One of the challenges for mental health professionals today is finding meaningful ways to intervene in situations in which prevention may be all that is necessary, extensive counseling may not be feasible, or potential clients are resistant to engaging in therapy. Historically, one of the ways counselors have met these needs has been through developing and implementing structured or psychoeducational groups (Gelso & Fretz, 1992). Psychoeducational groups have historically been a component of graduate training for mental health professionals (Wilson, Coyne, & Ward, 1994). Across time, the topics that have been addressed in psychoeducational groups have been wide-ranging, including promoting marriages (Kaiser, Hahlweg, Fehm-Wolfsdorf, & Groth, 1998; Long, Angera, Carter, Nakamoto, & Kalso, 1999; Zimpfer, 1990), supporting families (Hunter, Hoffnung, & Ferholt, 1988), training parents (Cwiakala & Mordock, 1996; Kiselica, Rotzien, & Doms, 1994), supporting adolescents (Kiselica et al., 1994; Rice & Meyer, 1994; Yoshikawa, 1994), caretaking for elderly family members (Schwiebert & Myers, 1994), coping with psychological disorders (Fristad, Gavazzi, Centolella, & Soldano, 1996; Twoey, 1997), promoting forgiveness (McCullough & Worthington, 1994, 1995; Worthington, Sandage, & Berry, 2000), and coping with substance abuse problems (Stanton & Shadish, 1997).
Couples enrichment psychoeducational groups attempt to promote more satisfying couple relationships and to prevent future marital difficulties from developing. The need for psychoeducation for married couples is extensive. The problems related to high divorce rates in the United States are widely known. Although there have been improvements in other indicators of social health, such as teen pregnancy and crime (Department of Health and Human Services, 1998; Taylor, 1999), divorce remains high (National Center for Health Statistics, 1999). Public leaders have recognized the repercussions of a high divorce rate on child and adult well-being and have taken steps to attempt to reduce the divorce rate. For example, Oklahoma has begun a marital initiative to reduce the rate of divorce in the state (Regier, 1999). In an effort to prevent divorce, some states have codified "covenantal marriages," which will not allow for no-fault divorce. Other states have erected other barriers to divorce (Anderson, 1998; Johnston, 1999).
Research on the effectiveness of marital enrichment for improving the quality of marriages has produced a substantial body of literature. Recent meta-analyses of marital enrichment interventions have revealed meaningful mean treatment effects for marital enrichment interventions (mean effect size of .32; see Hight & Worthington, 1999; see also Giblin, Sprenkle, & Sheehan, 1985). Many--but not all--marital enrichment programs have proven to be effective in changing marital functioning. Negative effects have been found for some couples in some popular programs. For example, research on the Marriage Encounter program found that some couples rated their relationship more negatively after an intervention than before (Doherty, Lester, & Leigh, 1986; Doherty & Walker, 1982)--usually those whose marriage was troubled at the outset of the weekend.
The current study compares two types of marital enrichment interventions that are offered in psychoeducational groups: hope-focused marital enrichment and forgiveness-based marital enrichment. The term marriage enrichment is used throughout this article is descriptive of interventions focused only on marriages, while couples or relationship enrichment is the term to apply to all types of romantic relationships.) The hope-focused program is similar to most popular couples enrichment programs. It focuses on communication skills and conflict resolution. In the forgiveness-based marital enrichment program, the focus is on forgiveness as an essential skill for couples to learn in their marriage (McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, Worthington, & Hight, 1998). …