Center for Couples and Family Research at Clark University

Center for Couples and Family Research at Clark University -

Current Projects

The Marriage Checkup Study

The Marriage Checkup (MC) is an indicated intervention for couples designed to promote relationship-healthy behaviors and to prevent or alter current patterns known to be associated with marital deterioration. Couples that ultimately become severely distressed first experience a stage in their relationships in which they evidence early symptoms of marital deterioration but have not yet suffered pervasive damage. Couples in this stage are unlikely to seek treatment because they have not yet become distressed enough to see the need, or because the time, expense, or stigma of therapy present too great a barrier. Such couples also do not seek premarital or newlywed interventions because they are in established marriages. However, it is during this stage that couples may benefit most from early intervention. Intervening with couples at this early point fills a niche between pre marital / newly wed psychoed programs and the intensive treatment provided by couple therapy. There are currently no empirically established programs for intervening early in those patterns that may lead to relationship decay. The MC is the first such program. The intention of the Marriage Checkup project is to conduct a randomized clinical trial to test the efficacy and safety of the MC and to test mechanisms of change.

  • The first objective of the study is to demonstrate that couples who are not severely distressed will be motivated to participate in the MC.
  • The second objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of providing immediate relief from the symptoms of marital strain that may hinder active pursuit of improved marital health.
  • The third objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of motivating appropriate help seeking by identified early-stage couples.
  • The fourth objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of facilitating the prevention of marital deterioration and associated mental and physical health outcomes.

Relationship Rx

With our collaborators at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we have been delivering the Marriage Check-Up, re-named Relationship Rx, for the purposes of this study, through a large community-based integrative healthcare organization, Cherokee Health Systems, in rural East Tennessee. This project has received federal funding from the DHHS Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Initiative and aims to make relationship help-seeking accessible to the low-income population that Cherokee Health Systems serves by recruiting couples through primary care physician visits.

One of the unique long-term goals of this project is to move couples towards greater financial self-efficacy, collaborative decision-making around finances, and ultimately greater financial stability. Though is intended to be a longer-term secondary outcome consequent to more general relationship health gains such as improvements in intimacy and decreased conflict, it is an example of a specific ways in which the Marriage Check-Up can be adapted to address the unique needs of various populations. Similarly, given the barriers to treatment many low-income couples experience such as difficulty with transportation and childcare, we are offering the Marriage Check-Up as a home-based treatment as opposed to asking participants to travel to an office or community center. We anticipate that these adaptations of the original MC protocol will enable the intervention to not only reach the low-income rural population that Cherokee Health System serves, but to also be of specific value to the unique issues couples amongst this population face, such as financial hardship. To learn more, please visit: http://relationshiprx.utk.edu/

The Emotion Skills Study

The premise of emotion skills theory is that people are born with a basic set of emotional responses and then, through experience, learn how to behave in relation to others in the context of those emotions. Researchers have found that infants as young as one month are able to express interest, joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt and fear (Izard, Huebner, Risser & Dougherty, 1980). Although infants’ emotional reactions are innate and elicited by both internal and external stimuli, how individuals learn to behave in the context of those emotions is taught to them by their community. As a result, individuals will vary in their level of skillfulness at managing emotionally challenging situations. In turn, variability in individuals’ acquired emotion skills are expected to play a significant role in their ability to establish and maintain intimate relationships. A main goal of this study is to explore and describe the natural variability in the ways individuals have of doing strong emotions—with a particular focus on hurt feelings—and to what degree skillfulness is related to intimacy development and a range of other relationship and individual health outcomes.

 

The Transition Out of Conflict Study

Navigating the path in and out of conflict conversations is a crucial aspect of couple communication that has yet to be examined. The transition out of conflict is important because nearly every couple will need to make this shift at some point in their relationship, if not on a regular basis.  Therefore, the aims of this study are threefold. The first aim is to evaluate the extent to which it is possible for couples to shift out of a conflict conversation. More specifically, we aim to examine how couples work together to navigate the transition from a conversation about a common area of disagreement to a more positive conversation. We want to determine if this shift in communication styles is possible for most couples. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this study aims to gain a greater understanding of the individual variables that are thought to potentially differentiate those who are better able to make the transition from those who are not, including: (a) gender; (b) attachment style; (c) emotion skills; (d) intimacy; (e) competitiveness; and (f) sportsmanship. In addition, this study aims to examine the longitudinal association between transition style and relationship satisfaction and stability by assessing the couples at a 6 month follow-up. Lastly, this study aims to evaluate a new and unique methodology for examining couples interactions.

 

Mindfulness: a New Conception of Intimacy Study

Do as I say, not as I do? An examination of the relationship between partner behaviors and help-seeking for alcohol related issues.