Risk moderates the outcome of relationship education: A randomized controlled trial

Hannah C. Williamson*, Ronald D. Rogge, Rebecca J. Cobb, Matthew D. Johnson, Erika Lawrence, Thomas N. Bradbury

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objective: To test whether the effects of relationship education programs generalize across couples regardless of their baseline levels of risk for relationship distress, or whether intervention effects vary systematically as a function of risk. The former result would support primary prevention models; the latter result would support a shift toward secondary prevention strategies. Method: Engaged and newlywed couples (N = 130) were randomized into 1 of 3 relationship education programs. Individual and relational risk factors assessed at baseline were tested as moderators of 3-year changes in relationship satisfaction, overall and in each of the 3 treatment conditions. Results: Treatment effects varied as a function of risk, and more so with variables capturing relational risk factors than individual risk factors. High-risk couples (e.g., couples with lower levels of baseline commitment and satisfaction) tended to decline less rapidly in satisfaction than low-risk couples following treatment. Couples with acute concerns at baseline, including higher levels of physical aggression and alcohol use, benefitted less from intervention than couples without these concerns. Comparisons across treatment conditions indicate that couples with relatively high baseline satisfaction and commitment scores declined faster in satisfaction when assigned to an intensive skill-based intervention, as compared with a low-intensity intervention. Conclusions: Outcomes of skill-based relationship education differ depending on premarital risk factors. Efficient identification of couples at risk for adverse relationship outcomes is needed to refine future prevention efforts, and deploying prevention resources specifically to at-risk populations may be the most effective strategy for strengthening couples and families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-629
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • couples
  • marriage
  • moderators
  • relationship education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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