Thursday, December 19, 2019

Best Practices in Relationship Education

My colleagues and I have written a new journal article on best practices in relationship education. You can get a copy of it (free access) from here.

Here are some out-takes from key sections.
Effectiveness of Relationship Education

There are numerous meta‐analyses of studies examining effectiveness of relationship education (e.g., Arnold & Beelman, 2019; Carroll & Doherty, 2003; Hawkins & Erickson, 2015; Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2008; Fawcett, Hawkins, Blanchard, &  Carroll, 2010). There has been evidence of effectiveness on measures of relationship quality, including communication and relationship satisfaction (.30 < d  <.36; Hawkins et al., 2008). Several studies have shown positive effects on relationship stability, including less breakup and divorce (e.g., Moore, Avellar, Patnaik, Covington, & Wu, 2018; Stanley et al., 2014). Other studies have shown effects on parenting behavior (.10 < d  < .16; Adler‐Baeder et al., 2013; Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, Pruett, & Wong, 2009; Moore et al., 2018). Additionally, there is evidence that relationship education is associated with reduced likelihood of intimate partner violence (IPV; e.g., Antle, Karam, Christensen, Barbee, & Sar, 2011; Braithwaite & Fincham, 2014; Markman, Renick, Floyd, Stanley, & Clements, 1993; Moore et al., 2018). This fact was noted in a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Niolon et al., 2017).
. . . 
Who Benefits Most From Relationship Education?

The evidence to date is that participants at greater risk tend to demonstrate the most benefit from relationship education (e.g., Allen, Rhoades, Stanley, Loew, & Markman, 2012; Bradford, Adler‐Baeder, et al., 2014a; Carlson et al., 2017; Gubits, Lowenstein, Harris, Hsueh, 2014; Halford & Bodenmann, 2013; McGill et al., 2016; Williamson et al., 2015). Indicators of risk that have been associated with more benefit from relationship education include higher levels of relationship distress (Carlson et al., 2017; Hawkins & Erickson, 2015; Williamson et al., 2015); cohabitation before committing to marriage (Rhoades, Stanley, Markman, & Allen, 2015); infidelity history (Allen et al., 2012); and sociodemographic risks, such as family instability, economic disadvantage, and minority status (e.g., Amato, 2014; Halford, Sanders, & Behrens, 2001; Stanley et al., 2014). Conversely, there is evidence that those with especially acute problems (i.e., aggression and alcohol abuse) may benefit less (Williamson et al., 2015). 

. . . 
Participant motivations revisited

The findings from the effectiveness trial including OurRelationship and ePREP noted earlier highlight an important issue. The effect sizes for the impacts found for these approaches (so far) have tended to be larger than what is found in traditional, workshop‐based relationship education provided to disadvantaged couples. This discrepancy could be due to any number of factors, including the benefits of online access, the specific approaches used, or differences in research designs (long‐term RCT vs. shorter term, waitlist control RCT). However, we believe the primary factor is the difference in motivation (and relationship quality) of those being served. When participants are distressed and seeking help, they have a lot of room for gains on measures of relationship quality compared with couples in more purely preventive applications.

There is a place for both purely preventive relationship education and relationship education delivered to couples who are struggling. Understanding who is served, how they were reached, and why they attend is crucial for understanding research on relationship education.

. . . 
Relationship Education as a Service—and an Opportunity

The room people find their way into is the room they were able to enter. Whether the service provided is exactly what is most needed or not, showing up creates opportunities to make people aware of other services. Because relationship education carries so little stigma, people who might need other, more stigmatized services (therapy, substance use treatment, etc.) can enter the relationship education door more easily than other doors. Thus, it is valuable to provide information about other services that may be relevant for participants. Although it is not advisable to assume that specific participants need additional help when they have not indicated they want help, we do recommend providing everyone who attends with information about additional resources available in the community. This strategy can also boost awareness of the relationship education services among providers providing these other services in the community. The goal is to leave people with more information than they had walking in the door. This strategy is strongest if educators demonstrate approachability so that those needing more help are comfortable asking for it (e.g., Daire, Carlson, Barden, & Jacobson, 2014).

*        *         * 

Citation: Stanley, S. M., Carlson, R. G., Rhoades, G. K., Markman, H. J., Ritchie, L. L., &  Hawkins, A. J. (2019). Best practices in relationship education focused on intimate relationships. Family Relations. Advance Online Publication.

