Understanding the Complexities of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Research (Part III)

General Information on Outcome Research

Outcome research is designed to examine if an intervention leads to effects, often called impacts, among evaluators. For PREP, outcome research has played a large role, and researchers have conducted evaluations on various PREP curricula for many years. We discuss some of those outcomes here to help facilitators see that PREP’s approach to relationship education can have a significant impact on relationship satisfaction and reducing rates of Intimate partner Violence (IPV).

Testing the effect of curricula like ours to see how well it works for people is a complex endeavor. There are so many variables to consider when it comes to how relationships function, over time. A host of variables fall under the broad category of relationship quality, including relationship satisfaction, communication,. The other variable of great interest is relationship stability, whether that be break-up or not in unmarried relationships or divorce. Things get complex quickly, especially when you account for all of the possible group settings and populations that may be the focus of different relationship education efforts. Despite the complexities, researchers work hard to apply rigorous standards to the social science of testing effectiveness in program evaluation. (In fact, one blog we like focuses on describing such research is The Relationship Educator.)

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Outcome Research and PREP Curricula

PREP’s family of curricula has been tested more often and for more years than any other curriculum out there, and here we want to zoom in on the results of studies that examine the effects  of variations of PREP on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

We’ve been talking about IPV in the most recent PREP Insight blog posts because it’s so important. IPV is a complicated matter and, despite various debates, everyone agrees that the rates of violence are far too high. (Note: We want to note up front that this is an area where there are some encouraging findings but not nearly enough research.) In a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2017, the CDC noted that relationship education may be one strategy for helping to lower the incidence of IPV.

Programs that work with couples to build and strengthen relationship skills, including communication and conflict management skills, show evidence for preventing later IPV. One example is the Pre-marital Relationship Enhancement Program* (PREP) … (p. 17)

That report is referring to a finding in one of the early, long-term studies on PREP used as a premarital education program. [i] There are now other, more recent studies that help us see the effect of relationship education on IPV rates.

ePREP imageFor example, in one recent study, married couples receiving ePREP (a computerized version of PREP that is now online) showed reductions in IPV and psychological aggression at a one-year follow-up compared to an active, placebo control group.[ii] Another variation of PREP, Within Our Reach (WOR), has been evaluated several times as part of major federal studies. One large-sample, rigorous trial showed that couples in the WOR track, compared to an untreated control group, showed less physical assault at both 12-month and 30-month follow-ups.[iii] Finally, in another large federal study, there were only modest effects on relationship quality for the treatment group versus controls. However, the intervention groups (across two sites, one using WOR) were 38% less likely to report severe physical assault WOR Leader Guide (image)at the one-year follow-up.[iv]

The possibility of reducing IPV doesn’t end with relationship education for couples. The studies noted above show promise for a role that relationship education with couples can play in lowering the incidence of IPV. What about relationship education efforts directed at individuals, such as PREP’s Within My Reach (WMR) curriculum? Within My Reach, our flagship curriculum for individuals, focuses on helping people with many aspects of relationship decision-making. The material has a strong focus on aspects of healthy relationships, including emphasis on various types of safety, IPV, and strategies for improving one’s love life and protecting one’s children.

Within My Reach (image)There are, at present, four studies examining WMR that have documented reductions in IPV. These studies are less rigorous than the ones focused on couples mentioned above because relationship education focused on individuals is a far newer field.

In the existing studies, WMR shows evidence of reducing IPV (Antle, 2013; Antle, 2011; Carlson et al., 2018) as well as a decrease in the acceptance of violence (Cottle et al., 2014).[v] These are encouraging findings from early studies in this area of individual, relationship education efforts. Much more work needs to be done; in fact, large-sample, rigorous trials are underway where WMR is being tested against control groups.


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As we noted in last month’s blog post, many people resort to physical aggression in the absence of knowing better strategies to handle conflict. Capaldi et al. (2007), after studying the aggression between partners, asserted that the type of intervention that makes the most sense for most people will include a focus on relationship processes and healthier conflict management skills. The outcome research described here is consistent with this assertion and, while we still have a long way to go in addressing the issue of IPV in all forms, relationship education may provide one pathway to help reduce the prevalence of violence in intimate relationships.

* Using the older name for PREP, which now stands for The Prevention and Relationship Education Program.


[i] Markman, H. J., Renick, M., Floyd, F. J., Stanley, S. M., & Clements, M. (1993). Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management training: A 4- and 5-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 70-77. doi: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1993-26603-001

[ii] Braithwaite, S. R., & Fincham, F. D. (2014). Computer-based prevention of intimate partner violence in marriage. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 54, 12-21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2013.12.006

[iii] Rhoades, G. K. (2015). The effectiveness of the Within Our Reach relationship education program for couples: Findings from a federal randomized trial. Family Process, 54, 672-85. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12148

[iv] Moore, Q., Avellar, S., Patnaik, A., Covington, R., & Wu, A. (2018). Parents and Children Together: Effects of Two Healthy Marriage Programs for Low-Income Couples. OPRE Report Number 2018-58. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/pact_hm_impacts_to_opre_b508.pdf

[v] Antle, B., Sar, B., Christensen, D., Ellers, F., Barbee, A., & van Zyl, M. (2013). The impact of the Within My Reach Relationship training on relationship skills and outcomes for low-income individuals. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 39(3), 346-357.  doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2012.00314.x

Antle, B. F., Karam, E., Christensen, D. N., Barbee, A. P., & Sar, B. K. (2011). An evaluation of healthy relationship education to reduce intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Social Work, 14(5), 387-406. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10522158.2011.616482

Carlson, R. G., Wheeler, N. J., Adams, J. J. (2018). The influence of individual-oriented relationship education on equality and conflict-related behaviors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 96, 144-154. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12188

Cottle, N. R., Thompson, A. K., Burr, B. K., & Hubler, D. S. (2014). The effectiveness of relationship education in the college classroom. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 13(4), 267-283. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/15332691.2014.956357








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