New Support Tool for Relationship Problems

Maintaining a happy relationship is not an easy task as one-third of married couples are distressed, and almost half of first marriages (and more than half of unmarried, cohabiting relationships) end in a divorce or separation.

Sadly, relationships in distress are linked to mental and physical health problems in partners and their children.

Given this background, Dr. Brian Doss, a psychology professor at the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences, and a co-developer, created an online program called

“We know that high-quality marriage counseling can help couples solve problems and prevent divorce. The problem is that in-person counseling is expensive and time-consuming,” explains Doss.

Although couple therapy is effective in reducing relationship distress, it is utilized by less than one-third of divorcing couples, and racial and ethnic minority and lower-income couples receive services at even lower rates.

The new program provides a low cost alternative for obtaining relationship assistance.

The eight hour web-based program is structured so that couples complete online activities that include selecting a problem to work on. The couple then watches videos on how to solve the particular problem they selected. Afterwards, the couple has four 15-minute calls with project staff.

With funding from the National Institute of Health, the researchers conducted a nationwide study where 300 couples were randomly assigned to either begin the program or selected for a two-month waitlist control group.

“We assessed couples’ relationships before, during, and after the program,” said Doss.

Doss and his University of Miami colleagues tested the efficiency of the program and discovered improved relationship satisfaction, and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Remarkably, 97 percent of the couples said they would recommend the program to a friend.

“We’re excited about the results because they show that couples can get almost all of the benefit they would get from in-person marriage counseling by completing this brief program,” said Doss.

“The results also showed that, by improving their relationship, it made people significantly less depressed and anxious.”

In July, an updated version of the program, sponsored through a federal grant from the Administration for Children and Families, will be available.

This version can be completed on a smartphone and will include coaches to help couples through the program. It will be available to married couples, couples living together, and same-sex couples.

As part of a research study, couples will be paid up to $200 for completing research assessments.

“I think the most rewarding thing to me about this program is that we’re able to help couples who otherwise wouldn’t get any assistance for their relationship problems,” said Doss.

“This program seems especially important for couples who don’t have the time or the money to go to face-to-face counseling. At the end of the day, it’s rewarding to be able to help so many couples and make a real difference in their lives and the lives of their children.”

Source: University of Miami/EurekAlert