RELATE: Relationship Evaluation of the Individual, Family, Cultural, and Couple Contexts

Article excerpt

RELATE: Relationship Evaluation of the Individual, Family, Cultural, and Couple Contexts*

The purpose of this article is to present the conceptual model underlying RELATE, a relationship evaluation instrument, and to describe how this instrument can be used by instructors, clinicians, and therapists. The RELATE model contains measures of the 4 primary contexts of a couple's experience: the individual, the family, the culture, and the couple. The model includes some of the primary variables in Gottman's marital cascade and has been evaluated for reliability and validity. Examples of how to use the instrument and model are illustrated for couples, educators, and clinicians.

Key Words: assessment, couples, premarital relationships.

It is challenging to capture the dynamics of couple relationships. Scholars have used interviews, observations, surveys, tasks, and even physiological measures to attempt to understand the quality of relationships. One group of scholars, the RELATE Institute (RI, previously the Marriage Study Consortium), was formed in 1979 by a diverse group of researchers, clinicians, and educators, dedicated to the dual goals of strengthening and understanding premarital and marital relationships.

Over the last 20 years, members of the RI have grappled with trying to measure the complexities of adult romantic relationships from a variety of different angles. In addition, the RI has searched for ways to present data in a manner that is useful to couples and the family professionals who work with them. Through this endeavor, three versions of a comprehensive instrument and accompanying feedback tool have been published. The most recent version of the instrument is the RELATionship Evaluation Questionnaire (RELATE; Holman, Busby, Doxey, Klein, & Loyer-Carlson, 1997). This article describes the development of the conceptual model from which RELATE was derived and discusses how the model and instrument can be used by educators, clinicians, and researchers.

The Development of the RELATE Model

The RELATE model was developed by reviewing over 50 years of research that delineated the important premarital predictors of later marital quality and stability. The comprehensive review of research on premarital predictors of marital quality by Larson and Holman (1994) was a foundational document for RELATE. Table I lists the main findings from this review. Since the 1994 review, new research indicated additional constructs to include in the model (Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). These new additions are listed in bold in the table. This list of constructs was used to develop items included in the instrument. The couple process model extensively studied and researched by Gottman, providing one of the best models for the prediction of marital success or failure, was included as part of the couple constructs. Over time, as new research emerges, the constructs in RELATE will continue to evolve.

Researchers have recently emphasized the need to develop relationship models that are more comprehensive and that include constructs that (a) target trait-like characteristics of partners, and (b) capture behavioral exchanges between partners (Bradbury, Campbell, & Fincham, 1995). Because of the comprehensive nature of RELATE, it contains extensive measures of both types of constructs, as well as measures of family background, culture, and values.

Whereas the initial scales included in the instrument came from existing research and from previous versions of RELATE, there is a conceptual model that organizes the numerous subcategories and suggests relationships between the constructs assessed via the scales. The systemic model underlying RELATE suggests that relationships are developed and maintained within a series of contexts or subsystems (Bradbury & Fincham, 1987, 1988, 1991), as noted in Figure 1. Although numerous contexts can be measured, the most important ones for premarital and marital relationships include the individual, familial, cultural, and couple contexts (Holman & Associates, 2000; Larson & Holman, 1994). …