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Which Relationship Skills Count Most?

  • American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology

Abstract and Figures

In an Internet-based study with 2,201 participants, the new Epstein Love Competencies Inventory (ELCI) was shown to have high internal-consistency reliability and to be a good predictor of various self-reported measures of success in romantic relationships; scores on the ELCI predicted satisfaction in current relationships especially well. A blind review of test content by licensed therapists also suggested that the test has strong content validity. The new test measured seven relationship competencies that various research suggests are important in the maintenance of long-term romantic relationships: (a) communication, (b) conflict resolution, (c) knowledge of partner, (d) life skills, (e) self management, (f) sex and romance, and (g) stress management. ELCI scores were found to improve with both age and the number of hours spent in relationship skills training. After communication, knowledge of partner and life skills were the competencies that best predicted self-reported positive outcomes in relationships—a potentially important finding given that the latter two competencies are not always assessed or taught in couple therapy or education contexts.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 12:297–313, 2013
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1533-2691 print / 1533-2683 online
DOI: 10.1080/15332691.2013.836047
Which Relationship Skills Count Most?
Department of Psychology, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA
Couple and Family Therapy Program, Alliant International University, San Diego,
California, USA
Department of Psychology, Chapman University, Orange, California, USA
Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego,
California, USA
In an Internet-based study with 2,201 participants, the new Ep-
stein Love Competencies Inventory (ELCI) was shown to have high
internal-consistency reliability and to be a good predictor of var-
ious self-reported measures of success in romantic relationships;
scores on the ELCI predicted satisfaction in current relationships
especially well. A blind review of test content by licensed therapists
also suggested that the test has strong content validity. The new test
measured seven relationship competencies that various research
suggests are important in the maintenance of long-term roman-
tic relationships: (a) communication, (b) conflict resolution, (c)
knowledge of partner, (d) life skills, (e) self management, (f) sex
and romance, and (g) stress management. ELCI scores were found
to improve with both age and the number of hours spent in rela-
tionship skills training. After communication, knowledge of partner
and life skills were the competencies that best predicted self-reported
positive outcomes in relationships—a potentially important finding
Address correspondence to Robert Epstein, American Institute for Behavioral Re-
search and Technology, 1035 East Vista Way, Ste. 120, Vista, CA 92084, USA. E-mail:
School of Social Sciences, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, and American Institute
for Behavioral Research and Technology, Vista, California, USA
298 R. Epstein et al.
given that the latter two competencies are not always assessed or
taught in couple therapy or education contexts.
KEYWORDS relationship skills, relationship competencies, rela-
tionship education, relationship therapy, Epstein Love Competen-
cies Inventory
Societal concerns about the poor state of America’s romantic relationships,
particularly the high rate of failure in our marriages, have grown in recent
years. Initiatives by both government and private groups are intended to
remedy the situation, and several initiatives, informed by numerous research
studies, emphasize the importance of teaching various relationship skills
to people in committed relationships (Fagan, Patterson, & Rector, 2002;
Hawkins, Wilson, Ooms, Nock, Malone-Colon, & Cohen, 2009; Reardon-
Anderson, Stagner, Macomber, & Murray, 2005). A number of studies have
indeed demonstrated that strengthening relationship skills can have positive
effects (e.g., Barnacle & Abbott, 2009; Larson, Vatter, Galbraith, Holman,
& Stahmann, 2007; Stanley, Allen, Markman, Rhoades, & Prentice, 2010),
and skill training has long been central in a number of relationship educa-
tion programs (Gordon, Temple, & Adams, 2005; Gottman, 2002; Notarius &
Markman, 1993).
Among the more dramatic outcomes reported, a program using the PREP
paradigm and focusing on improvements in communication and conflict
resolution skills found that training reduced marital conflict and produced
higher satisfaction levels in trained couples compared with matched controls.
Even more significantly, the program appeared to produce lasting effects
5 years after training; trainees had a 12% break-up rate at this point, compared
with a 36% break-up rate for controls (Stanley, Markman, & Jenkins, 2002).
Meta-analyses of relationship education and therapy programs have
generally reported positive results (e.g., Butler & Wampler, 1999; Carroll &
Doherty, 2003), although recent studies have cast some doubt on the gener-
alizability of earlier studies. For example, Fawcett, Hawkins, Blanchard, and
Carroll (2010) found that premarital education programs did not significantly
improve relationship quality or satisfaction when unpublished studies were
included in their analysis; they concluded that skill training is more likely to
be effective when it is customized to meet the needs of specific couples (cf.
Blanchard, Hawkins, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2009; Hawkins & Fackrell, 2010).
Tools for assessing relationship skills also exist. In some cases, skills
are assessed as part of a more comprehensive look at a relationship, which
might examine partner satisfaction, existing sources of conflict, personality
factors, family background, and other characteristics. Instruments that assess
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 299
relationship skills (among other things) include the online Couple Checkup
(Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2009), Couples Resource Map Scales (Murray
& Forti, 2009), PREPARE (Fowers & Olson, 1986), and the RELATE question-
naire (formerly known as the PREP-M) (Holman, Larson, & Harmer, 1994).
Both the RELATE and PREPARE instruments focus on communication and
conflict resolution as key relationship skills. Other tests, such as the CDEM,
the FOCCUS, and the PMIP, were developed by religious groups with reli-
gious couples in mind (Larson, Holman, Klein, Busby, Stahmann, & Peterson,
1995; Larson, Newell, Topham, & Nichols, 2002). Assessment tools have also
been developed for particular cultural groups (e.g., Elias & Malik, 2009).
Although relationship skills are both measurable and valuable, a com-
prehensive understanding of relationship skills appears to be lacking. It is
not clear which of the broad range of skills that people possess play a role
in healthy adult relationships, which skills are most important, or how we
can measure such skills comprehensively. Identifying and prioritizing a wide
range of relationship skills might help improve couple education, couple
therapy, and self and couple awareness. With this in mind, we examined
the relevant empirical literature to identify competencies that appear to be
helpful in long-term romantic relationships and then devised an inventory to
assess the current state of an individual’s relationship competencies.
