Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Alan Hovestadt

Second Advisor

Dr. John Geisler

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul Yelsma


Higher levels of distress at marital therapy onset predict poorer treatment outcomes in several studies. This study selected nine variables to determine their ability to predict distress at marital therapy onset. The first two predictor variables, shame (measured by the Internalized Shame Scale; Cook, 2000) and expressive atmosphere in the family of origin (measured by the Family of Origin Expressive Atmosphere Scale; Yelsma, Hovestadt, Anderson, & Nilsson, 2000), were chosen from the literature and studies that considered these variables to be related to marital distress. The remaining seven sociodemographic predictor variables—(1) parental divorce as a child, (2) pregnancy before marriage, (3) number of children, (4) combined gross income, (5) premarital cohabitation, (6) length of courtship, and (7) length of marriage—were selected from studies that identified their ability to predict divorce. The dependent variable was marital distress (measured by levels of dyadic adjustment on the Dyadic Adjustment Scale; Spanier, 1989). The sample consisted of 38 subjects, 18 males and 20 females, that were beginning marital therapy. A multiple regression analysis utilizing a stepwise forward decision model was conducted, which resulted in four variables in the final prediction model The four variables that significantly predicted distress at marital therapy onset were lower levels of combined gross income, longer length of marriage, parental divorce as a child, and higher levels of shame. The post hoc analysis revealed that expressive atmosphere in the family of origin was significantly correlated with shame. Implications and recommendations for the treatment of highly distressed couples include: (a) exploring the impact of parental divorce and lower levels of combined gross income on current marital functioning; (b) addressing affect in marital therapy with a particular emphasis on tolerating and mastering shame; (c) addressing the role that family of origin may play in the creation of shame; and (d) encouraging couples experiencing higher levels of distress to seek marital therapy early, because over time distressed couples may not self-correct and the degree of distress appears to accumulate.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access