When a marriage or serious relationship hits a rough patch, the usual advice is for couples to seek counseling.
But only about 37 percent of couples who divorced sought marriage counseling beforehand, according to a 2001 survey commissioned by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. The biggest barriers are that one partner isn't willing, or it's too time-consuming, or too intrusive, or too expensive, said Brian Doss, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami.
What's more, most insurance plans don't cover couples counseling.
To offer an alternative, Doss and Andrew Christensen, a psychology professor at UCLA, have developed an online program at www.ourrelationship.com that guides couples in solving their own problems. It's based on the evidence-based Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy model.
"We're somewhere between reading a self-help book and working with a therapist," Doss said.
The program, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, currently is being offered as part of a research study on its effectiveness. Married, engaged or live-in couples who wish to take part can do the program for free and are offered $150 to $190 in gift cards for completing the assessments.
Eventually the researchers hope to make the program available to the general public as a nonprofit venture.
The three-phase program, which takes four to six hours over the course of a month to complete, is completed by each partner individually, and after each phase the couple comes together to have a conversation. Weekly check-ins with a staff coach via Skype or phone help keep the couple on track.
The program is tailored to each couple's specific needs. The most common problems people seek to address are communication, lack of connection and sexual issues, Doss said. Individuals can complete the program solo if their partner declines. The program is not for couples grappling with domestic violence or a recently discovered affair, as they should seek in-person help.
"We see ourselves as the first-line intervention," Doss said. "If it doesn't help, then we refer them to a real counselor."
To sign up for free marriage counseling, click here.