Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Behavioral and Physiological Components of Communication Training: Does the Topic Affect Outcome?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Behavioral and Physiological Components of Communication Training: Does the Topic Affect Outcome?

Article excerpt

This study experimentally examined the Speaker-Listener technique when couples (N = 30) were instructed to either discuss an issue within or outside their marriage, on marital satisfaction, and communication behaviors. This study examined the J. M. Gottman, J. Coan, S. Carrere, and C. Swanson (1998) hypothesis that the Speaker-Listener technique may lead to improved marital satisfaction when the couple is discussing a third party issue, but discussing an issue about each other may weaken the marital relationship. Behavioral and physiological data during marital interactions were sequentially analyzed. Results suggested that the Speaker-Listener technique reduced negativity but did not increase positivity in marital interactions. There were significant differences in positive reciprocity across the 2 experimental groups, but no differences in negativity. Additionally, adherence to the Speaker-Listener technique was poor, which has implications for both research and theory. Possible interpretations and areas for further investigation are suggested.

Key Words: marriage and close relationship satisfaction, relationship processes communication.

In recent years, structured marital therapies, and particularly communication skiUs training in the context of such interventions, have come under fire. Although there is some evidence that marital therapy is more effective than no therapy, a substantial number of couples treated with various models of marital therapy do not attain the levels of satisfaction reported by nondistressed couples (Hahlweg & Markman, 1988). A comprehensive meta-analysis of published and unpubUshed couples therapy outcome stuthes concluded that approximately one third of marital treatment couples showed no improvement, and even among those couples who did improve, many stiU remained within the distressed range on marital satisfaction scales (Shadish & Baldwin, 2005; Shadish, Montgomery, Wilson, Bright, Okwumabua, 1993). Jacobson and Addis (1993) noted that up to 50% of couples who participate in marital therapies remain in the distressed range, and others have questioned the utility of marital therapies in promoting marital stability and satisfaction beyond a few months (Baucom, Shoham, Mueser, Dauito, Stickle, 1998; Christensen & Heavey, 1999). Therefore, further evaluation of the components of marital programs may help determine factors related to its limited efficacy. Recent researchers have advocated for dismantling research that examines the individual treatment components of marital programs, rather than evaluations of treatment protocols in their entirety (Christensen & Baucom, 2005). Consistent with this recommendation, this study experimentally examined the use of the Speaker-Listener technique, foundational to many marital therapy and enrichment programs, under differing conditions defined by the nature of the emotional issue under discussion.

Most couple communication skills programs (both enrichment and intervention) employ some variation on the Speaker-Listener technique (e.g., Gottman, Notarius, Gonso, & Markman, 1976; Guerney 1977; Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994; Miller, Nunnally, & Wackman, 1972). For example, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (Markman et al., 1994) provides a particularly succinct and structured version of the Speaker-Listener technique, and most behavioral marital therapy programs utilize some form of this module. Some researchers (Gottman, 1999; Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998) have suggested that the Speaker-Listener technique may actually be contributing to limited efficacy of couples' programs. The problem arises, Gottman contends, because the field of marital therapy imported methods from individual psychotherapy, such as therapist empathie listening skills, into marital therapy. Speaker-Listener techniques were derived largely from methods of Rogerian individual psychotherapy (and play therapy), in which therapists provide unconditional positive regard and empathie responses as their clients speak. …

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