on this website were developed by experts who together have published hundreds of articles about couple conflict and relationship interventions.

The OurRelationship program, which has helped many couples feel happier and more confidence in their relationship, was developed by Drs. Andrew Christensen and Brian Doss. PREP Online was adapted from the Prevention and Relationship Education Program (PREP) program, which was developed by Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley. PREP Online- developed by Drs. Scott Braithwaite and Frank Fincham- has helped many couples feel happier in their relationship and have better communication.

You can learn more about the developers of the programs by clicking on “About Us” in the menu above.

In a word – YES!  Click “Programs” from the menu above and then select each program to learn more about the evidence showing these programs work.
Both programs require both members of a couple to participate.  Our previous research suggests that these programs are more helpful if you do them together.
Maintaining the privacy of your personal information is very important to our staff. We have taken many precautions to ensure the privacy of your information, including maintaining secure servers and secure transmission of data. For more information about how we plan on keeping your information private, please see the question ‘I’m worried that my information won’t be kept private’ in the Common Concerns section below.
If you and your partner are living together (but not married), then you are also potentially eligible to participate in this research study.

We know from talking to more than 1,000 people that couples living together (compared to married or dating couples) have both extra strengths and problems.  The most common problems reported by couples who lived together are communication, partner’s personality or traits, arguments, and lack of emotional closeness.  Additionally, compared to married couples, couples living together face additional challenges with commitment concerns and problems caused by previous relationships.  On the other hand, couples living together reported fewer problems with sex and emotional intimacy.

Of course, your relationship may be different.  Therefore, we have designed this program so that you can focus on any problem or issue you want.  Additionally, you can use this program to strengthen an already strong relationship or tackle a more serious problem.

Common Concerns

We expect that this program is going to be most helpful if you and your partner participate. Therefore, we require that both of you be interested in the program to be eligible. However, we know that getting your partner to be interested (and available) can often be difficult. Click here to see what you can do get your partner interested in completing the program.
If that’s the case, our programs may be the perfect fit for you – they are designed as a self-help programs that you and your partner can complete on your own. You won’t need to discuss what you do in the program with anyone unless you choose to. Also, you don’t have to have serious or widespread relationship problems to use the program- you can gain important insight into common relationship conflict dynamics that can help you better understand your own relationship! This program is a great way to tackle a problem that seems to keep coming up or recognize risk factors for relationship problems, even if you’re happy overall in your relationship.

If you or your partner is pretty unhappy in your relationship, it may be helpful to know that research shows that couples who are pretty unhappy are unlikely to get better by just hoping things will improve with time. Instead, couples usually have to make active, focused efforts to improve their relationship – this typically involves starting to act and think differently.

Of course, we can’t say that these programs will work 100% of the time – but then again, what does? Even the highest-quality, in-person couple therapy completed over several months doesn’t work for every couple. But, as you may know from reading about the developers of these programs, we’re very serious about making sure they are helpful and have tested whether they work (see the concern ‘I want to do something that has been shown to be effective’). We’re also very careful to be upfront about problems that we think won’t be helped by these programs (see the concern ‘This program isn’t appropriate for the particular problem we have’).

If you’re like most couples who do these programs, you can expect to see the following benefits: a) developing a more accurate understanding of common relationship conflict dynamics; b) learning to talk in a non-blaming and productive way about relationship problems; and c) working together and individually to make changes that help improve the problem. If you have difficulty talking about your problems or taking constructive action, we think these programs could be a big help for you and your relationship.

Some couples worry that talking about their relationship problems will make those problems worse. We’re pretty convinced that’s unlikely to happen. How do we know? First, we’ve been careful to identify which problems will most likely be helped by these programs and which problems won’t likely be helped. Second, in a large-scale trial of couple therapy, more than 70% of couples showed meaningful improvements and less than 10% got worse (the rest didn’t change). Keep in mind that many of those couples had experienced recent affairs, tried therapy as a last-ditch effort before divorce, or had other really serious difficulties that made them very unhappy with their relationship. Thus, working on your relationship and talking about problems helps the majority of couples! Finally, based on a large body of longitudinal research, we know that withdraw and avoidance of problems predicts relationship deterioration. So, “wait-and-see” generally isn’t an effective approach when it comes to relationship problems. Although it may be uncomfortable at times, facing those problems and dealing with them constructively is the best way to go.

You’re right that our programs aren’t right for every couple or every problem. If your relationship is on the brink of divorce or separation, you probably need the support only in-person therapy can provide. Additionally, we suspect that intense problems that cause a lot of chaos and anger – such as recently-discovered affairs – are probably handled best in in-person therapy. Finally, problems that need to be stopped immediately – such as moderate-to-severe violence – aren’t appropriate for web-based programs. If one of these sounds like your relationship, we encourage you to first seek couple therapy through your local provider. To find couple therapists in your area, feel free to consult the Referrals section.

However, for most problems, our programs can be a big help. This is true for problems that you may be unsure how to deal with or that seem to be getting worse. Plus, if something in the program you are assigned to doesn’t feel relevant, you can always skip it.

