Academic journal article Family Relations

Assessment: Assessing the Four Fundamental Domains of Marriage

Academic journal article Family Relations

Assessment: Assessing the Four Fundamental Domains of Marriage

Article excerpt

A large majority of adults marry in their lifetimes (Bjorksten & Stewart, 1984), and many couples seek professional assistance at some point in their marriage. For example, many young couples participate in premarital and early marital relationship enhancement programs (Bradbury & Fincham, 1990a), couples experiencing marital difficulties commonly seek psychological treatment (Veroff, Kulka, & Douvan, 1981), and couples planning to end their marriages often take part in divorce mediation (Emery & Wyer, 1987). As a result, marriage and family practitioners are confronted routinely with diverse and complex tasks that are involved in clarifying, understanding, and modifying marital relationships.

Perhaps the most fundamental task encountered by the practitioner is assessing the nature and quality of marriage, as this information is expected to play a central role in determining the interventions that are undertaken and their effectiveness (e.g., see Bagarozzi, 1989; Floyd, Weinand, & Cimmarusti, 1989; Fowers, 1990). An enormous number of instruments and procedures have been developed for assessing various aspects of marriage, and, in recent years, this material has been catalogued and analyzed in several books (e.g., Fredman & Sherman, 1987; Grotevant & Carlson, 1989; Jacob & Tennenbaum, 1988; O'Leary, 1987; Touliatos, Perlmutter, & Straus, 1990). In stark contrast to the availability of these resources is the recent evidence indicating that standardized assessment is not routine practice for the majority of marital and family therapists. In a survey of 598 Clinical Members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Boughner, Hayes, Bubenzer, and West (1994) found that 70% of their respondents rated standardized assessment as either "not at all important" or "not very important," and only 33% of the respondents reported using any standardized assessment instruments. Of the instruments that were used, respondents relied most commonly on individually-focused measures such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis.

From this disparity between the availability of measures and how frequently they are used, we can infer that practitioners are not gathering as much information as possible when selecting, implementing, and evaluating their interventions. The reasons for this gap are no doubt complex, and it must be recognized that relatively infrequent use of standard assessment tools is not equivalent to the absence of careful assessment by other means and that the use of standard assessment tools provides no assurance of a sound clinical conceptualization or successful treatment. As the data by Boughner et al. (1994) demonstrate, however, one key consideration in understanding the restricted use of formal assessment procedures is the belief by practitioners that such procedures are of little importance and, presumably, that using them would not enhance the quality of their interventions. This belief may prove to be particularly intransigent, because the belief itself--that standardized assessment is not a worthwhile undertaking--renders it unlikely that practitioners will collect the assessment data that are needed to determine whether their belief is accurate.

One interpretation for the gap between the array of assessment tools that are available and practitioners' willingness to use them is that the marital and family assessment literature has become a victim of its own success. The number and range of instruments has proliferated to such a degree that practitioners cannot afford to evaluate and select them properly and, as a consequence, avoid using them altogether or revert to familiar instruments--even if they provide limited information about marital functioning. The purpose of this article is to help overcome this problem by providing a simple framework that captures key domains of marriage and by suggesting specific instruments and procedures that can be used to assess important phenomena in each domain. …

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