Academic journal article Family Relations

Predicting Relationship Help Seeking Prior to a Marriage Checkup

Academic journal article Family Relations

Predicting Relationship Help Seeking Prior to a Marriage Checkup

Article excerpt

Although the barriers to couples' help seeking can be daunting, to date there is only a small body of literature addressing the factors that motivate couples to seek help. This study examined the association between attitudes toward relationship help seeking and relationship help seeking behaviors, as well as the association between marital quality and help seeking. This study was completed in the context of the Marriage Checkup, a brief intervention designed to reduce the barriers to help seeking. Results indicated that help seeking attitudes and behaviors were not related in couples, and that wives' marital quality was negatively associated with both wives' and husbands' help seeking. Husbands' marital quality was not associated with husbands' help seeking. Overall, this suggests that the process of couples' help seeking is distinct from that of individuals and seems to be driven primarily by the female partner. Further implications for theory and treatment are discussed.

Key Words: attitudes, checkup, couples, help seeking, marriage.

Although the barriers to couples' help seeking may be even more daunting than the barriers to individual help seeking, to date there is only a small body of literature addressing this topic (e.g., Doss, Simpson, & Christensen, 2004). Consequently, there are a number of questions remaining regarding the potential differences between couples' help seeking and individual help seeking as well as regarding the relationship variables that may be associated with couples' help seeking. Couples' help seeking can range from simply buying a self-help book or looking up relationship information online to discussing relationship issues with friends and family, seeking out a marriage retreat, or participating in a full course of couples' therapy. Partners may also vary in their attitudes about seeking help for the relationship from beliefs that relationship issues should be kept entirely private to beliefs that seeking outside help is easy and valuable.

Existing studies have revealed many of the variables associated with individual help seeking, but relationship scientists have only recently begun to seriously investigate the same phenomenon in couples. Couples present a unique challenge when it comes to help seeking, most simply because both members of the couple have to agree to seek help and because either partner can prevent effective help seeking. Studies of couples' help seeking could specifically provide a better understanding of the factors associated with couples leaning toward or against seeking help and to understanding the unique ways in which each partner's beliefs about help seeking might influence the other partner and the couple's outcomes. Studying what influences couples to look for outside help might help to further lower barriers to couples' help seeking, which can in turn help relieve the associated poorer mental, physical, and child health outcomes (Amato & Booth, 1991; Whisman & Uebelacker, 2006).

The current study specifically examined couples seeking a Marriage Checkup (MC) rather than traditional tertiary couples therapy because the MC was designed, in part, to actively facilitate couples' help seeking. Although there are similarities between the Marriage Checkup and more traditional forms of treatment, the MC has been shown to attract a broader group of couples, ranging from satisfied to "at-risk" to quite distressed (Morrill et al., in press). Our goal in this paper is to increase our understanding of couples' help seeking in the context of the ongoing Marriage Checkup project by examining the relationships between wives' and husbands' attitudes toward help seeking, marital quality and distress, and their actual help seeking behavior prior to enrolling in the Marriage Checkup. In particular, we aim to investigate aspects of couples' help seeking that have been suggested, but not yet investigated in the existing literature. For example, research has yet to determine the relationship between attitudes and behaviors in couples' help seeking and has only begun to examine partners' influences on each other in the domain of help seeking. …

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