In addition, we are aware of the recent shift in relationship and mar-
riage education toward preventative, competency-based training and of the
public’s new reliance on the Internet to address relationship needs (Olson,
Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2009). With these issues in mind, we sought to develop
an online, user-friendly test that could be used by singles for self-evaluation
and could also be used by couples, couple educators, and therapists to
measure a broad range of competencies within existing relationships.
Finally, we sought to prioritize the competencies according to how well
they predicted desirable outcomes in relationships.
To determine potential competencies that might contribute to success in
romantic relationships, we looked for studies that presented evidence that
a measurable competency—a functionally related set of skills that may or
may not have been previously expressed—(a) increased the longevity of
relationships, (b) increased satisfaction in relationships, or (c) reduced con-
flict in relationships. Based on a review of relevant studies, we concluded
that there are at least seven different competencies that have the potential
to contribute to success in romantic relationships (listed here in alphabet-
ical order): (a) communication, (b) conflict resolution, (c) knowledge of
partner, (d) life skills, (e) self-management, (f) sex and romance, and (g)
stress management. Definitions and relevant references are given in Table 1.
300 R. Epstein et al.
TABLE 1 Seven Important Relationship Competencies
Communication: knowing how to listen, sharing one’s thoughts and feelings honestly,
refraining from criticizing, etc.
Sample Item: “I often ask for feedback from my partner.”
References: Fawcett et al., 2010; Ferch, 2001; Meeks, Hendrick, & Hendrick, 1998; Sprecher
& Hendrick, 2004
Conflict Resolution: staying focused on the topic, staying focused on the present, being
ready to forgive or apologize, etc.
Sample item: “I’m always ready to forgive when my partner apologizes.”
References: Bodenmann, Charvoz, Cina, & Widmer, 2001; Creasey, 2002; Lavner & Bradbury,
2010; Shigemasu & Ikeda, 2003
Knowledge of Partner: knowing how to have fun with one’s partner, knowing about his/her
preferences, caring about one’s partner’s hopes and dreams, etc.
Sample item: “I always remember my partner’s birthday and other special days.”
References: Gottman, 1999; Gottman, Ryan, Swanson, & Swanson, 2005; Showers & Kevlyn,
Life Skills: managing money responsibly, exercising and staying fit, being able to find and
keep a job, etc.
Sample item: “I’m always prepared for possible hard times.”
References: Britt, Grable, Goff, & White, 2008; MacDonald, 1999; Olson & Olson, 2000
Self Management: knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, striving to overcome one’s
weaknesses, identifying and reaching one’s goals, etc.
Sample item: “I regularly take time to reflect on my dreams and obstacles.”
References: Barker, 2010; Frederickson, 1998; Gordon & Baucom, 2009; Proulx, Helms, &
Buehler, 2007
Sex & Romance: inquiring and caring about how to please one’s partner sexually, setting
aside time for intimacy, staying attractive for one’s partner, etc.
Sample item: “I always make time for sensual intimacy with my partner.”
References: Butzer & Campbell, 2008; MacNeil & Byers, 2009; Sprecher, 2002; Yabiku &
Gager, 2009
Stress Management: using imagery techniques, thought management techniques, planning
and organizational skills, muscle relaxation techniques, etc.
Sample item: “I have trouble prioritizing.”
References: Berry & Worthington, 2001; Bodenmann, Atkins, Sch¨
ar, & Poffett, 2010; Randall
& Bodenmann, 2009
Using methods employed by the first author in developing other tests
(e.g., Epstein, 2000a, 2000b; Epstein, Fox, Garcia, & McKinney, 2012; Ep-
stein & Muzzatti, 2011; Epstein & Rogers, 2001; Epstein, Schmidt, & Warfel,
2008), we then created items to be used in an agree/disagree 5-point Lik-
ert scale inventory. All items were derived from specific ways in which
For a complete list of supporting references in each category, download http://drrobertepstein.
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 301
skills were characterized in relevant studies. For example, because asking
for feedback from one’s partner is an important communication skill
(e.g., Shumway & Wampler, 2002), one item in our set of communication
questions was “I often ask for feedback from my partner” (see Table 1 for
other sample items). The final test, called the Epstein Love Competencies
Inventory (ELCI, accessible at, contained 70 items, 10 for
each subscale. Each group of 10 items consisted of nine unique questions,
plus one item that was a variant of one of the other nine. The latter item—a
dummy item, in effect—was not used to compute subscale or total scores;
rather, the correlation between items in the test’s seven dummy pairs yielded
a measure we call the internal consistency score (ICS). A low ICS indicates
for an individual subject that he or she has misunderstood the instructions or
has responded at random or dishonestly. The ICS can be used to eliminate
a subject from a statistical analysis (no participants were eliminated in the
present study), to ask a subject to retake the test (again, this was not done
is the present study), or, using techniques that we have reported elsewhere
(e.g., Epstein, Schmidt, & Warfel, 2008), to maximize validity or reliability
measures; no such techniques were used in the present study.
Participants were recruited through a notice placed in an online newsletter
that reaches many couple therapists and counselors (
Over a period of about 30 days, at least 18 therapists and counselors directed
2,201 participants to take the ELCI. Sixty-five percent of the participants were
female (n=1,434), and 35% were male (n=767); the mean age was 36.6;
84% were white (n=1,848), 3.5% were black (n=77), 4.5% were Hispanic
(n=99), 3.9% were Asian (n=85), 0.3% were Native American (n=6),
and the remaining respondents characterized themselves as “other” (n=
77). Twenty-four percent (n=530) indicated that they had completed high
school, 11.9% (n=263) had an associate’s degree, 31.4% (n=691) had
completed college, 24% (n=528) had a master’s degree, and 7.1% (n=
157) had completed doctoral work. Seventy-four percent (n=1,624) of the
participants said they were currently in a relationship, with 824 of those indi-
viduals currently married. Twenty-six percent (n=564) were neither married
nor in a relationship, and 0.1% (n=13) did not respond to this question.
Forty-four percent (n=982) of participants had never been married.
