Constructive engagement, behavioral marital therapy, and changes in marital satisfaction

Steven L. Sayers, Donald H. Baucom, Tamara Goldman Sher, Robert L. Weiss, Richard E. Heyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Correlates of improvement in marital satisfaction were sought in the interaction behavior of 60 married couples who had participated in a behavioral marital therapy outcome study. Couple problem-solving behavior was coded using the Marital Interaction Coding System (MICS). Individual behaviors were assembled into four categories reflecting the function, rather than the valence, of the coded behaviors. The four behavior summary codes were labeled Problem Focused, Avoidance, Nonconstructive, and Facultative. Using these summary categories of behaviors, we examined response to treatment as a function of changes in base rate proportions and changes in sequential response patterns. Improvements in marital satisfaction were associated with decreases in base rate proportions of Nonconstructive and Avoidance behaviors. For both treated and control couples, increases in marital satisfaction were associated with husbands' increased tendency to become Problem Focused in response to wives' Nonconstructive behavior. The results were interpreted in terms of constructive engagement, a process whereby one spouse involves the other by addressing problems within the relationship. Methodological limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages25
JournalBehavioral Assessment
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1991


  • behavioral marital therapy
  • marital interaction
  • marital therapy
  • negative reciprocity
  • outcome
  • sequential analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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