Skip navigation

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology


Scott Stanley

Areas of expertise/Research interests

  • the prevention of marital distress and divorce
  • commitment and couple development in romantic relationships and marriage
  • cohabitation dynamics and the role in relationship and family outcomes

Current research and projects

Prevention and Relationship Education

Professor Howard Markman and I have worked together on research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) for more than 30 years.

PREP is a marital distress prevention and marital education curriculum that is based on research (being both empirically informed in its strategies and empirically tested in ongoing outcome research). Much of this research has been historically funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), back to grants to Howard Markman that founded our lab in the early 1980s.

Beginning in fall 2006, this research began to be funded by a different NIH institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). In January 2006, we (Elizabeth Allen, Howard Markman and I) received another grant from NICHD, funding a large, random clinical trial of PREP in the U. S. Army.

We have collected data on 674 couples at two Army installations. We are using the data set to examine the data for impacts of the intervention, PREP for Strong Bonds, with Army couples and to conduct basic science research on these Army couples who have been exposed to repeated deployments and combat in the past five years. The latter studies focus on variables such as symptoms of PTSD, stress, communication between spouses during deployment and so forth. This project was refunded by NICHD in 2011 for five more years.

Commitment Theory, Research and Couple Development: Research on Cohabitation and Unmarried Romantic Relationship Behaviour
My greatest intellectual passion at this point is focused on advancing basic scientific understanding of unmarried and/or premarital romantic relationships, especially related to factors that impact the development of commitment and long-term outcomes.

Hence, we have been putting a great deal of energy into work on cohabitation, couple development, sacrifice in romantic relationships and aspects of commitment. This work has grown to lay an important foundation to work in our lab to better understand the longstanding but inadequately explicated risks associated with couples cohabiting prior to marriage—particularly prior to engagement or mutual clarity about commitment to the future.

My key colleague in this work is Galena Rhoades. The work that we are doing has provided a new, empirically compelling explanation of aspects of risk in romantic relationship development that does not take away from previous explanations associated with selection effects but adds explanation for the role of experience in risk for couple development, especially that which is associated with sliding through major transitions rather than making clear decisions based on solid information.

In 2007, we started a study with a national sample of 1,500 individuals who were unmarried and in serious romantic relationships (funded by NICHD). We have gathered extensive information on this sample over the past five years and plan to continue to follow them with other funding in fall 2012.

As part of this work, we not only have published numerous studies about unmarried romantic relationships; we have been developing a good deal of thought about complex problems in this literature—such as the depth of reliance on selection as a basis for understanding relationship dynamics of young adults in the field of sociology. This is a perspective for which there is both support but also a disturbing tendency toward determinism in thinking about the risks for young adults associated with various pathways of relationship and individual development.


  • PhD, University of Denver, 1986
  • MS
  • BS

Selected Publications

  • Stanley, Scott M., Rhoades, Galena K., Whitton, Sarah W. "Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment." (PDF) Journal of Family Theory & Review. 2(4): 243–257. 2010 December 1; doi:10.1111/j.1756-2589.2010.00060.x.
  • Rhoades, Galena K., Scott, Stanley M., Markham, Howard J. "Should I Stay or Should I Go? Predicting Dating Relationship Stability from Four Aspects of Commitment." (PDF) Journal of Family Psychology. 24(5): 543–550. 2010 October ; doi:10.1037/a0021008.
  • Stanley, Scott M., Amato, Paul R., Markham, Howard J., Johnson, Christine A. "The Timing of Cohabitation and Engagement: Impact on First and Seconds Marriages." (PDF) Journal of Family Psychology. 72(4): 906-918. 2010 August 1. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00738.x.
  • Stanley, Scott M., Rhoades, Galena K., Markham, Howard J. "Sliding vs. Deciding: Inertia and the Premarital Cohabitation Effect." Family Relations, 55. 499-509. 2006.