The Assessment of Marital Health

Bergner, Laurie L. (Ph.D., 1975)

Thesis directed by Associate Professor Peter G. Ossorio

Because of the difficulties inherent in the evaluation of marital health, many theorists have chosen to focus in the main on the concepts of reciprocity and satisfaction, rather than health. Yet, the concept of marital health, which is distinct from these, is a necessary one for therapists who treat marital couples and for researchers who are interested in the evaluation of such therapy. The lack of any such formulation provides the raison d'ątre for this dissertation, an overview of which is presented below.

(1) Previous literature relevant to the question of marital health has generally failed to adequately address this issue in one of two ways: either the authors have resorted to such notions as reciprocity and satisfaction (e.g., "whatever makes them both happy"), or they fail to address themselves to the full complexity of the marital relationship (e.g., "respect is the major ingredient for marital health"). Although some of the marital success scales are useful, they do not differentiate between marital satisfaction and marital health. In general, then, most of the relevant literature fails in one way or another to adequately address the question of marital health.

(2) In Part II, a conceptualization of marital health is presented. This addresses the question of "what makes a relationship go wrong," rather than "what makes a relationship go right." This approach is based on the notion that a relationship will go wrong if it is overly restricted in any of the ways that are significant to a marital relationship. These ways are conceptualized as ten relationship areas, designated as subrelationships. It may be noted that this approach is essentially sui generis and has no conceptual forbears in the previous literature.

(3) The Method section describes the Marital Health Questionnaire (MHQ) that was devised to evaluate couples' marital health. The questionnaire taps each of the ten subrelationships for both partners and combines this information for an overall marital health score. The experimental hypotheses, which are also presented in this section, refer to two major questions; namely, (a) is the MHQ a valid indicator of marital health? and (b) how do the subrelationships vary in their significance to the overall marital health of males and females?

In reference to the first of these questions, three validation procedures were employed, including the correlation of therapists' ratings of patient couples' marital health with their MHQ scores; the comparison of patient and non-patient MHQ scores; and the use of individual difference characteristics to serve as explanations for discrepancies in marital health and marital satisfaction.

(4) The fourth section presents the results pertinent to the two questions described above (namely, the validity of the MHQ and sex differences in the significance of subrelationships to overall marital health) as well as the consideration of a more general picture of the direction lack of marital health takes for males and females. In general, the MHQ was found to be a valid indicator of marital health, and some sex differences in the significance of various subrelationships to overall marital health were found to exist.

(5) The final section discusses the significance of the results for Study I, the original study; Study II, the replication study; and Overall Study III, which combines data for Studies I and II. Design limitations are considered, along with the ways in which this research contributes to the field of clinical psychology. [233 pp.]