Department of Psychology - Clark University - Worcester - Massachusetts 
Dr. James Cordova, Project Director


The Center for Couples and Family Research
Clark University  
950 Main St. Worcester, MA 01610 


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The Marriage Checkup Study

The Marriage Checkup (MC) is an indicated intervention for couples designed to promote relationship-healthy behaviors and to prevent or alter current patterns known to be associated with marital deterioration. Couples that ultimately become severely distressed first experience a stage in their relationships in which they evidence early symptoms of marital deterioration but have not yet suffered pervasive damage. Couples in this stage are unlikely to seek treatment because they have not yet become distressed enough to see the need, or because the time, expense, or stigma of therapy present too great a barrier. Such couples also do not seek premarital or newlywed interventions because they are in established marriages. However, it is during this stage that couples may benefit most from early intervention. Intervening with couples at this early point fills a niche between pre marital / newly wed psychoed programs and the intensive treatment provided by couple therapy. There are currently no empirically established programs for intervening early in those patterns that may lead to relationship decay. The MC is the first such program. The intention of the Marriage Checkup project is to conduct a randomized clinical trial to test the efficacy and safety of the MC and to test mechanisms of change.

The first objective of the study is to demonstrate that couples who are not severely distressed will be motivated to participate in the MC.

The second objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of providing immediate relief from the symptoms of marital strain that may hinder active pursuit of improved marital health.

The third objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of motivating appropriate help seeking by identified early-stage couples.

The fourth objective is to determine the efficacy of the MC as a means of facilitating the prevention of marital deterioration and associated mental and physical health outcomes.

The Emotion Skills Study

The premise of emotion skills theory is that people are born with a basic set of emotional responses and then, through experience, learn how to behave in relation to others in the context of those emotions. Researchers have found that infants as young as one month are able to express interest, joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt and fear (Izard, Huebner, Risser & Dougherty, 1980). Although infants’ emotional reactions are innate and elicited by both internal and external stimuli, how individuals learn to behave in the context of those emotions is taught to them by their community. As a result, individuals will vary in their level of skillfulness at managing emotionally challenging situations. In turn, variability in individuals’ acquired emotion skills are expected to play a significant role in their ability to establish and maintain intimate relationships. A main goal of this study is to explore and describe the natural variability in the ways individuals have of doing strong emotions—with a particular focus on hurt feelings—and to what degree skillfulness is related to intimacy development and a range of other relationship and individual health outcomes.




The Relationship Acceptance Questionnaire

The Relational Acceptance Questionnaire assesses for “felt acceptance” within intimate relationships. Felt acceptance is conceptualized as one’s own lack of struggle with disappointments in the relationship and perceived imperfections in the partner, as well as the partner’s apparent non-judgmental stance and lack of change agenda in the relationship. The measure is designed to capture the type of relational acceptance that may change as a result of current emotion-focused and acceptance-based marital interventions.

The Parent to Parent Study

This study will investigate the parenting skills of married couples, how these couples were parented by their own parents, and how differently they want to parent from their parents.  Parenting skills and emotional capabilities tend to be passed down through generations, as conceptualized by Murray Bowen’s Intergenerational Emotional Transmission.  However, as Selma Fraiberg’s classic Ghosts in the Nursery describes, those parents who are aware of any deficient parenting they received are most likely to change this cycle with their own children.  This study will use quantitative methods to empirically investigate this phenomenon.

The Intimate Safety Questionnaire (ISQ) Validation Study

Our integrative theory of intimacy attempts to synthesize the multiple facets of intimacy into one unfolding process. This theory assumes that this process unfolds through a sequence of events in which vulnerable behavior is reinforced by the response of another person, creating what we have defined as an intimate event. Intimate events increase the likelihood that one person will engage in vulnerable-making behavior with the other person, however the paradox is that with the increased frequency of vulnerable behavior comes increased likelihood that some of that behavior will be punished in some way. This results in a suppressive event. If the developing ratio between intimate and suppressive events in the relationship leans heavily towards the former, the experience should be one of comfort and safety being vulnerable (i.e., intimate safety).

The ISQ was created to capture  comfort behaving vulnerably in the presence of an intimate partner and has been found to be both conceptually and measurably distinct from traditional measures of intimacy and trust. It is composed of 28-items comprising the five subscale of Emotional Safety, Physical/Sexual Safety, Safety Disagreeing, Safety Being Yourself, and Safety in Public.






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