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The path to couples therapy: A descriptive analysis on a Veteran sample

APA Citation:

Jarnecke, A. M., Ridings, L. E., Teves, J. B., Petty, K., Bhatia, V., & Libet, J. (2020). The path to couples therapy: A descriptive analysis on a veteran sample. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(2), 73-89. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000135

Abstract Created by REACH:

As the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to include families in the care of Veterans, it is important to understand the issues that lead Veterans and their partners to seek relationship help. With a sample of heterosexual couples including at least one Veteran member (N = 97 couples), this study examined the problems couples experienced before seeking therapy, how long couples took to seek treatment, and what attempts were made to improve the relationship before pursuing therapy. Participants completed questionnaires on relationship satisfaction, relationship perceptions, expectations for therapy, time to treatment initiation, and attempts to improve the relationship. Additionally, participants provided written descriptions of their relationship problems that led them to seek therapy. Participants identified a variety of relationship concerns that led them to seek therapy (e.g., lack of trust, problematic partner behaviors). Women generally made more attempts to improve the relationship (e.g., reading a relationship book, talking to a family member) prior to seeking therapeutic help.



Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Military families
Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)
Aged (65 yrs & older)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Qualitative Study


Jarnecke, Amber M., Ridings, Leigh E., Teves, Jenna B., Petty, Karen, Bhatia, Vickie, Libet, Julian


The current study uses descriptive data from a sample of Veterans and their partners (N = 97 opposite-sex couples) presenting to a Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The purpose of this investigation was to examine (a) the problems couples face before seeking treatment, (b) how long it took couples to seek treatment, and (c) what attempts couples made to improve their relationship before couples therapy. We also examined how these treatment initiation factors were related to relationship distress and expectations for therapy. Results suggest the relationship problems that precede Veteran couples seeking treatment are varied (e.g., stressors outside of relationship, communication problems, and lack of trust) and agreement between partners on type of relationship problem is not predictive of relationship satisfaction, perception of relationship problem severity, nor expectations for therapy. Partners tend to wait similar to 4-7 years before pursuing couples therapy to resolve relational concerns. The length of time partners wait to pursue therapy is positively associated with optimistic expectations for therapy. In addition, before treatment initiation, partners tend to make multiple attempts to improve their relationship (M = 1.79 attempts for men; M = 2.40 attempts for women), and the number of unique attempts made to improve the relationship is associated with greater distress and more negative perceptions of relationship problem severity. Findings have implications for identifying Veteran couples who may be more or less receptive to intervention and informing the development of a stepped-care approach for couples treatment referral and planning.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, AMJ
College of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, LER
College of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, JBT
Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, KP
Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, VB
Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, JL


Afghanistan, aggression, couples, depressive symptoms, intimate partner violence, marital satisfaction, military veterans, outcomes, practice setting, ptsd, relationship satisfaction, treatment initiation, Veterans, vietnam veterans

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

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