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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology


Scott Stanley

Dr. Stanley is not interested in taking a new graduate student for Fall 2021.

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

Commitment Theory, Research and Couple Development: Cohabitation and Unmarried Relationship Behavior

My greatest scholarly passion is advancing understanding the nature of commitment in romantic relationships, particularly in unmarried and/or premarital relationships. My interests focus on theory and research about commitment, ambiguity, and the development of aspects of commitment.

My major colleague in this work is research associate professor Galena Rhoades. We have put a great deal of energy into studying cohabitation, which provides a remarkable window into how relationships form. This work has developed important foundations for understanding why premarital cohabitation does not produce the reduction in marital risks that most expect from it.

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. Among other things, we have focused on risks associated with sliding through major transitions rather than making clear decisions based on solid information and decisions between partners (sliding vs. deciding, which is also the title of my blog).

Starting in 2007, with funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, we gathered a national sample of 1,500 individuals who were unmarried and in serious romantic relationships. We gathered extensive information from this sample for five years, yielding an 11 wave longitudinal data set with relatively low attrition, wherein we followed this sample as people continued in relationships, broke-up, re-partnered, and married (for some). We continue to publish papers on a variety of topics from this sample, including analysis of predictors of marital outcomes, cohabitation dynamics, asymmetrical commitment, aggression in unmarried relationships, and numerous other topics.

Prevention and Relationship Education

I am deeply interested in the field of relationship education for the potential to help individuals and couples improve their odds of success in this most important domain of life. 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. That project ran for 10 years. We are now analyzing outcome data for long-term impacts of PREP in that sample. There are also numerous basic science publications (and ongoing analyses) by various members of our research teams on relationship dynamics, PTSD symptoms, and other aspects of military life for these couples.

I am currently involved as a co-investigator with Galena Rhoades on a program for disadvantaged, expectant couples in Oklahoma City. The project is funded by The Administration for Children and Families and the overall project is conducted by Public Strategies.


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

Selected Publications

  • Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Scott, S. B., Kelmer, G., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2016). Asymmetrically committed relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/0265407516672013
  • Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Allen, E. S. (2015). Can marriage education mitigate the risks associated with premarital cohabitation? Journal of Family Psychology, 29(3), 500-506. doi: 10.1037/fam0000081
  • Knopp, K. C., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2015). Stuck on you: How dedication moderates the way constraints feel. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 32(1), 119-137. doi:10.1177/0265407514525885
  • Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Loew, B. A., Allen, E. S., Carter, S., Osborne, L. J., Prentice, D., & Markman, H. J. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of relationship education in the U.S. Army: 2-year outcomes. Family Relations, 63, 482 – 495. DOI: 10.1111/fare.12083.
  • Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2012). The impact of the transition to cohabitation on relationship functioning: Cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(3), 348 - 358.
  • Allen, E. S., Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Markman, H. J., & Loew, B. A. (2011). Marriage education in the Army: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 10(4), 309-326.
  • Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. Should I stay or should I go? (2010). Predicting dating relationship stability from four aspects of commitment. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(5), 543-550.
  • Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Amato, P. R., Markman, H. J., & Johnson, C. A. (2010). The timing of cohabitation and engagement: Impact on first and second marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 906-918.
  • Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Whitton, S. W. (2010). Commitment: Functions, formation, and the securing of romantic attachment. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 2, 243-257.
  • Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The Pre-engagement Cohabitation Effect: A Replication and Extension of Previous Findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 107 - 111.
  • Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding vs. Deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations, 55, 499 - 509.