Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Relational Instability on Individual and Partner Outcomes Following Couple Relationship Education Participation

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Relational Instability on Individual and Partner Outcomes Following Couple Relationship Education Participation

Article excerpt

Background

Some scholars have suggested that relationally unstable couples (i.e., couples considering divorce or separation) are better served by therapy than by educational forums (e.g., Doherty, 1995). However, a recent model for family life education and family therapy suggests that these types of services overlap and that individuals' needs are best met when the two services work in conjunction rather than in competition with each other (Myers-Walls, Ballard, Darling, & Myers-Bowman, 2011). Regardless, evidence suggests that couples reporting some level of instability are attending couple relationship education (CRE) programs (Blanchard, Hawkins, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2009; DeMaria, 2005; Halford, O'Donnell, Lizzio, & Wilson, 2006), which indicates a need to assess outcomes based on varying levels of relational instability.

Some initial research has emerged finding benefits for CRE participants in less stable relationships (Bradford et al., 2014; Lucier-Greer, Adler-Baeder, Harcourt, & Gregson, 2014; Quirk, Strokoff, Owen, France, & Bergen, 2014). An important next step is to investigate the comparative benefits of CRE according to varying levels of relational instability. In addition, CRE program evaluation research benefits from exploring changes following CRE participation in multiple domains (e.g., individual, family) using an ecological systems approach. Further, a dearth of CRE evaluation studies has assessed dyadic influences. Thus, our study contributes to the CRE program evaluation research by examining dyadic influences (i.e., effects of each partner the other) on multiple program outcomes for a large, diverse group of CRE participant couples experiencing different levels of relational instability.

Theoretical Framework

Most studies of CRE have been atheoretical, with a few exceptions (e.g., Bradford et al., 2014; Rauer et al., 2014). To advance the use of theory in CRE, we utilized a combination of assumptions from complementary theories. Our study is framed by the process-person-context-time assumptions developed from an ecological systems perspective of human development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Tudge, Mokrova, Hatfield, & Karnik, 2009). We expect that the current and historical environment is an influence on individual development and assume interactions and linkages among elements of the individual's environment. Along with the contextual influences emphasized in the ecological systems perspective is the expectation for the role individuals play in their own development by responding to and interacting with their environment through processes stimulated by elements of the context over time (Tudge et al., 2009). In line with this evolved bioecological approach are assumptions from the calamity theory of growth (Anthis, 2002; Farson, 1974), which more specifically theorizes that processes during stressful life experiences-including family-related stressors (e.g., frequent family conflict, infidelity, separation from spouse)-can lead to positive growth over time.

The calamity theory of growth has been utilized predominantly in studies of identity development (e.g., Dalla, Bailey, Cunningham, Green, & Vyhlidal, 2013; Kunnen, 2006); however, its use is more recently evident in family studies as well (e.g., Soulsby & Bennett, 2015). The theory posits that during stressful life experiences, such as feeling unsure about the stability of a committed relationship, a person becomes focused on the distressful situation cognitively and emotionally. This attention may facilitate more help-seeking behaviors and receptivity to learning and implementing new skills, thus resulting in positive growth. In other words, individuals may be more receptive to initiating positive changes during trying times. For example, Anthis (2002) found that stressful life experiences (e.g., death of a loved one, family financial concerns) lead to more exploration and change over time. …

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