We know how precious our time can be – whether it’s jobs, kids, family, or other issues, there’s never enough time in the day. So it’s entirely possible that you really don’t have any time right now – if so, perhaps participating in the project in a month or two might work better. However, for some people, saying “I don’t have time” actually means “I’m really busy and I don’t think this is worth my time”. If you’re feeling that way, we’d like to ask you to consider two things.

First, we’ve made every effort to keep these programs short. We’ve condensed material from proven in-person relationship interventions – which typically involve a large time commitment – into about 7-8 hours. That means you can complete the program you are assigned to in less than an hour per week if you spread it over two month (or in a weekend if that would work better). Secondly, if you and your partner do decide to seek couple therapy in the future, having completed our programs first will give you a head start on that therapy.

If that’s the case, participating in this project may be the perfect solution for you. Although some people find it helpful to get feedback from Coaches as they go through the program, there isn’t any requirement that you do so. If you prefer, you can complete the program on our secure server and share your responses only with your partner. You won’t have to talk directly with a coach if you do not want to, although we have found that even couples who are initially hesitant about having a coach ultimately feel that having one helped them make more positive change in their relationship. Additionally, as part of the research study, your responses will remain completely confidential – they will be linked with a project-specific ID number (not your name) and combined with hundreds of other responses.
We’ve spent most of our professional careers developing and testing effective couple therapies, so we have a lot of respect for skilled couple therapists and the benefits of empirically-based couple therapy. Certainly some types of relationship problems are more appropriate for in-person therapy (see concern ‘This program isn’t appropriate for the particular problem we have’).

However, couple therapy isn’t for everyone – in fact, we know that most couples don’t seek couple therapy at all (most couples who divorce don’t ever see a therapist) and those that do seek therapy wait more than six years after serious problems develop. So, this project can be helpful in two ways. First, we hope that you’ll be able to use the program you are assigned to tackle problems that you (or your partner) might not want to go to therapy for. By participating in this project, you may never need to go to therapy. Second, if you end up seeking therapy, we also expect that completing a program before starting therapy will make that therapy more helpful. Our programs can help you and your partner develop a deeper understanding of your problems so that therapy can begin to make changes more quickly.

Our past research (Doss & Christensen, 2004) has shown that it’s pretty common for one person to be the driving force in seeking outside help for the relationship. And, of course, before pushing for outside help, that person has likely been pushing his/her partner to change for some time. If you’re the one being pushed to change, you may feel that your relationship would be fine if your partner would just stop pushing you to change! Or, perhaps you see some problems in your relationship but don’t feel that they’re as big a deal as your partner does.

Because we want to give you and your partner a voice on the future of your relationship, we’ve designed the program in two very specific way. First, couples work separately throughout a majority of each of the programs which can help both members apply the material without having to worry about their partner’s continued pushing. This approach gives individuals a chance to better recognize and understand relationship conflict and makes sure each member has an equal voice.  Second, we’ve designed the program so – if you’d like – you can BOTH pick something you’d like to change about your relationship.  After all, most people can think of something in their relationship that they’d like to change.

Participating in a research study can feel a bit intimidating or invasive at first. And that’s not what you want to feel when you’re thinking about problems in your relationship that are obviously very personal.

However, rest assured that we’ll do everything we can to ensure that your privacy is protected (see details under the concern ‘I’m worried that my information won’t be kept private’). Also, other than your partner, you’re not required to talk about your relationship with anyone after starting the program – although, we highly recommend it and most couples benefit more from participation when they work with a coach (see concern ‘Our relationship is private – I don’t want to talk to an outsider’). Additionally, we’re confident that participating in this project is one of the most helpful things that you can do for your relationship short of intensive, in-person couple therapy (see concern ‘I want to do something that has been shown to be effective’). Finally, everyone who participates in this study will receive one of the programs, although you may be placed on a waitlist first. If you have other concerns about the research study, feel free to contact our office – we’d be happy to talk to you about the study and answer any questions you have anonymously.

Great!  Providing effective programs is something that’s very important to us as well. Indeed, between both programs, we’ve received several grants funded by the National Institutes of Health and Administration for Children and Families to determine what programs are most effective. We’ve also examined how these therapies work and which types of problems (and couples) seem to benefit most.

You can read more about the evidence supporting each program by clicking on “Programs” from the menu at the top of the page – then click on each program to learn more about the research that’s been done on both programs.

We’re certainly concerned about the privacy of our information when we complete online forms and we certainly understand that you would be too! So let us tell you a bit about what we do to protect your privacy. First, our procedures have been extensively reviewed by the research oversight boards (called Institutional Review Boards, or IRB) at the University of Miami. The IRB approved all of the things we’ll be asking you to do as part of the research study.  Second, we maintain a secure server that can be physically accessed by just a handful of people. To maintain the electronic security of the server, we use industry-standard encryption software. Third, for added protection in the unlikely event that the server security is breached, your responses will be linked to a study-specific ID number. However, if you have other concerns or would like to discuss these issues, please feel free to contact project staff.