In a slightly different approach to relationship education, Swiss psychologists Kathrin Widmer and Guy Bodenmann evaluate a programme – developed by Bodenmann – that teaches couples how to cope better with stress. Their premise is the compelling link between chronic stressors from outside the home, such as work, and marital satisfaction. Stress can lead to poorer communication, less time together, and more health problems.
By focusing on improved coping strategies, the 18 hour course – Couples Coping Enhancement Training (CCET) – aims to reduce communication problems that are often the result of badly handled stress in everyday life. CCET has now been delivered to over 600 couples in Switzerland. Whereas most relationship courses tend to focus on communication and conflict resolution, this approach is interesting because of its additional focus on stress and coping.
In their paper, Widmer and Bodenmann explain the rationale behind CCET and summarise three recent outcome studies evaluating the effectiveness of the programme.
In the first and most elaborate study using both observational and self-report measures, individuals showed improved coping and reduced dysfunction. Couples showed more supportive coping and less negativity up to two years later, especially amongst the women.
The second study used a shorter version of CCET that excluded the sections on individual coping. Using self-report measures only, couples still showed improvements in couple coping, though less than with the longer programme. However there was no improvement in individual coping. Although not conclusive, these two studies suggest that marital quality is influenced by the ability to cope well both as individual and couple.
The third study, still underway, is looking specifically at the effectiveness of CCET in reducing stress amongst parents, doubtless a popular subject. Couples have reported the course helped improve marital quality and reduce the stress of parenting.