Baylor Researcher Aims To Improve Marriage Counseling Techniques

February 27, 2006

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While more than 90 percent of Americans marry at some point in their lives, nearly half end in divorce, according the U.S census bureau. Many couples who are in troubled marriages pursue marriage counseling, but the techniques are effective on only some of the couples. But now, Baylor University researchers are seeking to improve the effectiveness of the techniques marriage counselors use, and they need the community's help.

Dr. Keith Sanford, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, and his research team are studying what makes marriages work and the degree couples benefit from relationship feedback. Sanford said the data collected will help develop more effective marriage therapy programs.

"The traditional approach to marital therapy focuses on communication skills training, but many couples are not helped by that training," Sanford said. "So one of the areas we are researching is exactly how much couples are helped by marriage therapy feedback and why communication skills training may not help some."

As part of the research, Sanford is seeking dozens of central Texas couples to participate in a free marriage assessment. Each married couple will complete a questionnaire and a communication exercise measuring how the couple communicates through a conflict. After the private assessment, each couple will be given feedback, which could help identify any areas in need of improvement or it could highlight unrecognized strengths. In addition to the free marriage assessment, each couple also will receive a free dinner for two at a local restaurant for participating.

"How well a couple can communicate through a conflict usually predicts the outcome of the marriage," Sanford explained. "The more we can understand what exactly changes communication behavior, the better we can develop programs to help couples."

Sanford said in a relationship that takes a turn for the worse, many times the couple develops certain perceptions or expectancies which maintain that negative direction. One of the key areas researchers will study are the different perceptions couples have about different conflict events and how those perceptions may guide behavior.

Funded, in part, by a grant from Baylor University's research committee, Sanford said the free marriage assessments are intended for any couple who would like to make a contribution to research, couples in a happy marriage who would like to enhance their relationship or couples who may be facing some distress.
Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321