Study Aims To Find If Distressed, Help-Seeking Couples Improve On Their Own

(Representative image) A new study has sought to examine what happens to couples who seek online help for their relationship but must wait six months before beginning an intervention program. (Alex Green/Pexels)

WASHINGTON — A new study has sought to examine what happens to couples who seek online help for their relationship but have to wait six months before beginning an intervention program.

The findings of the study titled “Trajectories of relationship and individual functioning among waitlisted couples for an online relationship intervention” were published in the journal “Family Process.”


“Given the ways couple dynamics affect individuals, any children, and the broader community, knowing how to support couples experiencing distress is a key area of interest for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers,” said Allen W. Barton, lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois.

“This research aims to provide insights into the dynamics and trajectories of distressed couples. We wanted to see if these relationships continued to deteriorate, remained the same, or started to improve on their own.”

The study included a nationwide sample in the US of 221 couples assigned to the waitlist control condition of a study evaluating the effects of participating in an online program to strengthen couple relationships.

During the six-month waitlist period, couples agreed not to seek other forms of relationship assistance but would receive the online program once the waitlist period had ended.

All participants were below 200 percent of the poverty level; that is, lower-income couples who historically have limited access to professional services for relationship assistance.

Barton and his co-authors followed these couples over the six-month waiting period, analyzing five waves of data to track changes over time.

The researchers found, on average, slight improvements overtime in their reports of satisfaction and support, as well as decreased negative communication and concerns about the relationship ending.

Though the changes were typically small, individuals also reported meaningful improvements in some measures of individual functioning, such as less psychological distress.

The researchers plan to investigate further how and why some couples improve on their own.

“For those couples who actually improved during this time, if we can find out what makes them resilient, we can use that knowledge to help other couples develop similar skills and capacities,” said Barton.

For some couples, it’s possible the process of deciding to do something to improve their relationship can help put things on a positive trajectory, he adds.

Barton, however, recommended distressed couples seek assistance to improve their relationship.

“If you are in a relationship and realize things aren’t going well, our findings seem to indicate that you shouldn’t expect your relationship to rebound and get much better on its own,” he said.

“Things may improve slightly, but only for some couples and not very much. Most, if not all, distressed couples can benefit from empirically supported programming and services,” he added.

For the research community, the findings also underscore the importance of having a control condition in studies of distressed couples, stated Barton.

Including a sample of people who have not yet received the intervention allowed researchers to compare any naturally occurring improvements with the results for those who do receive an intervention.

Barton noted these findings provide important information about the nature of distressed couple relationships throughout the country.

“Our study includes a large national sample of couples seeking online help for their relationship. This means we could get a sense of patterns over time, as well as the variability and the amount of change in this population,” he stated.

“We believe our findings are pretty representative of the state of distressed couples across America who are looking to get some help for their relationship.”

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil



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