The idea of this article is, on the one hand, to encourage couples who really want to improve their situation and save the marriage and, on the other hand, to present a summary of the existing successful therapies that offer the possibility of solving and repairing affective bonds that unite them.
At the beginning, can be seen that couples enjoy to share activities while knowing each other. The first meeting with the other is overcharged with expectations and fantasies, while in the other hand one become blind to the defects or negative aspects.
It is stated that Marital Satisfaction its equal to the distance between the status quo and the expected situation (Asadi M., Ghasemzadeh N., Nazarifar M., Sarvandani M. N., 2020). Then as similar these two states are, there will be higher chances of a happier relationship. But what generally happens is that over time many of these negative aspects occupy a more significant role in the judgment of the partner’s qualities. If these ideas, fears, inconveniences do not come up to be talked and treated by the couple, there is a high probability that conflict arises. Thus, the gap between the current situation and the expected one gets higher, which means respectively higher chances of disputes. Therefore, communication is one of the most important subjects to take in account when trying to improve and maintain a healthier relationship.
The statistics say that by the age of 50 approximately 85 per cent of people have been married at least once. A third of couples separate of divorce. About half of all divorces happens in the first seven years of marriage. About 20 per cent of the remained marriages, suffer relationship distress (A. Carr, 2018). We can appreciate the significance of relationships in society, and it impact in one’s live. According to this, the relevance to provide further studies to help out with resources and strategies to reach a better understanding for a success marriage.
Out of the percentages, is really hard to going through the emotional suffering from these situations for most of the couples, where in many cases becomes in serious traumas. Accordingly, many symptoms appear such depression, anxiety, angriness, and others emotional disorders associated with relationship distress.
One of the most important and critical couple issues is the extra marital relations (EMR). It refers to any sexual or emotional relationship goes beyond the framework of a committed relationship between the couples. Serious psychological disorders have been announced in regard of noticing EMR, such as depression, stress, and others psychological risks. The effect of this act can produce same consequences as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Emotional reactions as fear, anger, dismay, distress, depression, frustration, are usual in the persons facing EMR, where can’t avoid thinking or imagining the spouse experience. According to several studies, 34% of men and 24% of women are involved in sexual activity outside of marriage. The main reasons for sexual infidelity are related to a more permissive sexual values, stronger sexual interests, weaker network ties to partner, lower subjective satisfaction with their partner, and greater sexual opportunities (Ghochani M., Safarian Toosi M.R. & Khoynezhad G.R., 2021).
In these cases, Couple Therapy has proven to be very effective to provide either a relief from emotional pain, and success in the improvement of the relationship.
Following I will present some of the most proven evidence-based therapies that correspond to the third wave of cognitive therapies, denoting a high rate of success.
Benson (2012), has exposed 5 principles that any couple therapy should take in account:
1- Altering the couple view of the presenting problem to be more objective, contextualized and dyadic.
If you see that there are uncomfortable situations that you live with your partner, or maybe you are realizing that some times he or she does not listen to all what you have to say, that probably generate some negative ideas about him or her. So, one of the focus in therapy is to go further than the superficial image about what is happening, in order to get a better understanding and avoid the immediate feeling that emerge from these ideas.
2- Decreasing dysfunctional emotion-driven behavior
If one does not stop the negative thoughts or you are just driven by the painful situation, would be the case that your response will support the dysfunctional cycle, allowing it to be repeated. We could say “Negative Attitude + Negative Response = Negative Outcomes” which generates a new negative attitude, and so on.
3- Eliciting emotion based avoided, private thoughts
In therapy result of great help to invite both partners to share their own and private thoughts about each other that generally are not told, however they have a huge influence in the feelings against the other. Many times, one of them discover things that never realized, and that helps a lot to a better understanding of past attitudes.
4- Increasing constructive communication patterns
Not everything is just about understanding, the most significant change is given once the couple learn how to replace old ways of relate each other, to a more comprehensive and open mode to listen and feel the other mate. It will lead to positive feelings like closeness, affection, attention and commitment of couples.
5-Promoting strengths and reinforcing gains.
Once the new benign responses have been learned and practiced in therapy, is time to reinforce them to ensure that would be still existing out of session. This means a learning process and awareness from the couple, that with compromise and willing is possible to experience the relationship with pleasure, happiness, and security again.
The first therapy you might be interested of is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It consists of six core principles focus on generate psychological flexibility;
- Cognitive diffusion. To stop negative thoughts inciting the same destructive answers.
- There are always things that cannot be changed and sometimes one has to learn how to live with it. But what is possible to change is the meaning that facts have for us, helping to cope in a tolerant way with it.
- Contact with the present moment. Is a learning to stop following ideas about the past or future, charged with fear or uncertainty to live the current moment as the only real moment. Being able to evaluate the present context.
- One can questions itself “Am I following my personal values? Am I honest with myself? Are my Thoughts in line with my own values?
- Meaningful life. The way I act, and respond to the reality correspond to what is meaningful for me? Am I following what I believe is the happiness or peacefulness for me?
In Couple Therapy, it allows unwanted private thoughts and feelings to pass without struggling with them and clearly determine valuable achievements and doing so with responsibility following a meaningful life (Ghochani M., Safarian Toosi M.R. & Khoynezhad G.R., 2021).