Validity and Reliability
The legitimacy of the seven subscales was established initially by our lit-
erature review, but we subsequently sought to assess the content validity
302 R. Epstein et al.
of these subscales using a blind evaluation procedure with independent
raters. This procedure was also used to help determine the content validity
of the 63 scoreable test items. Specifically, we asked a licensed clinical
psychologist (based in San Diego, California) who specializes in couple
therapy to distribute a form to 10 licensed couple therapists. The form did
not identify the name of the new test or the names of the authors of this
study. It merely noted that a new test of relationship skills was under de-
velopment and asked recipients to rate the importance of the subscales and
the appropriateness of the items for each subscale. Completed forms were
subsequently returned to the authors of this study without the names of the
In addition to basic demographic questions, participants were asked to rate
their current and past relationships on 10-point scales. To assess the predic-
tive validity of the test, we sought specifically to predict answers to the ques-
tion, “How satisfied are you in your current relationship?” We hypothesized
that ELCI scores would be positively correlated with satisfaction in the current
relationship, since, presumably, better relationship skills would help to pro-
duce better relationships. Since the length of one’s current relationship at the
time one takes the test is arbitrary, we predicted that ELCI scores would not
predict current relationship length. Moreover, because skills tend to improve
over time, we predicted that ELCI scores would be positively correlated with
our participants’ ages. Because skills were likely weaker during past relation-
ships and memory of older events is relatively unreliable, we predicted that
ELCI scores would be only modestly correlated with overall satisfaction in re-
lationships (past and present), if at all. We also conjectured that ELCI scores
would improve with level of education, that women would outscore men
by small margins in some areas, that racial and ethnic differences would be
minimal, and that skills would improve with training. Internal-consistency
reliability was assessed using Cronbach’s αand the Guttman split-half
Independent Ratings of Subscales and Items
Completed ratings forms were received from 7 of the 10 clinicians who had
been approached. Five of the raters listed California as their location; two
did not list a location. Two listed the PsyD as their terminal degree, one
listed an MSW, and the others identified themselves as LMFTs.
Mean ratings of importance for six of the seven competencies (com-
munication, conflict resolution, knowledge of partner, self-management,
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 303
There was more variability in how the appropriateness of items was
judged, with mean item scores for each competency ranging from 7.7 to
9.2. Once again, the lowest mean was for life skills, an area not normally
explored in couple therapy or education (see Discussion).
Reliability and Validity
Cronbach’s αfor our sample was .93, and the Guttman split-half value was
.91, suggesting that the ELCI has high internal consistency. Test scores were
predictive of several of our criterion questions. Total scores were significantly
correlated with whether participants had ever had relationship skills train-
ing (Mann-Whitney U=469,029.5∗∗∗,meanyes =72.10, meanno =69.33),
and with the number of hours of training participants had received (Spear-
man’s ρ=.16∗∗∗), with how highly participants rated their average satis-
faction in romantic relationships (ρ=.14∗∗∗), with whether they had ever
been married (U=509,728.5∗∗∗,meanyes =71.4, meanno =69.2), and
with their level of education (Kruskal-Wallis χ2=52.4∗∗∗,meannone =66.8,
meanhigh school =68.2, meanassociates =70.0, meanbachelors =70.8, meanmasters
=71.7, meandoctoral =73.8). (Nonparametric statistical tests such as Spear-
man’s ρ, the Mann-Whitney U, and the Kruskal-Wallis H are used throughout
this study because scores on the ELCI lie on an ordinal scale. Significance
level is indicated by asterisks: ∗∗∗ indicates p<.001, ∗∗ indicates p<.01, and
indicates p<.05. Unless otherwise indicated, all test scores are reported
as a percentage of total correct rather than as raw scores.) As predicted,
total scores were not correlated with the length of participants’ current ro-
mantic relationship (ρ=–.02, p=.47), with the average length of all their
romantic relationships (ρ=.02, p=.40), or with the length of time since
their last romantic relationship (ρ=–.01, p=.61) but were relatively highly
correlated with the level of satisfaction participants reported in their current
relationships (ρ=0.23∗∗∗). There was no significant difference between the
total scores of participants who were in a relationship (which includes all
married participants) and the total scores of participants who were not in a
relationship (U=449,433.5, p=.59, meanyes =70.47, meanno =70.44).
Although training in relationship skills made a significant difference
in total scores, it did not affect the seven competencies equally. Six of
the seven competencies—communication, conflict resolution, life skills, self-
management, sex and romance, and stress management—were improved by
training; however, knowledge of partner was not improved (Table 2).
sex and romance, and stress management) were high: between 9.3 and
9.8 on a 10-point scale. The mean rating for life skills was consider-
ably lower: 7.8. (Complete results from the content validity study may be
downloaded at
TABLE 2 Total and Subscale Scores by Gender, Age, and Training Level
Men and women Age Training
Mean (SD)
(n =1,434)
Mean (SD)
Age <35 yr
Mean (SD)
Age 35 yr
Mean (SD)
Mean dif-
Mean (SD)
No training
Mean (SD)
Total score 70.5 (10.2) 69.9 (10.5) 70.8 (10.1) 0.9 69.2 (10.2) 71.6 (10.1) 2.4∗∗∗ 72.1 (10.1) 69.3 (10.1) 2.8∗∗∗
Communication 77.4 (13.6) 75.5 (13.6) 78.4 (13.5) 2.9∗∗∗ 77.4 (13.6) 77.4 (13.6) 0 78.7 (13.4) 76.4 (13.6) 2.3∗∗∗
Conflict resolution 66.1 (12.9) 67.7 (11.7) 65.2 (13.5) 2.5∗∗∗ 63.4 (13.2) 68.5 (12.2) 5.1∗∗∗ 67.7 (13.4) 65.0 (12.5) 2.7∗∗∗
Knowledge of
77.0 (12.6) 74.2 (13.5) 78.5 (11.8) 4.3∗∗∗ 77.3 (12.7) 76.7 (12.5) 0.6 77.2 (12.5) 76.7 (12.7) 0.5
Life skills 68.3 (15.3) 69.2 (16.4) 67.8 (14.7) 1.4∗∗ 66.3 (15.9) 70.7 (14.5) 3.8∗∗∗ 70.7 (14.4) 66.7 (15.6) 4.0∗∗∗
Self management 75.9 (13.2) 74.6 (13.6) 76.5 (12.9) 1.9∗∗ 73.8 (13.2) 77.2 (12.9) 3.4∗∗∗ 78.9 (12.5) 73.8 (13.2) 5.1∗∗∗
Sex and romance 68.0 (15.3) 67.5 (14.7) 68.2 (15.6) 0.7 67.5 (15.5) 68.3 (15.1) 0.8 68.7 (15.6) 67.3 (15.1) 1.4
Stress management 60.6 (13.4) 60.6 (12.7) 60.6 (13.7) 0 58.7 (13.1) 62.3 (13.4) 3.6∗∗∗ 62.5 (13.1) 59.4 (13.3) 3.1∗∗∗
p<.05, ∗∗p<.01, ∗∗∗p<.001.
