Academic journal article Family Relations

Processes of Change in Self-Directed Couple Relationship Education

Academic journal article Family Relations

Processes of Change in Self-Directed Couple Relationship Education

Article excerpt


The current study examined the learning processes involved in professionally supported self-directed couple relationship education (CRE). Fifty-nine couples completed Couple CARE, a systematic, self-directed CRE program designed in flexible delivery mode to be completed at home. Couples watched a DVD introducing key relationship ideas and skills and then completed a structured guidebook. The learning process was supported by telephone-based coaching sessions from a professional relationship educator. Couples completed the learning tasks associated with the programe and successfully implemented a wide range of relationship self-change, and most reported continuing implementation of program learning at 6 months follow-up. These findings suggest that Couple CARE is readily accessible and results in effective skill acquisition for couples.

Key Words: close relationships, marital communication, marriage enrichment, relationship education, self-regulation in relationships.

Descriptive reviews and meta-analyses consistently show that skill-based couple relationship education (CRE) produces large effect size increases in couple relationship skills and enhances maintenance of at least some couples' relationship satisfaction and stability (Carroll & Doherty, 2003; Halford, in press; Holman, 2001). This pattern of findings supports the importance and value of providing CRE programs for couples early on in their marriage as a form of primary prevention. However, most couples choose not to access traditional forms of CRE, and extending the reach of CRE is a major challenge in realizing its potential impact in preventing relationship distress and dissolution (Larson & Halford, in press).

Couple CARE is a preventative, self-directed, accessible CRE program that couples can complete at home. The program also incorporates a minimal amount of professional assistance to help couples maintain their focus and enhance their skill development. The aim of this study was to examine if couples would engage with Couple CARE and implement self-directed learning strategies to pursue sustained and meaningful changes in their relationships.

Rationale for Flexible Delivery CRE

Many government organizations fund CRE in an attempt to reduce the enormous personal, social, and economic costs of couple relationship problems (Markman & Halford, 2005). A major limitation to existing practice and research of CRE is that, despite widespread promotion of education as a means to strengthen couple relationships, only a modest proportion (about one fourth) of couples access current forms of professional CRE (Halford, O'Donnell, Lizzio, & Wilson, 2006; Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006). Existing CRE practice can be conceptualized in terms of the relative levels of self- and professional direction involved, and various methodologies can be located among a continuum of "locus of direction" ranging from professionally directed programs at one pole to self-directed activities at the other. Professionally directed CRE would comprise structured face-to-face group formats facilitated by professional relationship educators. By contrast, selfdirected CRE would comprise self-initiated activities such as reading books, Internet or magazine articles, or watching videos. The Couple CARE program seeks to combine elements of both self- and professionally directed CRE.

Almost all professional CRE is delivered in a face-to-face group format that is not universally appealing or accessible to couples (Halford, 2004, in press). Couples give a range of reasons for nonattendance of CRE, but the most common reasons are the inconvenience of attending sessions and a reluctance to discuss personal aspects of the relationship with others in a group (Simons, Harris, & Willis, 1994). Many adults prefer to access psychological and other forms of education through flexible delivery programs, which can be undertaken at times and places that suit participants (Christensen & Jacobson, 1994; Taylor, Jobson, Winzelberg, & Abasad, 2002). …

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