As Doug Snyder and colleagues point out in “Screening for Marital Distress”, marital satisfaction is the strongest single predictor of life satisfaction. Correspondingly, relationship distress has a unique influence on other emotional and behavioural indicators. Happier couples have happier lives. Distressed couples have more problems in their lives.
Historically, assessments of marital or relationship quality have tended to focus on continuous measures or sliding scales – such as “satisfaction”, “adjustment”, “discord” or “distress”. However in assigning couples into distinct categories, such as “distressed” and “nondistressed”, a fairly arbitrary dividing line or cut-score must be set.
Snyder’s paper provides evidence that couple distress is more than just a sliding scale. At some key tipping point, distress becomes a taxon, a distinct category of its own that differs both qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
For researchers, the finding that distress is taxonic opens the way for greater clarity in use of cut-scores to identify distressed couples. For clinicians, the realisation that some couples have crossed some tipping point of distress may influence the nature of intervention offered.
Snyder and colleagues provide a simple 10-item questionnaire. Different users can apply different cut-scores. A lower cut-score of 3 or more can be applied in clinical settings where the requirement is for sensitivity and referral of individuals. A higher cut-score of 5 or more can be applied in research settings where the requirement is for specificity and categorisation of groups. The emergence of a taxonic measure with good reliability and validity also offers interesting opportunities for cross-cultural comparisons.
Although screening may be unnecessary for most preventive programmes, relationship educators working in remedial or treatment settings will find this a helpful tool for providing an appropriate level of referral and subsequent intervention.