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 305
Gender, Race, and Age
The mean total score was 70.8 for women and 69.9 for men, with no sig-
nificant difference between these values. Female strengths were in the com-
munication, knowledge of partner, and self-management competency areas,
and male strengths were in the conflict resolution and life skills competency
areas (see Table 2). Differences between male and female scores in the stress
management and sex and romance competency areas were not significant
(Table 2). In addition, race was not a significant predictor of total score (χ2
=8.3, p=.14, meanwhite =70.4, meanblack =73.1, meanHispanic =70.4,
meanAsian =70.5, meanAmerican Indian =67.0, meanother =70.3, meanunknown
Splitting the data set at the median age of 35, we found that both the
total score and several subscale scores improved with age. The mean total
score (69.2) for participants under 35 was slightly lower than the mean total
score (71.6) for participants 35 and over (p<.001). Older participants were
stronger in four of the seven competency areas: conflict resolution, stress
management, self-management, and life skills (Table 2). Younger participants
did not score significantly higher in any competency area. Overall, there was
also a small but highly significant positive correlation between age and total
scores (ρ=0.15∗∗∗).
Regressions and Factor Analysis
Linear regression was used to determine how well the seven subscale scores
predicted both current and average relationship satisfaction. With respect
to current relationship satisfaction, Communication was the most predictive
competency (β=.16∗∗∗); knowledge of partner (β=.14∗∗∗) and life skills
(β=.09∗∗∗) were also somewhat predictive. Sex and romance (β=.10∗∗∗)
and communication (β=.07) were somewhat predictive of average rela-
tionship satisfaction.
An exploratory principal components factor analysis was performed for
all 63 scored items for all participants. To test the appropriateness of the prin-
cipal component analysis, we used both the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of
sampling adequacy and Bartlett’s test of sphericity. Our sampling adequacy
was .94, well above the recommended cutoff value of .6, and Bartlett’s test of
sphericity was highly significant (p<.001). Overall, the analysis produced
five distinct, interpretable, and statistically sound components (Table 3): (a)
communication, especially about intimacy and other needs, (b) self and
stress management, (c) conflict resolution, (d) life skills pertaining to goal
attainment, and (e) life skills pertaining to health and appearance. Compo-
nents b, d, and e appeared to represent participants’ personal skill set, and
components a and c appeared to represent participants’ interpersonal skill
306 R. Epstein et al.
TABLE 3 Factor Loadings for the 63 Scored Test Items
Item No.
especially about
intimacy and other
Self and stress
Conflict resolution
and perspective
Life skills
to goal
Life skills
pertaining to
health and
36 0.70
26 0.62
42 0.62
47 0.58
34 0.57
22 0.56
61 0.56
44 0.53
13 0.53
30 0.50
49 0.49
58 0.46
66 0.45
10 0.45
54 0.44
20 0.42
32 0.40
57 0.58
56 0.56
68 0.56
64 0.46
25 0.44
70 0.45
62 0.42
53 0.41
46 0.66
29 0.57
69 0.53
17 0.49
40 0.46
28 0.41
19 0.58
52 0.52
27 0.50
23 0.49
18 0.49
38 0.46
48 0.45
51 0.40 0.44
35 0.42
12 0.72
37 0.62
59 0.62
9 0.59
Extraction method: principal component analysis. Rotation method: varimax with Kaiser normalization.
Factor loadings <0.40 are not shown.
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 307
The results of this study generally support some commonly held views.
First, relationship skills, like wine, get better with age, although not
dramatically so. Improvement with age applies especially to certain com-
petencies: conflict resolution, life skills, self-management, and stress man-
agement. Second, our findings support the view that couple education is
beneficial: ELCI test scores were higher for people who had had relationship
skills training (Table 2), and more training hours were associated with higher
test scores.
Third, although women did not significantly outscore men overall, they
did score higher than men in three important competency areas (communi-
cation, knowledge of partner, and self-management), with men outscoring
women in two competency areas (conflict resolution and life skills). The
small but significant difference in the communication competency supports
the current view that women may have only slightly better communication
skills than men (cf., Hyde & Linn, 1988; Mulac, 2006). The biggest gap be-
tween male and female scores, with women outscoring men, was in the
knowledge of partner competency. This result is consistent with the finding
that women generally elicit more self-disclosure than men (Dindia, 2002).
Fourth, this study also supports the widely held belief that communi-
cation skills are essential for relationship success. Our regression analysis
confirmed that the communication competency was the best predictor of
self-reported satisfaction in one’s current relationship. Our study also directs
attention, however, toward two other competencies—life skills and knowl-
edge of partner—which are often not stressed in couple therapy or education
We were fortunate in this study to be able to obtain a relatively large
number of participants rapidly through referrals made by couple therapists
and educators to an Internet address ( Normally, with un-
known participants responding over the Internet, one would need to be cau-
tious about the validity of one’s data. Because referrals were made mainly by
couple professionals, however, we can be reasonably confident that our par-
ticipants were adults providing relatively honest responses. Some research
suggests, in fact, that people may be more honest when taking a test via
computer than when being tested face-to-face (Kaplan & Saccuzzo, 2009).
However, it is still problematic that, because our participants were informed
about the test while in a therapeutic or education setting, many were pre-
sumably in troubled relationships and therefore may not be representative
of the population as a whole.
Reflecting the subpopulation that normally seeks therapy, our partic-
ipants were also mainly white (84.0%) and highly educated (31.4% with
bachelor’s degrees and 31.1% with graduate degrees). Our scores may there-
fore be inflated; that is, the average American adult probably has weaker
308 R. Epstein et al.
relationship skills than are reflected in this study. This is further suggested by
our findings with respect to relationship training. Of our participants, 37.5%
said they had received such training, a number undoubtedly well above that
for the general population, and subscale scores—except in the knowledge of
partner category—were indeed significantly higher among participants who
had reported having such training (Table 2).
