By Sarah Hokanson
Bottom-Line First: Some couples come to couple relationship programs distressed while others are functioning pretty well. A recent study found that the brief Couple Checkup program delivered to couples in their homes helped both struggling and well-functioning couples, but those struggling benefitted the most.
The effectiveness of couple relationship education (CRE) may depend upon couple type. That is, some couples come to CRE in healthy relationships and others are struggling. This study looked at a sample of 455 couples (100% heterosexual, 62% married, 80% white, 28% below the poverty line) who participated in a brief, at-home couple intervention, Couple Checkup, which earlier research showed to be effective. Couples participated in the Relationship Checkup in their home (or another location of their choosing). The program included two face-to-face meetings with a facilitator, each about 1.5-2.0 hours long.
Researchers employed measures of relationship satisfaction, communication, and couple intimacy to explore different types or groups of couple relationship “health.” They also measured the demographic factors of marital, parental, and poverty statuses to see if couple relationship health types were related to these demographic characteristics.
Here is a brief summary of the findings:
- There were three distinct couple relationship health types:
- Couples in which both partners were below average in relationship health, with female partners reporting much lower scores. This group accounted for 18% of the sample.
- Couples in which both partners were below average in relationship health, with male partners reporting slightly lower scores. This group made up 26% of the sample.
- Couples in which both partners were above average in relationship health, with few differences between males and females. This group made up about 56% of the sample.
- Couple relationship health types did not differ based on any of the demographic factors, including marital status, parental status, or poverty status.
- All groups showed positive outcomes from participating in the Relationship Checkup But the two groups with below average relationship health responded best to the intervention.
- While this program showed positive outcomes for all groups, this did not necessarily move everyone up to a healthy level. Couples who started with much lower relationship health did not all end up with healthy levels of relationship functioning.
Here are some implications of these findings:
- It is important to look at differences within couples so we can better recognize their needs. Sometimes we assume that one partner accurately portrays the health of a relationship. However, this research suggests that partners often report different levels of relationship health. We need to consider each person’s perspective and experience so that we can best serve program participants.
- Different relationship types exist across different demographic groups. Often, we look at needs of our populations based on demographic factors. While these factors may play an important role in how and what we should be teaching, it is also important to look at the needs and health of the couple relationships regardless of their demographic profile.
- Providing flexible, briefer programs can increase access to services and may be especially beneficial for at-risk groups. Coming to their homes, teaching online, or adapting in other ways can help us to reach vulnerable populations.
- Because couples who started with much lower relationship health did not all end up with healthy levels of relationship functioning, this suggests that we need to consider the dosage necessary to meet the needs of the couple types we are serving. Couples who are functioning pretty well may only need brief services. Couples that are struggling may benefit from more sessions.
 Roberson, P. N. E., Lenger, K. A., Gray, T., Cordova, J., & Gordon, K. C. (2020). Dyadic latent profile analyses and multilevel modeling to examine differential response to couple relationship education. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000667