Predicting 2-Year Marital Satisfaction from Partners' Discussion of Their Marriage Checkup
Gee, Christina B., Scott, Rogina L., Castellani, Angela M., Cordova, James V., Journal of Marital and Family Therapy
This study tested whether the observed marital interactions of partners following a marriage checkup predicted marital satisfaction 2 years later. In addition, this study examined whether recommendations to pursue therapy predicted subsequent treatment seeking and whether changes in marital distress following the checkup remained stable over 2 years. Results suggest that the affective tone of a couple's interaction predicts later marital satisfaction. Further, receiving a treatment recommendation predicted subsequent treatment seeking for wives. Finally, support was found for the hypothesis that changes in marital distress are self-sustaining.
Although most marital interventions focus on either prevention or treatment, the vast majority of couples at risk for marital dissolution are neither newly married nor distressed enough to seek tertiary treatment. Few programs have been studied for intervention with this potentially large population of at-risk couples. The Marriage Checkup (MC) is an early intervention program designed to attract and improve the marital health of established at-risk couples and to prevent relationship deterioration by providing a marital health assessment and motivational feedback (Cordova, Warren, & Gee, 2001).
The MC utilizes motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 1991) to facilitate partners' movement through the successive stages of change (e.g., from not considering change to changing actively; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1984). A central premise of motivational interviewing is that providing people with information about the likely effect of their current behavior on their future health will motivate them to work toward positive change. For example, providing a couple with information about the association between their demand-withdraw pattern and marital distress should increase their motivation to improve their communication.
The two-session MC provides partners with an assessment of their relationship functioning based on empirically demonstrated correlates of marital health and deterioration. Results are reviewed with partners during a feedback session designed to reinforce relationship strengths, facilitate intimacy and acceptance, and motivate partners to address potential weaknesses.
This article follows earlier work demonstrating the attractiveness, tolerability, and safety of the MC (Cordova et al., 2001) by testing whether partners' observed reactions to their MC predict their marital satisfaction 2 years later, whether treatment recommendations made during the MC predict subsequent treatment seeking, and whether changes in relationship satisfaction remain stable over time.
Theoretically, an active and positive response to the feedback should reflect the likelihood that partners will actively address issues raised by the MC. In addition, there is a great deal of literature showing an association between partners' interaction and their current and future satisfaction (e.g., Gottman, 1994; Weiss & Heyman, 1997). Therefore, we hypothesized that partners' discussion of the MC would predict their long-term satisfaction.
In addition, many couples received treatment referrals as one of the options for addressing their issues. Referrals were made based on therapists' judgment; thus, only some partners received referrals. Theoretically, receiving a referral should increase subsequent treatment seeking by normalizing and otherwise lowering barriers to pursuing therapy. Therefore, we hypothesized that receiving a referral would predict subsequent treatment seeking.
Finally, Cordova et al. (2001) showed that a substantial proportion of couples self-referring for the MC could be categorized as at risk for marital deterioration, the MC was well tolerated (low refusal to participate and drop-out rates), and the MC was safe for use with at-risk partners (marital satisfaction improved following the MC and remained improved at a 1-month follow-up). …