Because the ELCI relies on self-report, it could be argued that ELCI
scores (as well as the results of this study) may not be reflective of ac-
tual behavior but rather are indicative of an individual’s self-perception. We
question this perspective. Well-designed competency tests—that is, tests that
pinpoint behavior—are usually good predictors of performance, as a wealth
of data in the competency-testing literature has long demonstrated (Boyatzis,
1982; Smith & Smith, 2005; Spencer & Spencer, 1993; Wood & Payne, 1998).
While vague test items (“I’m a good communicator”) might produce answers
indicative of self perception, behavior-specific test items (“I always ask my
partner how his or her day was”) predict behavior well, and improvements
in behavior can often be predicted from increases in competency scores. In
another validation study recently reported by Epstein, Schmidt, and Warfel
(2008), for example, increases in scores on a computer-based test of creativ-
ity competencies were associated with a 55% increase in the number of new
ideas employees suggested to managers each week.
Because our test was administered on the Internet, we were also unable
to measure both test-retest reliability and concurrent validity. In a newer
version of the test (currently in use), we ask for participants’ email addresses,
which should allow us to do follow-up testing. This should make it possible
to assess both test-retest reliability and concurrent validity with at least a
self-selected subset of our participants.
The results of this study have implications for couple education, as well
as for clinical practice with both couples and individuals. Currently, cou-
ple educators and therapists often focus on strengthening communication
and conflict-resolution skills, sometimes focusing exclusively on these skills.
The present study reminds us that other skill sets are also important in
relationships. Two competencies in particular—knowledge of partner and
life skills—proved to be reasonably good predictors of satisfaction in one’s
current relationship; only communication was a better predictor.
One’s ability to hold a job, manage money, take care of one’s health,
and so on—the competency we are calling life skills—is essential in
long-term romantic relationships (Britt, Grable, Goff, & White, 2008;
Olson & Olson, 2000; Olson & Olson-Sigg, 2008; cf. Carroll, Dean, Call,
& Busby, 2011), but such skills are not always assessed or taught by couple
Which Relationship Skills Count Most? 309
professionals. Indeed, the experts who participated in a blind evaluation of
our test content ranked life skills as the least important of the seven rela-
tionship competencies we evaluated. Although couple professionals might
be able to help someone hold a job by assisting him or her with anger
management or assertiveness, they may have little to offer when it comes
to advising people about money management, economic trends, technical
obsolescence, downsizing, and so on. Life skills may be one of those areas,
like the proverbial elephant in the room, which is critically important in a re-
lationship but which we are poorly equipped to tame. Just as non–medically
trained therapists now routinely refer clients to physicians when medication
or other medical treatment is indicated, in an effort to strengthen their clients’
life skills, couple professionals may also need to refer clients on a routine ba-
sis to money managers, headhunters, life coaches, and continuing education
programs. As an alternative, couple professionals might consider adding life
coaching skills to their current repertoires, as Williams and Davis (2002) have
The other important competency that emerged in this study—
knowledge of partner—has more immediate relevance to current relation-
ship education and therapeutic practices. In short, this competency should
perhaps be elevated in importance. We say this in part because knowledge
of partner is easier for people to learn and master than are other relationship
skills. When a birthday is missed or someone seems unaware of a food pref-
erence or shirt size, the effects can be devastating, especially when these
omissions are habitual. Making people sensitive to this issue is relatively
straightforward, and fairly simple information swapping and memorization
exercises, given as homework, can presumably strengthen this skill substan-
If relationship educators are now widely assessing or teaching the
knowledge of partner competency, it is certainly not clear from our results.
(A notable exception is the “Love Maps” technique taught at The Gottman
Relationship Institute, which has been shown to boost the friendship compo-
nent of marital relationships when used in combination with other techniques
[Gottman, 1999; Gottman, Ryan, Swanson, & Swanson, 2005].) Knowledge
of partner was the only one of the seven competencies we examined that
was not stronger among people who had received relationship skills train-
ing, presumably because it had never been taught. Our finding that women
outscored men in the knowledge of partner category more than in any other
category may be relevant here. This may be a rare instance in which the
failure to assess and train allows natural gender differences to be expressed
more than they otherwise would be (cf. Dindia, 2002). It is curious that the
clinicians in our blind evaluation study rated knowledge of partner the high-
est of the seven competencies; relationship skills training may not currently
be consistent with their intuitions.
310 R. Epstein et al.
Although this study has yielded some fairly clear and potentially useful
results, we consider it preliminary in nature. We are currently in the process
of conducting a larger-scale study with more criterion variables to further
assess the validity of the ELCI. In the meantime, we believe that the ELCI can
be helpful to both couple educators and therapists as a tool for assessing
baseline relationship skills in both individuals and couples—information that
is increasingly seen as valuable to the therapeutic process.
We thank Randy Lie of the University California San Diego for assistance
in preparation of an early version of the test. For statistical advice, we are
grateful to Lyle M. Spencer Jr. of Spencer Research and Technology, to John
Polich of the Scripps Research Institute, and to Daniel Bajic of the University
of California San Diego. We are also grateful to Tracey Laszloffy for a careful
analysis of an earlier version of the manuscript, to Dennis S. Thompson for
pogramming assistance, and to Mark Kaupp for conducting the blind review
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... A comunicação é imprescindível à existência humana e consensualmente relevante em psicoterapia de casal, conforme aponta revisão sistemática da literatura nacional e internacional (Costa, Delatorre, Wagner, & Mosmann, 2017). Os programas de educação conjugal (Blanchard, Hawkins, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2009;Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith, & McKinney, 2013;Lau, Tao, Randall, & Bodenmann, 2016;Neumann & Wagner, 2017;Neumann, Wagner, & Remor, 2018) e de avaliação de processos e resultados em psicoterapia de casal (Baucom, Baucom, & Christensen, 2015;Tilden, Hoffart, Sexton, Finset, & Gude, 2011;Worthington Jr. et al., 2015), visando melhorar, entre outros aspectos, as habilidades de comunicação dos parceiros, têm apontado evidências consistentes dos efeitos positivos das intervenções, promovendo aumentos nos níveis de ajustamento conjugal. ...
