African American couples : socio-cultural factors impacting marriage trends, reflections on marriageability, and a systematic review of culturally grounded couple and marriage relationship intervention



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Racial and ethnic minority couples experience unique relationship discord factors; yet, marriage and couple approaches have not intentionally targeted racial/ethnic minorities, especially African American couples who are disproportionately impacted by relationship dissolution. Research shows African American couples persevere through marital discord by relying on protective factors unique to their culture; these factors are a strong sense of community, supportive family, kinship, and ideals focused around spirituality and culture. Although this is true, few studies have systematically analyzed the extent to which current relationship intervention programs integrate cultural components unique to African Americans to effectively reduce relationship discord for African American couples. This dissertation forms a comprehensive body of literature by examining the socio-cultural factors impacting African American relationships, exploring African American women’s reflections about marriageability, and evaluating the cultural components of interventions to reduce African American relationship discord. The first article utilizes a historical-ecological perspective to review the scholarly discourse on marriage and relationship trends among African American couples, and delineates socio-cultural factors which collectively have contributed to declining marriageability rates for African American couples over the past 12 decades. The second article is a phenomenological study of young, African American female students’ blogs about the current marriage/relationship trends. The women expressed frustration about the low marriageability rates and suggested culturally relevant marriage and relationship interventions as instrumental to fostering healthy African American marriages. The third article presents a systematic review of African American couples relationship education (CRE) and marriage relationship education (MRE) programs incorporating Africentric theory or cultural factors as a theoretical underpinnings. Seven studies of four curriculum-based interventions used with African American couples demonstrated that inclusion of Africentric or culturally grounded components contribute to the effectiveness of CRE/MRE programs with African American couples by promoting culturally- relevant healthy relationship skills. Further, the impact of socio-cultural-historical factors on African American relationships was an integral component to the effectiveness of the CRE/MRE programs. This dissertation contributes to a virtually untouched research area by delineating the decades-long socio-cultural-historical factors impacting African American marriages, uncovering the insights of African American women, and systematically examining how Africentric and other culturally-grounded components foster effective couples interventions for African American couples.