Treatment-as-Usual for Couples: Trajectories Before and After Beginning Couple Therapy

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Couple therapy has been shown to be a meaningful way to improve couples’ relationships. However, less information is known about couples’ functioning prior to entering treatment in community settings, as well as how their relationship functioning changes from initiating therapy onward. This study examined 87 couples who began community‐based couple therapy during a longitudinal study of couples in the military. The couples were assessed six times over the course of 3 years, including time points before and after starting couple therapy. Using an interrupted‐time series design, we examined trajectories across the start of couple therapy in relationship satisfaction, divorce proneness, and negative communication. The results demonstrated that couples’ relationship satisfaction was declining and both divorce proneness and negative communication were increasing prior to entering couple therapy. After starting couple therapy, couples’ functioning on all three variables leveled off but did not show further change, but previous experience in relationship education moderated these effects. Specifically, those who were assigned to the relationship education program (vs. control) demonstrated greater reductions in divorce proneness and greater increases marital satisfaction after starting therapy; however, they also started more distressed.

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