... Além disso, a objetividade e a clareza, a capacidade de ouvir, compartilhar pensamentos e sentimentos honestamente e evitar fazer críticas são características de uma comunicação conjugal positiva e competências para uma relação satisfatória (Epstein et al., 2013). Para testar esse argumento, Epstein e colaboradores avaliaram sete fatores considerados competências importantes em um relacionamento romântico em uma amostra de 2.201 participantes. ...
... Os pressupostos teóricos e empíricos apresentados evidenciam a relevância da comunicação no relacionamento conjugal. Trata-se de um aspecto que possibilita observar as características da interação entre os cônjuges (Costa et al., 2016;Féres-Carneiro & Diniz-Neto, 2010), e no qual os casais podem investir no sentido de prevenir problemas futuros, participando, por exemplo, de programas de educação conjugal pré e pós núpcias (Blanchard et al., 2009;Epstein et al., 2013;Lau et al., 2016;Neumann & Wagner, 2017;Neumann et al., 2018). Ademais, nas psicoterapias de casal baseadas em evidências, a comunicação entre os cônjuges aparece nos estudos como um dos principais focos da intervenção, promotores de resultados positivos (Baucom et al., 2015;Costa et al., 2017;Tilden et al., 2011;Worthington Jr. et al., 2015). ...
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A comunicação é imprescindível à avaliação e intervenção em psicoterapia conjugal. Nesse sentido, foi investigado se a comunicação conjugal negativa e aberta impactam no ajustamento conjugal de casais heterossexuais. Trata-se de um estudo quantitativo, transversal, correlacional e explicativo. Foram avaliados 231 casais residentes no Sul do Brasil. Os participantes responderam o Communication Questionnaire e o Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale R-DAS. Os dados foram analisados de forma diádica por meio do Actor Partner Interdependence Model - APIM e indicaram que a comunicação negativa provoca impacto superior à comunicação aberta no ajustamento conjugal de maridos e esposas, já que provocou efeitos ator e parceiro. A comunicação aberta provocou somente o efeito ator para maridos e esposas. Os resultados foram discutidos à luz da literatura científica considerando as possíveis implicações para a área clínica e para a pesquisa.
... In a recent Internet-based study with 2,201 subjects, Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith, and McKinney (2013) used regression analysis to rank order seven relationship competencies according to how well they predicted various self-reported indicators of relationship success. Specifically, subscale scores on a test of relationship competencies-the Epstein Love Competencies Inventory (ELCI, pronounced "Elsie, " accessible at or used to predict self-reported answers to questions about past and current relationship satisfaction and other variables. ...
... To assess the content validity of the test, Epstein et al. (2013) also reported ratings of the value of both the items and the competencies by seven independent clinical professionals. A double-blind procedure was used to obtain the ratings. ...
... One deficiency in the Epstein et al. (2013) study was the sample. It was, by current standards, relatively small, and most of the participants were referred by clinical professionals who subscribed to an online newsletter maintained by ...
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In a large-scale follow-up to a recently published study, data obtained from 25,507 subjects in 58 countries (mainly the United States and Canada) were analyzed in an attempt to rank order seven important relationship competencies. In both studies, two competencies—communication and knowledge of partner—proved to be the strongest predictors of self-reported satisfaction in current relationships, a finding that might help provide some guidance for relationship education and therapy. Although both studies showed little differences overall between the relationship skills of males and females—that is, only small, nonsignificant differences in total scores obtained on the testing instrument—both studies found clear differences in the kinds of skills males and females bring to intimate relationships, a finding that is consistent with the findings of other studies. Effects were also found for race, education, and sexual orientation but not for age or country of residence.
... Although the larger problem has no easy solution, we believe that internet users should at least have access to free, empirically validated online tests, and, in that spirit, the first author of the present study, working with various associates, has developed a number of such tests over the years in areas such as creativity (Epstein & Phan, 2012;Epstein et al., 2008Epstein et al., , 2013aEpstein et al., , 2013b, mental health screening (Epstein & Muzzatti, 2011;Epstein et al., 2017), sexual orientation , parenting (Epstein et al., submitted), stress management (Epstein et al., submitted), motivation (Epstein et al., 2022), and relationship skills (Epstein et al., 2013a(Epstein et al., , 2013b(Epstein et al., , 2016. ...
... Although the larger problem has no easy solution, we believe that internet users should at least have access to free, empirically validated online tests, and, in that spirit, the first author of the present study, working with various associates, has developed a number of such tests over the years in areas such as creativity (Epstein & Phan, 2012;Epstein et al., 2008Epstein et al., , 2013aEpstein et al., , 2013b, mental health screening (Epstein & Muzzatti, 2011;Epstein et al., 2017), sexual orientation , parenting (Epstein et al., submitted), stress management (Epstein et al., submitted), motivation (Epstein et al., 2022), and relationship skills (Epstein et al., 2013a(Epstein et al., , 2013b(Epstein et al., , 2016. ...
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When competent adults are treated like children, negative outcomes sometimes follow. We used a concurrent study design to conduct an internet-based study to determine how infantilization varies by demographic category and which types of infantilization might be most harmful. The test, which measured 15 types of infantilization, was taken by 32,118 people (mean age 27.6) from 153 countries (most from the United States). Test scores were correlated with self-reported happiness, depression, anger, sense of control, and personal and professional success, and regression analyses consistently showed that of the 15 types of infantilization we measured, emotional abuse was by far the best predictor of adverse outcomes. Infantilization was highest during the teen years and decreased gradually throughout adulthood. Effects were found for gender, education, and sexual orientation, with vulnerable groups more subject to infantilization. Our data, collected between 2011 and 2020, appear to parallel recent increases in authoritarianism and intolerance, with total infantilization scores increasing by 30.1% over this period.
... Different studies show that the attachment style, as an independent variable, predicts the type of strategy that will be used by spouses (Ricco & Sierra, 2017), marital quality (Scheeren et al., 2014;Scheeren et al., 2015), as well as marital status adjustment (Cobb et al., 2001;Consoli et al., 2018;Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith, & McKinney, 2013), a variable that assesses how well adjusted the couple is through levels of satisfaction, consensus and cohesion (Hollist et al., 2012). As initially mentioned, attachment styles influence the way people perceive their spouse and conflict situations, interpret events in the relationship and behave towards them, interfering in the way they communicate, demonstrate their needs, resolve conflicts and assess the relationship (Cobb et al., 2001;Curran et al., 2011;Deitz et al., 2015;Lamela et al., 2010). ...
