Intentions to Seek Marriage Counseling

By Bringle, Robert G.; Byers, Diane | Family Relations, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Intentions to Seek Marriage Counseling


Bringle, Robert G., Byers, Diane, Family Relations


Intentions to Seek Marriage Counseling*

Robert G. Bringle** and Diane Byers

Intentions to seek marriage counseling were greater for persons with a positive attitude toward seeking marriage counseling, those who had previous marriage counseling, and females. Among persons with no history of marriage counseling, those having a supportive subjective norm were more likely to seek marriage counseling. Similarities and differences between males and females for the type of marital problem that might lead to marriage counseling are presented. Implications for counselors are presented.

In spite of widespread availability of counseling services, many married persons, as individuals or as a couple, do not pursue marriage counseling (e.g., Bowen & Richman, 1991). Even though rates of divorce reflect a compelling need for interventions such as marriage counseling, the majority of divorcing couples do not consult a professional prior to the dissolution (Wolcott, 1986). When asked why help was not sought, the primary reason cited (37%) was that "it was too late." This tendency to wait until there is a crisis in the relationship may be due to the belief that troubles will spontaneously improve with time, that outside assistance should only be sought for the most serious problems, that the problems are too private to be shared, or that outside assistance will not alleviate the problem.

When a marital problem develops, why do married persons, as individuals or as a couple, not seek marriage counseling? Fishbein and Ajzen's (1975; Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) Theory of Reasoned Action provides a conceptual framework within which to explore determinants of behavioral choices. According to the model, the best predictor of whether or not someone performs a target behavior (e.g., seeking marriage counseling) is the intention to perform the behavior. Barring unforeseen circumstances or the lack of opportunity to engage in a behavior (e.g., unavailable services, too little money), intentions are typically good predictors of behavior.

Why do some married persons intend to seek marriage counseling when there is a problem, but others do not? Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) identify two determinants of intentions: attitudes toward performing the behavior (i.e., "a person's general evaluation . . . toward the behavior," Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980, p. 55) and subjective norms associated with the behavior (i.e., "a person's perception that important others desire the performance or nonperformance of a specific behavior," Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980, p. 57). Concerning attitudes, they argue that a general attitude will not predict a specific behavior as well as the attitude toward the specific act. The attitude toward an act can be measured either (a) directly as the person's feeling toward the act, or (b) indirectly as a composite of the person's beliefs about the consequences of the act and feelings about those consequences. Similarly, subjective norms can be assessed either (a) directly as the net effect of expectations that important others hold about the person performing the behavior, or (b) indirectly by assessing the person's knowledge of normative beliefs particular others have concerning the behavior and the person's motivation to comply with those expectations. Furthermore, the relative importance of the attitudinal and normative components can vary. Under some circumstances the normative component may be more important than the attitude; whereas, for other persons, behaviors, or contexts, the attitudinal component may be more important than norms. Halgin, Weaver, Edell, and Spencer (1987) found the attitudinal component to be related to help-seeking from a professional psychologist, but they did not measure the normative component of the model. Application of the entire model to intentions to seek marriage counseling provides a means for better understanding why individuals do and do not intend to seek counseling by evaluating the degree to which attitudes and subjective norms are associated with intentions. …

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