Karen Prager

Title Professor
Education PhD, Counseling Psychology,
The University of Texas at Austin
Area of Interest Romantic Relationships, Intimacy, Conflict Management, Gender Equity, Marriage
Contact HH 2.501 | 972-883-2323
[email protected]
Program Affiliation Couples Daily Lives
The Dilemmas of Intimacy book


Karen J. Prager, Ph.D., A.B.P.P. is a counseling psychologist by training and a Board-certified couple and family psychologist. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, where she also received an M.A. in Measurement and Evaluation. She is currently a professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas where she has taught for over 30 years. Her current research addresses problems that couples have with conflict and recovery from conflict, with a special focus on strategies couples use to repair their intimate connection. In 2013, she published a book with Routledge, The Dilemmas of Intimacy: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment. Dr. Prager also maintains a small private psychological practice.

Research Interests

A recent National Opinion Research Survey tells us that, once our survival needs are met, no single aspect of our lives contributes more to our satisfaction with life or to our sense of psychological well-being than our intimate relationships. Yet despite our best efforts, the seeds of relationship demise are often visible from the very beginning of a relationship.

In order to sustain a high level of intimacy and satisfaction over many years and through many disagreements, a couple must be able to come back together after a conflict and re-establish their intimate bond. Recent research (Salvatore, Chun Kuo, Steele, Simpson, and Collins, 2011) affirms that having a partner who is better at conflict recovery is associated with experiencing more positive relationship emotions and greater relationship satisfaction. Evidence abounds demonstrating the significance of how the partners talk to one another and how they manage their problem-solving efforts (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000). Less information is available about how couples reconcile emotionally following conflict, and how quickly.

My Couples Daily Lives Lab is dedicated to learning more about how couples recover from conflict and return to intimate relating following conflict in their day to day lives. We are especially interested in how couples reconcile emotionally after conflict, and the impact of their reconciliation efforts on the health of their relationship. We are currently involved in two projects designed to further our knowledge in this area: 1) We are investigating couple partners’ behavior during and after conflict as these influence partners’ emotional recoveries from conflict, and 2) we are developing a classification system to help us study couples’ reconciliation efforts, and determine what type of effort is most likely to result in emotional recovery from conflict and intimate relating on days following conflict.

We are also interested in differentiation of self as a predictor of successful intimate relating, relationship satisfaction and attachment security. Individuals who attain some differentiation of self, to use Murray Bowen’s term, maintain a clear psychological separation between their own will and their partner’s, revealed as a willingness to perceive and respect both self and other while still maintaining an intimate relationship. Whether differentiation of self is a single indicator of psychological maturity, or whether it is a combination of several characteristics, each of which makes an independent contribution to relationship functioning, has yet to be discovered. We are in the process of developing a tool for measuring differentiated functioning in couple relationships, and hope to discover the answer to these questions.

Offered Courses

GST 3301 / PSY 3324 Psychology of Gender
MAIS 5301 Seminary on Close Relationships
PSY 4331 Personality

Selected Publications

Prager, K. J. (1995). The Psychology of Intimacy. New York: Guilford. Second printing, 1997.

Prager, K.J. (2013). The Dilemmas of Intimacy: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment. New York: Routledge.

Prager, K.J. & Buhrmester, D. (1998). Intimacy and need fulfillment in couple relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 435-469.

Lippert, T. & Prager, K.J. (2001). Daily experiences of intimacy: A study of couples. Personal Relationships, 8, 283-298.

Prager, K.J. & Roberts, L.J. (2004). Deep intimate connection: Self and intimacy in couple relationships. In. Mashek, D. & Aron, A. (Eds)., The Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, pp. 43-60. Mahwah, NJ: Ehrlbaum.

Prager, K.J. (2009). Intimacy. In Reis, H. & Sprecher, S. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Prager, K.J., Shirvani, F.K, Garcia, J.J., & Coles M. (2013). Intimacy and positive psychology. In Mahzad Hojjat and Duncan Cramer (Eds.), The Positive Psychology of Love (pp. 16-29). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Prager, K.J., Shirvani, F.K., Poucher, J., Cavallin, G., Truong, M., & Garcia, J.J. (in press). Recovery from conflict and revival of intimacy in cohabiting couples. Personal Relationships (accepted in May, 2014).