... them and understand them (Cobb et al., 2001;Lamela et al., 2010). For them, cohesion had a higher discriminating magnitude than men, which may indicate a difference previously found in other studies (Curran et al., 2011;Epstein et al., 2013), in which men are guided mainly by aspects rational ways of resolving marital conflicts, like consensus, while women are guided by emotional aspects, in this case, through cohesion, a variable that measures the level of emotional closeness and affinity between spouses (Hollist et al., 2012). ...
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The internalized attachment in childhood has consequences in the adult life, specifically in the marital life, which demands greater closeness, intimacy and interdependence. In this sense, it was analyzed whether the communication, marital adjustment, frequency, intensity and conflict resolution variables discriminate individuals with secure and insecure attachment in heterosexual relationships. It is a quantitative, descriptive and explanatory study. Data from 485 participants were collected in the south of Brazil through the following measures: Experience in Close Relationship, Marital Conflict Scale, Conflict Resolution Behavior Questionnaire, Communication Questionnaire and Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale. The results of the discriminant analysis indicated that the variables tested characterize secure or insecure attachment. Therefore, the type of attachment is a relevant resource in the assessment of individual and marital functioning. Psychotherapy interventions are discussed considering the relational bias of the attachment theory and the results observed in the scientific literature.
... Previous studies related higher couple quality with less conflicts and with more positive results in resolving family coping [54]. In this sense, recognizing difficult situations for couples to deal with would be the first step in coping and looking for advice provided by via education programs or through personal, family, or couples therapy [55]. ...
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The importance of family functioning in the development of child and adult psychopathology has been widely studied. However, the relationship between partners’ adjustment and family health is less studied. This paper aims to describe and summarize research that analyzes the relationship between partners’ adjustment and family health. A systematic review was conducted in the PubMed, PsycINFO, Scopus, Lilacs, Psicodoc, Cinahl, and Jstor databases. Inclusion criteria were as follows: articles published from 2012 to 2019 in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. Data were extracted and organized according to the family health model: family climate, integrity, functioning, and coping. Initially, 835 references were identified, and 24 articles were assessed for quality appraisal. Finally, 20 publications were selected. Results showed that couple adjustment was an important factor that triggered the emotional climate of the family, was positively intercorrelated to parenting alliance or coparenting, and contributed to family efficacy and help when facing stressful life events. Findings revealed a consensus about the relationship between couple dyadic adjustment and family health. The results could orientate interventions to promote well-being and to increase quality of life and family strength. Health professionals should thoroughly study couple relationships to identify risk factors, assess family skills, and promote family health.
... Specific personality characteristics, attitudes, competences, and behaviours influence satisfaction in long-term relationship (e.g. Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith & McKinney, 2013;Landis, Peter-Wight, Martin & Bodemann, 2013;Schneewind & Wunderer, 2003;Stegmann & Schmitt, 2006), and some of these qualities are clearly related to wisdom. For example, Schneewind et al. (2004) found that people who believe that relationships have developmental potential demand more of their relationships, are more willing to accept divergent opinions, and are more optimistic about overcoming problems together. ...
Objectives Human beings are social entities – our development occurs in and through interaction with others. Thus, it seems likely that relationships influence the development of wisdom, especially long-term intimate relationships in which couples share many important life experiences, and that wisdom, in turn, influences relationships. How wisdom relates to characteristics of intimate relationships has received little attention in the research literature. As a first step in a research program addressing this question, this study analyzed associations between participants’ levels of wisdom and their views of a good relationship. Design and Participants A sample of 155 individuals aged 23-90 years participated in two sessions including semi-structured qualitative interviews and questionnaires. Measurements The participants were interviewed about their views of a good intimate relationship. Wisdom was measured using a self-report scale and two open-ended performance measures. Results Wisdom was significantly related to some of the content categories identified in participants’ views about a good relationship, although some correlations differed between wisdom measures. Emphasizing the relevance of mutual respect and conscious attention in relationships was related to both performance measures of wisdom. Paying considerate attention to the relationship and viewing it as a chance for personal development were each related to one measure of wisdom. Conclusions The results support the notion that wisdom is related to how participants regulate long-term relationships. We consider them as a promising first step in a research program investigating the dynamic interrelation between wisdom and intimate relationships.
... It thus follows that, if the couple develops the ability to resolve marital confl icts prior to commencing parenthood and co-parenthood, this would safeguard child adjustment (Mosmann et al., 2008). In this sense, it is important that intimate partners recognize confl ict situations that are diffi cult to deal with in order to seek help via marriage education programs or through personal, family or couples therapy (Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith, & McKinney, 2013;Kumpfer & Brooks, 2010). Commencing parenthood before learning to constructively manage confl icts that could even increase in intensity and frequency due to the diffi culties inherent to parenting can be a child-development risk factor. ...
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Studies indicate that the mental health of children suffer positive and negative reverberations not only from the parent-child relationship, but also from marital and coparenting aspects. However, the nature and magnitude of these associations, when considered together, are not yet sufficiently understood, especially in the national context. This study aims to investigate in children and adolescents with and without clinical psychological symptoms, the discriminant role of the variables of their parent’s marital, parental and coparental relations. The sample consists of 200 participants, with children 4-18 years old in a steady relationship and cohabiting with the offspring. Through discriminating statistical analysis the variables coparental competition, intrusiveness of parenting, child exposure to coparenting conflict, and marital conflict were identified as discriminant of children with clinical symptoms. The results indicate that the coparental subsystem prevails in this relationship, however the three dimensions analyzed interact interdependently in the psychological adjustment of children.
... Estima-se então que seria protetivo ao ajustamento dos fi lhos que a capacidade para resolver os confl itos conjugais fosse desenvolvida antes do exercício da coparentalidade e da parentalidade (Mosmann et al., 2008). Nesse sentido, seria importante aos cônjuges identifi car as situações de confl ito que se mostram mais difíceis de manejar, buscando auxílio por meio de programas de educação conjugal ou ainda de psicoterapia individual, de casal ou familiar (Epstein, Warfel, Johnson, Smith, & McKinney, 2013;Kumpfer & Brooks, 2010). Tornar-se pais antes de aprender gerenciar construtivamente os confl itos que poderão, inclusive, aumentar em intensidade e frequência devido as difi culdades inerentes ao exercício da parentalidade pode ser um fator de risco ao desenvolvimento da prole. ...
