Broadening the scope of couples research: Pragmatics and prevention

Document Type

Book Chapter


The theme of this volume is couples in conflict. That theme was chosen because couples’ conflict appears to contribute to a variety of societal ills, including domestic violence (Holtzworth-Munroe, Smutzler, Bates, & Sandin, 1997), psychopathology (Paykel, Myers, Dienelt, Klerman, Linenthal, & Pepper, 1989), substance abuse (Halford & Osgarby, 1993), children’s mental and physical health (Cherlin, Furstenberg, Chase-Lansdale, & Kiernan, 1991; Emery, 1988), and aspects of the physical health of partners (Newton, Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser, & Malarkey, 1995; Schmaling & Sher, 1997). In chapter 5, Bradbury, Rogge, and Lawrence contributed to this discussion by persuasively arguing that an overly narrow focus on conflict to the exclusion of other variables related to couples’ distress and dissolution has inadvertently limited the scope, precision, and utility of our knowledge about the causes of marital deterioration. In making this argument they emphasized one point and alluded to another, both of which I would like to address in more detail. First, and most heavily emphasized, is their point that a range of phenomena in addition to conflict are likely to contribute in meaningful ways to the health or deterioration of a marriage, and that we as marital researchers should begin actively including a much broader range of relationship phenomena in our studies. The second point alluded to by Bradbury et al. is that adopting practical application as a goal should be a fundamental aspect of our pursuit of knowledge in this context. My goal in this chapter is to argue that our straddling the fence between positivism and pragmatism should be more deeply considered, and that an increased emphasis on the pragmatic truth criterion may be essential if expanding the scope of study in marriage beyond conflict is to adequately translate into useful knowledge.

Publication Title

Couples in Conflict: Classic Edition

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couples therapy, marital relations