Academic journal article Family Relations

Self-Directed, Therapist-Directed, and Assessment-Based Interventions for Premarital Couples*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Self-Directed, Therapist-Directed, and Assessment-Based Interventions for Premarital Couples*

Article excerpt


In this study, we present the findings of an investigation of the effectiveness of 3 models of premarital education. The study compares the outcomes between a workbook-only self-directed program, a therapist-directed (unstructured) program, and an assessment-based (RELATE) relationship enhancement program. Results revealed significant differences in effectiveness between the 3 approaches at the 6-month follow-up. The assessment-based program had more influence than the therapist-directed and self-directed programs on problem areas and was better than the therapist-directed program at improving communication and relationship satisfaction. Participants indicated that the most helpful aspects of these programs were the opportunity to discuss previously undiscussed issues, improvements in communication, and the perspectives provided by the facilitator.

Key Words: communication, marriage enrichment, premarital assessment, relationship satisfaction.

Marital and premarital education programs for couples come in many modalities although most share the goal to strengthen relationships (Hawkins, Carroll, Doherty, & Willoughby, 2004; Larson, 2004). Indeed, researchers estimate that almost 30% of couples seek some type of relationship enrichment close to the time they marry (Stanley, 2001; Sullivan & Bradbury, 1997), and evaluation studies indicate that many of these programs significandy improve relationship functioning (Carroll & Doherty, 2003; Jakubowski, Milne, Brunner, & Miller, 2004). These findings suggest that premarital education could improve many relationships, especially if methods that are likely to reach many couples are utilized (Hawkins et al., 2004).

In this study, we present a comparative evaluation of three different approaches to premarital education. In the primary experimental condition, we combine what Halford (2004) has called the two evidence-based general approaches to relationship education: skills training and relationship inventories. These inventories are instruments that are used to assess couples and provide them with feedback. The combination of careful assessment and skills training presents a promising approach to premarital education as it provides a way to tailor interventions to meet the unique needs of each couple. Assessment is a neglected aspect of premarital education that sometimes allows inappropriate couples (e.g., couples who are violent or couples where one person is experiencing serious psychological challenges such as depression) to participate in an educational activity when they may be better served in a more intensive therapeutic approach (DeMaria, 2005). In addition, if there is assessment at the beginning of a program, it is easier to evaluate whether there has been change at the end of the program (Carroll & Doherty, 2003).

Background and Significance

Recent reviews of couple education programs indicate that the approaches that have empirical evidence for their effectiveness are those that focus on skills training for couples (Halford, 2004; Jakubowski et al., 2004; Larson, 2004). Although there are unique attributes to each program, many of the skills that are taught are consistent across programs such as communication skills, conflict management, and the expression of positive affect. Another consistent aspect of most programs is that they are usually applied to couples as if all the couples are the same (Halford). Recently, authors have emphasized the importance of challenging this "one size fits all" approach and have noted the importance of tailoring interventions to the specific qualities, challenges, and strengths of each couple (Carroll & Doherty, 2003; Halford; L'Abate & Giacomo, 2003; Larson, Newell, Topham, & Nichols, 2002).

The primary way to tailor programs to meet the needs of specific couples is to assess the couples either with reliable and valid measures or through less formal approaches such as asking questions during interviews or educational sessions. …

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