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Resumo Estudos indicam que a saúde mental dos fi lhos sofre reverberações positivas e negativas não somente da relação pais-fi lhos, mas também de aspectos da conjugalidade e da coparentalidade. Entretanto, a natureza e a magnitude dessas associações, quando analisadas em conjunto, ainda não foram sufi cientemente compreendidas, especialmente no contexto nacional. Nesse sentido, objetivou-se investigar em crianças e adolescentes com e sem sintomas psicológicos clínicos, qual o papel discriminante das variáveis da relação conjugal, coparental e parental de seus pais. A amostra foi composta por 200 participantes, com fi lhos de 4 a 18 anos, casados e coabitando com a prole. Através de análise estatística discriminante identifi cou-se as variáveis competição coparental, prática parental de intrusividade, exposição do fi lho ao confl ito coparental e confl ito conjugal como discriminante dos fi lhos com sintomas clínicos. Os resultados apontam que o subsistema coparental prepondera nesta relação, entretanto as três dimensões analisadas interagem de forma interdependente no ajustamento psicológico dos fi lhos. Palavras-chave: Crianças, adolescentes, sintomas, relações familiares. Abstract Studies indicate that the mental health of children suffer positive and negative reverberations not only from the parent-child relationship, but also from marital and coparenting aspects. However, the nature and magnitude of these associations, when considered together, are not yet suffi ciently understood, _________________________________________________ * Endereço para correspondência: Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Psicologia, Av. Unisinos, 950, São Leopoldo, RS, Brasil 93022-000. Fone: (51) 3591-1207.
This chapter will introduce Positive Psychology, a new scientific field in psychology, which focuses upon the positive aspects of human life (e.g. happiness, well-being, flourishing). Positive relationships are considered vital in contributing to well-being. Short instruments that measure positive relationships, among other concepts, will be cited, and the necessity of a measure to purposely and specifically assess an individual’s positive relating across the eight regions of the Interpersonal Octagon, as described by Relating Theory (Birtchnell, How humans relate: A new interpersonal theory, Hardback, Westport, CT: Praeger; paperback, Hove, UK: Psychology Press, 1993/1996), will be discussed. The usefulness of such a measure in clinical practice and the readiness of therapists to use it are further argued. Finally, the chapter describes the development of the Person’s Positive Relating to Others Questionnaire (PPROQ), with emphasis on the process of item analysis and construct validation.
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This chapter summarises and critically evaluates the research presented in this book and proposes directions for future research on Relating Theory. Measures of relating/interrelating are introduced and issues, such as their psychometric properties, the need to develop further translations and Internet-administered versions, the issue of validity, and the need to measure relating/interrelating in various contexts and samples, are discussed. The application of Relating Theory and its associated measures in clinical and forensic contexts is then considered. Issues such as examining the effectiveness of Relating Therapy with methodologically robust studies, incorporating principles of Relating Therapy into other forms of therapy, contemporary applications (e.g. e-therapy and combining the Positive Psychology approach), the advantages of providing feedback to respondents, and the circumstances under which relating/interrelating changes are addressed. Although the editors conclude that Relating Theory has already established its own place in the literature, future research is encouraged to spread its use even further.
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Review of book, Patrick Williams and Deborah Davis (Aus.) Therapist as Life Coach. New York: Norton, 2002. 216 pp. ISBN 0-393-70341-X. Reviewed by Ronald E. Fox.
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Stress is a concept that has received increased attention in marital research during the last decade showing that it plays an important role in understanding the quality and stability of close relationships. Evidence suggests that stress is a threat to marital satisfaction and its longevity. Research has been based upon theoretical models of stress in close relationships, specifically family stress models (e.g. Hill, 1958; McCubbin & Patterson, 1983) and couple’s stress model’s proposed by Karney, Story, & Bradbury (2005) and Bodenmann (1995, 2005). In this review we: (1) examine the various theoretical models of stress, (2) analyze and summarize the typologies relating to stress models (internal versus external, major versus minor, acute versus chronic), and (3) summarize findings from stress research in couples that has practical significance and may inspire clinical work. Future directions in research and clincial significance are suggested.
This comment on the article by S. Goldberg et al (see record 1999-15264-001) provides theoretical and empirical support for 2 independent systems, love and security of attachment, that have often been confounded in the literature. These systems have different functions, different emotions, a different distribution among the primates, and a different pattern of theoretically expected sex differences. Evidence for this distinction can be found in M. D. S. Ainsworth's (1967) original empirical studies and the recent work of Phillip R. Shaver and his colleagues (K. A. Brennan, L. L. Clark, & P. R. Shaver, 1998), as well as data reported here. The Experiences in Close Relationships Inventory (ECR) was administered to 239 undergraduates. Participants also filled out the Nurturance/Love (LOV) scale from the Interpersonal Adjective Scale Big Five–Revised to explore expected negative correlations between love as measured in standard personality tests and the avoidance factor of the ECR. As predicted, women scored lower on the Avoidance scale and higher on the LOV scale, whereas there were no gender differences in security in close relationships. As predicted, LOV was negatively correlated with avoidance but not with security.
This article describes and evaluates 5 comprehensive premarital assessment questionnaires (PAQs) that can be used in high school, university, and church or secular settings by family life educators and premarital counselors. The criteria on which PAQs should be evaluated are described and each instrument is evaluated according to these criteria. Recommendations for using PAQs are discussed.
This study describes the development of a comprehensive premarital assessment instrument, the PREParation for Marriage (PREP-M) Questionnaire, and evaluates the ability of the questionnaire to predict marital satisfaction and stability one year after marriage. The results suggest that the higher the premarital PREP-M scores, the higher the marital satisfaction and marital stability. Means for the most satisfied and most stable individuals were usually significantly higher than the least satisfied and stable individuals and individuals who had canceled or delayed marriage. Educational, counseling, and research implications are drawn.