Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Areas of Change Questionnaire

  • Cody G. DoddEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_389-1

Name and Type of Measure

The Areas of Change Questionnaire (ACQ) is a two-part measure of: (a) desired change in partner behaviors and (b) changes in one’s own behaviors that are perceived to be pleasing to the partner.


In the research literature, the ACQ has also been abbreviated A-C, AC, and AOC.


The Areas of Change Questionnaire (ACQ; Margolin et al. 1983) is a 68-item measure of intimate relationship functioning, originally designed to facilitate effectiveness research on behavioral couple therapy (Weiss et al. 1973; as cited in Margolin et al. 1983). The ACQ has two parts: first, the respondent rates the degree of change desired on 34 common partner behaviors; second, the respondent indicates the degree to which his or her own changes on those 34 behaviors is likely to be pleasing to his or her partner. Items are rated on a 7-point scale from “much less” change (−3) to “no change” (0) to “much more” change (+3). A common scoring system for the ACQ produces summative scores for Desired Change (DC) and Perceived Change (PC). A Total Change (TC) score is derived from the number of cross-partner item agreements and disagreements (Margolin et al. 1983).


The ACQ was developed by Robert L. Weiss, Hyman Hops, and Gerald R. Patterson (Weiss et al. 1973).

Description of Measure

The ACQ has been used primarily in behavior couple therapy research; however, it has also been used as a prompt in observations of couple interactions (e.g., Halford et al. 1993). Increased scores on the instrument are associated with marital dissatisfaction, and several studies have shown the ACQ to be sensitive to changes in relationship adjustment resulting from treatment. The ACQ has been shown to differentiate distressed and nondistressed heterosexual married couples (e.g., Birchler and Webb 1977; Margolin et al. 1983), and some evidence supports its use to examine parent-child relationships and intimate relationships among adolescents.


The ACQ has not been standardized with a large normative sample, and the data available on its psychometric properties is limited. In several more recent studies, the internal consistency coefficients for ACQ scores have ranged from 0.76 to 0.85 (Cordova et al. 2005; Heyman et al. 2009). However, most studies with the measure have not reported on the internal consistency of all three of its scores. In addition, no information is available on the ACQ’s test-retest reliability, although studies using it as a marital therapy outcome measure have shown it to be sensitive to changes in treatment (e.g., Baucom 1982; Halford et al. 1993; Margolin and Weiss 1978).

Several studies using the ACQ have shown that women often have slightly higher Desired Change scores compared to their husbands (e.g., Heyman et al. 2009; Margolin et al. 1983). Women also tend to over predict their husbands’ Desired Change (Margolin et al. 1983). These results have primarily come from studies with heterosexual married couples in multi-year relationships. Further research is needed to examine the cultural invariance of the instrument and to validate it with same-sex couples and partners early in relationships.

Research validating the ACQ as a predictor of useful clinical outcomes or other phenomena is limited. Many studies have reported high convergence among the ACQ and similar measures, with some studies reporting correlations with self-report indices of relationship problems and marital satisfaction from −0.59 to −0.72 (Heyman et al. 1994). Taken together with other research failing to show consistent prediction of behavioral observation and daily-assessed pleasing and displeasing behavior (e.g., Margolin et al. 1983), these results suggest that the ACQ may be best characterized as an indicator of relationship satisfaction.

Example of Application in Couple and Family Therapy

After being married 6 years, Zack and Stefani sought couple therapy to address longstanding conflict important family decisions. The two had considered having children, but had delayed it due to their frequent arguments about finances and Zack’s extended work schedule. Their therapist provided them with feedback informed by their ACQ results, which indicated that they were both in agreement on many areas of concern. Their item-level responses demonstrated that, in addition to their concerns about finances and career, they both shared a strong desire for each other to show greater appreciation and interest in one another. They were surprised and encouraged to see that they both had higher Perceived Change scores than the other’s Desired Change score. Based on these results, their course of treatment focused on increasing quality time spent together, increasing acceptance and affirmation of one another, and improving problem solving and communication around money management. After 8 sessions, the readministration of the ACQ showed a reduction in both their Total Change scores and signaled the therapist to initiate the treatment termination process.


  1. Baucom, D. H. (1982). A comparison of behavioral contracting and problem-solving/communications training in behavioral marital therapy. Behavior Therapy, 13(2), 162–174.  https://doi.org/10.1016/s0005-7894(82)80060-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Birchler, G. R., & Webb, L. J. (1977). Discriminating interaction behaviors in happy and unhappy marriages. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45(3), 494–495.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006x.45.3.494.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Cordova, J. V., Scott, R. L., Dorian, M., Mirgain, S., Yaeger, D., & Groot, A. (2005). The marriage checkup: An indicated preventive intervention for treatment-avoidant couples at risk for marital deterioration. Behavior Therapy, 36(4), 301–309.  https://doi.org/10.1016/s0005-7894(05)80112-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Halford, W. K., Sanders, M. R., & Behrens, B. C. (1993). A comparison of the generalization of behavioral marital therapy and enhanced behavioral marital therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 51–60.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006x.61.1.51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Heyman, R. E., Sayers, S. L., & Bellack, A. S. (1994). Global marital satisfaction versus marital adjustment: An empirical comparison of three measures. Journal of Family Psychology, 8(4), 432–446.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3200.8.4.432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Heyman, R. E., Hunt-Martorano, A. N., Malik, J., & Slep, A. M. S. (2009). Desired change in couples: Gender differences and effects on communication. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(4), 474–484.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015980.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Margolin, G., & Weiss, R. L. (1978). Comparative evaluation of therapeutic components associated with behavioral marital treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46(6), 1476–1486.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006x.46.6.1476.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Margolin, G., Talovic, S., & Weinstein, C. D. (1983). Areas of change questionnaire: A practical approach to marital assessment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(6), 920–931.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006x.51.6.920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Weiss, R. L., Hops, H., & Patterson, G. R. (1973). A framework for conceptualizing marital conflict: A technology for altering it, some data for evaluating it. In L. D. Handy & E. L. Mash (Eds.), Behavior change: Methodology concepts and practice (pp. 309–342). Champaign: Research Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Heather Pederson
    • 1
  • Diana Semmelhack
    • 2
  1. 1.Council for RelationshipsPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Midwestern UniversityDowners GroveUSA