The Influence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Age on Individual Mental Health and Couple Functioning in Couple Relationship Education Participants
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Human Development and Family Science
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Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are negative events experienced throughout childhood and are consistently linked with poorer physical and mental health in adulthood. Recent literature also finds robust links between ACEs and later relational well-being. However, few studies have examined whether and how ACEs are related to individual and couple functioning before and after participation in primary prevention efforts, such as couple relationship education (CRE). Additionally, none have considered the role of age in CRE program effectiveness. The current study utilized a risk and resiliency life course perspective to explore among a diverse sample of 1,489 adult individuals in a couple relationship whether ACEs, age, and their interaction are associated with indicators of individual and couple functioning (i.e., mental health, stress, conflict management, couple quality) at the start of CRE programming and 6 months post-program. Several significant associations were found at baseline. Younger men and those with more ACEs reported lower mental health and higher stress at baseline. An interaction effect was found for women at baseline—older women with more ACEs reported the lowest levels of mental health and highest stress, followed by younger women with more ACEs compared to younger and older women with fewer ACEs. Men and women with more ACEs also reported lower levels of conflict management skills and couple quality at baseline compared to those with fewer ACEs. Regarding change over time, results revealed that younger women and women with more ACEs reported less improvement in mental health and perceived stress 6 months after the program. The combination of age and ACEs did not influence change in individual or couple functioning for either women or men. Overall, more significant associations were found between ACEs, age, and individual and couple functioning at baseline. Less variation was found when examining change over time. CRE appears to provide benefits over time regardless of ACEs history and age. However, the findings suggest that younger women and women with more ACEs may benefit from additional supports in conjunction with CRE in the area of stress reduction and self-care. The findings suggest the importance of screening for ACEs prior to programming, developing trauma-informed approaches, and implementing more individual-focused content into CRE curricula. Further implications and future directions are discussed.