The Effectiveness of Couple and Individual Relationship Education: Distress as a Moderator

Ryan G. Carlson, Damon L. Rappleyea, Andrew P. Daire, Steven M. Harris, Xiaofeng Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Current literature yields mixed results about the effectiveness of relationship education (RE) with low-income participants and those who experience a high level of individual or relational distress. Scholars have called for research that examines whether initial levels of distress act as a moderator of RE outcomes. To test whether initial levels of relationship and/or individual distress moderate the effectiveness of RE, this study used two samples, one of couples who received couple-oriented relationship education with their partner (n = 192 couples) and one of individuals in a relationship who received individual-oriented RE by themselves (n = 60 individuals). We delivered RE in a community-based setting serving primarily low-income participants. For those attending with a partner, there was a significant interaction between gender, initial distress, and time. Findings indicate that women who were relationally distressed before RE reported the largest pre-postgains. Those who attended an individual-oriented RE program reported significant decreases in individual distress from pre to post, but no significant relationship gains. Findings also suggest that initial levels of distress did not moderate the effectiveness of individual-oriented RE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-104
Number of pages14
JournalFamily process
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data from the current study included a subsample of a larger, grant-funded project—Project TOGETHER, a federally funded project through the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance. The overall project scope is to provide RE to low-income couples and individuals. As such, Project TOGETHER offered two relationship education options for participants in the current study. Participants' relationship status, or ability to attend RE as a couple, determined the specific curriculum received. Participants attending with a committed partner received Within Our Reach (WOR). Participants attending RE individually (partner unable or unwilling to participate) received Within My Reach (WMR).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Family Process Institute


  • Distress
  • Low income
  • Relationship education


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