Trajectories of relationship and individual functioning among waitlisted couples for an online relationship intervention

Allen W. Barton, Justin A. Lavner, Matthew J. Hawrilenko, Brian D. Doss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To inform research and practice with distressed couples, the current study was designed to examine patterns of change among distressed, help-seeking couples prior to receiving an intervention. Data from this study originate from 221 couples assigned to the waitlist control condition of a randomized controlled trial for couples seeking online help for their relationship. All couples self-selected into the online program and agreed to withhold seeking additional services for their relationship during the waitlist period. In contrast with prior findings, results from the current study indicated a general pattern of mean improvement in both self-reported relationship functioning (e.g., increased relationship satisfaction, partner emotional support) and self-reported individual functioning (i.e., decreased psychological distress, anger) over the six-month waitlist period. Nonetheless, the majority of couples continued to remain relationally distressed despite these improvements. Findings from the study indicate that distressed couples can, in fact, exhibit some degree of improvement absent of intervention. At the same time, overall levels of distress remained elevated, indicating that these improvements are not sufficient to result in high levels of functioning and suggesting that many distressed couples may benefit from empirically supported programs to realize greater gains. These results also highlight and underscore the importance of including control conditions in studies examining the efficacy of relationship interventions with distressed couples to ensure that any observed improvements in relationship functioning are attributable to the intervention rather than to naturally occurring changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFamily Process
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Couple Intervention
  • Couples
  • Relationship Distress
  • Relationship Satisfaction
  • Waitlist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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