The Mission of the
Association of Marriage Builders, Inc.


Background

The stated purpose of the Association of Marriage Builders, Inc. is to save marriages through education and research. This not-for-profit corporation will use its resources to support those who work in the trenches--professionals and non-professionals who are trying to help couples that are struggling in their marriage. It will also help develop more effective ways to save marriages, and then try to demonstrate that effectiveness scientifically.

Research

One of the toughest problems in the science of marriage is proving one approach to marriage as better than another. Or, to prove that any type of marital therapy is effective at all! A Consumers Report study published in 1995 indicated that hardly anyone found marital therapy to be effective, which calls into doubt usefulness of the entire discipline. Part of the problem is that it's very difficult to study marriage and marital therapy scientifically. Bear with me as I give you a short course in experimental research.

The most decisive experiments, in any science, control the variables under investigation. For example, if you want to know if a particular medicine is having a therapeutic effect, you randomly assign half a group of "average" people to the "medicine condition," where they take the medicine every day, and the other half to a "placebo" condition where they take a similar looking and tasting pill that does not contain the active ingredient. Then you measure the cure rates of each group. A statistical analysis determines if the medicine condition did better than the placebo group by chance, or if the medicine was likely to have the desired effect.

In the social sciences, however, such decisive experiments are much more difficult to arrange. For example, if you wanted to know if having children is a positive or negative factor in marriage, you would find a group of "typical" couples who have not had children yet, and randomly assign some of them to a "having one child" condition, where each couple were required to have only one child, some of them to a "having two children" condition, some of them to a "having three children" condition and, finally, some of them to a "having no children" condition, where each couple were forbidden to have children. Over a 20-year period of time, the martial happiness of the couple would be measured quarterly, and comparisons between the two groups would be made.

Aside from the ethical problems of such an experiment, and the tactical problems of forcing couples to have children, or preventing them from having children, it would provide a fairly clear picture of how children affect the quality of marriage.

To make this imaginary experiment more useful, we would add another variable: my Policy of Undivided Attention. Half of the couples in each of our groups would be required to spend 15 hours each week giving each other their undivided attention, and the other half would not be given any advice on how much time to spend with each other (but the time they spend for undivided attention would be measured each week).

I would predict that there would be two main effects and one called an interaction effect. We would find that the more children you have, the worse your marriage becomes (that's one of the main effects). We would also find that those spending 15 hours a week for undivided attention have better marriages than those who are left to their own judgment (the other main effect).

But the most important part of the study would be the interaction effect. It would show that the main effect of children (making marriage worse) is reversed if you always spend 15 hours a week for undivided attention. In other words, children make a marriage better under those conditions. It's only when you leave the time you spend for undivided attention up to each couple that more children create a poorer marriage. That's the interaction effect because main effect of time spent for undivided attention changes the negative influence of the other main effect, having children.

I also would predict that if you leave time spent for undivided attention up to each couple, as they had more children, they would spend less time together. These results would be extremely important for married couples because it would demonstrate that children themselves do not create marital problems. Instead, what's known as a "confounding variable" would be responsible. Children would be shown to discourage couples from doing what is essential to their marital happiness, spending time alone with each other so that they can meet each other's important emotional needs. But if they could override the temptation to ignore each other's needs, and spend 15 hours each week for undivided attention regardless of the number of children they had, their quality of marriage would remain high with as many children as they wanted.

Sadly, such definitive studies cannot be done in the social sciences. It is unethical to require couples in control groups to do something that may destroy their marital happiness. And so we are usually stuck with less persuasive research findings.

Anecdotes are the most common evidence for therapists in my position. A couple who have 5 children decide to give each other 15 hours of undivided attention each week and, voila, their marriage is greatly improved. They send me an e-mail letter testifying to their success, and as long as such positive reports keep coming in, at least I'm convinced-and the couples that try it-that 15 hours of undivided attention each week is a great idea.

All of the methods I use have been either supported or refuted by anecdotal evidence. When couples who use the methods are helped, their positive report encourages me to continue to suggest it to couples. But when negative reports come through, I tend to abandon a method and go back to the drawing board.