Note: This paper is open access under a creative commons license that allows anyone to quote liberally from the article as long as attribution is given. Disclosure: I (Scott Stanley) co-own a business that disseminates relationship education materials and training.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Thoughts on the Typical Meaning of Predicting Divorce

The researcher who wrote the following tweet has a nice thread on some technical details about difficulties scientists have with prediction of things in humans. It explains one of the major problems in predicting. Clicking on the tweet will take you to the beginning of his thread.

In my field (psychology, studying marriage), much has been made of the ability to “predict” divorce. But, that’s not really what the takeaway of the research on that subject should be.

To start with, when researchers say you can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy, it’s not really prospective prediction. It’s classification after the fact in a given data set. Such models will not perform as well in a new, other data set. For a great article on the technical matters, in this field related to predicting divorce, see this article.
Further, even in those types of studies, there is usually massive measurement, often including objective coding of couple interaction. This is just not something available to anyone in the practice world working with non-study couples.

Many of us in psychology have published these types of studies. A better takeaway from such studies is that they show patterns that are associated with increased odds of problems in the future (and present) of a relationship.

That kind of information is valuable for highlighting risks and working to help couples think about what is possible for them to improve their odds. But, predicting a specific couple is going to make it or not? You can have an empirically-informed guesses but it’s hard to go beyond that.

All that being said, if you want the divorce risk for a couple you are working with, asking a couple questions will tell you pretty much.

                   How sure are you that you want to be with your partner in the future?

                   Have you been thinking about or talking about divorce?

Sometimes, just asking directly what you want to know can get you a lot of information. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Article that I posted at the Institute for Family Studies on Mandy Len Catron's piece in the Atlantic

I will cross post this here some day soon, but for now, here is the link for the article that I wrote at IFS.

Between Mandy Len Catron's piece in the Atlantic and this piece here, you have a pretty deep dive in the cultural, and personal, discussions people are having about marriage and cohabitation.

3 Questions That Can Clarify Commitment: A Response to Mandy Len Catron

Have at it. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Some Links about Asymmetrical Commitment

My colleagues and I have published a number of articles about asymmetrical commitment in relationships--especially in unmarried romantic relationships.  I have argued in many places that asymmetrical commitment is likely an increasingly common phenomena of romantic relationship development. The reason is that there are fewer steps and stages--less clarity about signals of commitment--in current patterns of dating and mate selection.

I will not state all the particulars here, but, instead, want to provide some links to the body of work we have around this important concept.

1. A short video of me explaining asymmetrical commitment and its association with ambiguity between partners about the nature of the commitment in their relationship, using the illustration of a teeter-totter (or, if you rather, a see-saw).  CLICK HERE.

2. A theoretical overview and review of key findings on the concept in a digestible blog article by me and Galena Rhoades. CLICK HERE.

3. A paper of ours showing that there are greater levels of asymmetrical commitment among couples who lived together before either marrying or having clear, mutual plans to marry--and that the asymmetry does not abate at all, years into marriage:

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J. (2006). Pre-engagement cohabitation and gender asymmetry in marital commitment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 553-560.

4. A paper of ours showing that asymmetrical commitment is associated with lower relationship quality, even controlling for levels of commitment between partners:

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2012). A longitudinal investigation of commitment dynamics in cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 33(3), 369-390.

5. A paper of ours examining associations between asymmetrical commitment and a) various dimension of relationship quality (e.g., relationship adjustment, aggression), b) relationship characteristics (e.g., cohabitation, plans for marriage), and c) break-up among unmarried couples in serious relationships:

Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Scott, S. B., Kelmer, G., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2017). Asymmetrically committed relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34, 1241–1259. Advance online version published in 2016.
[This paper has a pretty detailed literature review of the research by various scholars on asymmetrical commitment. Full word-doc, author version, available here.]

6. A paper of ours on the characteristics of individuals who are in asymmetrically committed relationships, including variables such as alternative quality and attachment dynamics:

Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Kelmer, G., Scott, S. B., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2018). Unequally into “Us”: Characteristics of individuals in asymmetrically committed relationships. Family Process.

A blog entry summarizing the findings of this article above. CLICK HERE.

A video abstract about this same article.  CLICK HERE.