The success of my book, His Needs, Her Needs, was based on anecdotal evidence. Over the years, there has been very little publicity about the book. Its sales have been driven by those who read it and recommended it to others. Their own anecdotal evidence was enough to convince their family and friends that it was worth a try. Since its first year of publication right up to this year, 16 years later, more books have been sold each year than the year before. And its growth in popularity is wholly attributable to anecdotal evidence.

Julie Darlene Braswell, on December 15, 1998, completed a dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Doctor of Psychology degree entitled, "The Impact of Reading a Self-help Book on the Topic of Gender Differences on One's Perceived Quality of Marital Satisfaction." The book she chose to study was none other than, His Needs, Her Needs. The Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) and the Marital Adjustment Test (MAT) were used to assess marital satisfaction before and after exposure to the reading of His Needs, Her Needs.

The data Braswell collected were analyzed both qualitatively, to determine outcomes unique to the couple, and quantitatively using a repeated measures analysis of variance. It was hypothesized that through increasing understanding of their partner's gender differences, each individual's level of marital satisfaction will increase. On the MAT, post-test scores increased significantly for both men and women. On the DAS, significance was found for the men on the dyadic satisfaction sub-scale and the overall dyadic adjustment scale. For the women, significance was found on the dyadic cohesion sub-scale and the overall dyadic adjustment scale of the DAS. In other words, couples who read His Needs, Her Needs are likely to have a happier marriage. It supported the anecdotal evidence that I had been gathering for over 10 years.

What would have made Braswell's study more helpful would have been for her to investigate several books on gender differences. For example, John Gray's, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages also focus attention on gender differences in marriage. Does reading any book on gender differences help? Or, as I would expect, would only His Needs, Her Needs actually improve marriages because it focuses attention on more than just gender differences-it helps couples learn to meet each other's most important emotional needs. If Braswell's thesis were correct, couples would save themselves a lot of time and energy by simply "understanding" each other's differences.

By simply finding that the reading of one book helps marriages leaves us wondering what it was about that book that helped marriages. Was it the understanding of gender differences, or was it learning how to meet important emotional needs? Or, was it some other factor that we have not yet considered? And it would have been helpful if there had been a control group of couples who read Gone with the Wind each night. Maybe what helped the marriages was the time they spent together.

My reason for taking you through all of this conjecture is to point out the importance of conducting good research to discover what really helps marriages most. It's not only important to those of us who are creating effective therapeutic methods, but it's also important to those who are trying to decide what approach they should take to save their marriage. There's lots of misinformation out there, and most couples seeking help are bombarded by it. That's why the 1995 Consumer's Report study showed that only 16% of those seeking help for their marriage thought that the help was useful. Most of what is being taught by marital therapists today is useless.

I taught statistics and research methods at colleges and universities for ten years before I went into full-time clinical practice. I know how to design and execute good research. As Director of Research for the Association of Marriage Builders, Inc., I would help develop experiments that would guide us to improved methods of marital therapy. And all of the funds raised would go to the actual costs of the experiments. I will not be drawing a salary from the Association.

A psychologist that I have come to respect, John M. Gottman (University of Washington), conducts research in marital therapy that has led him to reject his own pet theory. "Active listening," which is a very popular method of conflict resolution in marriage that John Gottman helped create, was demonstrated in his own laboratory to be ineffective in improving marriages. I've known for some time that active listening didn't go far enough in helping resolve conflicts, but my experience with most theorists is that they are too wrapped up in their theories to see their mistakes. John Gottman is one of the rare exceptions who is objective enough about his field to correct his errors.

I want couples to have healthy and happy marriages more than I want to be proven right. I hope research that I conduct will show that I have been wrong on occasion, because I have to be wrong about something-I just don't know what it is. Like Gottman, I may find a part of my program that really doesn't help couples, and I want to know what that is. Couples who trust my advice will suffer trying to follow it if I'm wrong, and I want to avoid that outcome at all costs. But I also want to be able to prove the value of other parts of my program that really do help couples.

If you would like to support this organization, send your tax-free contribution to: Association of Marriage Builders, Inc., 12568 Ethan Avenue North, White Bear Lake, MN 55110.

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