The second and one of the most used is Emotion-Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT)
The well-known premise of this approach is that the expression of the fears and attachment needs, are a precise indicator of future conflicts. If a couple cannot share this feelings or ideas about each other or one of them can’t even realize of it, in regard of satisfaction and security, marital conflicts would arise. So primarily we could say that regarding this therapy, they have to communicate theirs discomforts and needs to cultivate a more secure attachment. Is considered that a marital conflict is crossed by negative emotions and attachment damage, then the focus will be on identify and work on the avoidance attachment and anxiety attachment, to augment trust and the depth of emotional experiences. For the security of those who seek couple therapy, EFCT proved to improve positive feelings in the relationship, reduce anxiety and distress in couples. How the therapy achieves this? Putting attention to the patterns of incompatibility of disturbed couples. There is a key in the role these patterns play in the relationships, where both members have learned to respond automatically in determined ways before specifics styles of communication. So, trying to unveil the vulnerable emotions to help couples learn and implement new abilities to create these emotions safely. That is, practicing and generating new ways of answer to others demands, and how to be aware about owns kind of response toward their partner. Creating a new interactional pattern will reduce confusion, increases affection and increases marital adjustment and satisfaction. To reach this point, firstly the couple has to be helped to reduce the crises of the patterns of negative interactions and related emotions. After, the couple can be helped to trace new cycles of positive interactions, where positive emotions are elicited and negative emotions can be regulated (Asadi M., Ghasemzadeh N., Nazarifar M., Sarvandani M. N., 2020).
To accomplish this, the therapy is divided into three stages:
The initial stage, where trying to deescalate destructive interactional patterns. The middle stage, looking for facilitate partners an authentic expression to each other’s attachment needs. And the Closing phase, to provide a more adaptative pattern to be consolidated out of sessions (Carr A., 2014).
Behavioral Couple Therapy
This classic approach of psychotherapy offers an alternative and specific way to address couple conflicts. It focuses on develop communication and problem-solving skills, to negotiate a fairer relationship. Accordingly with this school, the object of the therapy will be an observable behavior to could work on. Identifying the trigger of a disagreement and how it is reinforced, will be able to teach new ways of answers and generate different possibilities to communicate in a comprehensible manner, and agree in significant points that in other way would derive in argues and confrontations.
Adding the intention to treat those beliefs and expectations that result destructive to the relationship, emerges the Cognitive Couple Therapy. The methodology is based in various strategies to work this negative and automatic thoughts, in both partners, to understand when, why and how the conflict appears.
The next Couple Therapy has evolved from the last one, it calls Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy, and aims to build tolerance of partner’s negative behavior, acceptance of irresolvable differences and emphatic joining over such problems. The mode to proceed is identifying the unique set of incompatibilities and derive a formulation in core topics such as power, control, destructive patterns and distressing behaviors. Then, it prepares the road to learn about tolerance, acceptance and empathy (Carr A., 2014).
Affective-Reconstructive Couple Therapy
The last of these group of third waves therapies, aims to help partners understand how old patterns from family of origin and experiences in previous relationships influence their current interactional pattern, to after replace them for a more constructive alternative. The premise of this approach is “inadvertent use of unconscious defenses and relational patterns, which evolved within partner’s families of origin or previous relationships, underpin relationship distress and conflict” (Carr A., 2018).
In my personal opinion, this branch treats a central axis in many marriages where families of origin are so present in the couple’s life, affecting their own development as a new organization, independent from the core roots. Furthermore, the study shows that 4 years after treatment, only 3 percent of cases who had completed Affective-Reconstructive Couple Therapy were divorced.
Systemic Couple Therapy
Another interesting approach to take in account is performed by the Systemic School. It offers a concrete method to pose the conflict. In order to understand the reciprocal interactions, tries to provide a complete interpretation of the circumstances in the context of both partner’s symptoms. Specifically, it pinpoints one of the six areas of the triad conformed by Emotion, Thought and Behavior. For instance, the husband watch football for many hours (behavior), the wife gets angry (emotion) because she thinks that he doesn’t care about her (thought), so she yells at him (behavior), then the husband thinks her wife wants to annoy him (thought) and get frustrated (emotion), finally decides to watch more TV (behavior). There are 6 points to intervene, and trying to change the cycle. Maybe the husband could understand differently about why his wife is complaining or that she doesn’t want to annoy him, just is requesting more attention. Same with the wife, maybe she could interpret in a new way that is false that the husband doesn’t care about her, that he just doesn’t know how to approach her in an effective manner, or that yelling at him she will only reinforce the fact about him watching (Davis S. D., Lebow J. L., Sprenkle D. H., 2012)
Hope this exposition helps both people concerned about what can be done to improve their relationship, to see that there are many alternatives to do something about and improve the quality of their bond, and therapists who want a summarized and updated information about how to address couples’ conflicts.
This article was written by Guido Cataldo, who provides enthusiastic and professional counseling in Copenhagen. Check out his profile here.
Asadi M., Ghasemzadeh N., Nazarifar M., Sarvandani M. N., “The Effectiveness of Emotion-Focused Couple Therapy on Marital Satisfaction and Positive Feelings towards the Spouse”, IJHS (2020) 6(4):36-40.
Benson, L., McGinn, M. and Christensen, A. (2012) “Common Principles of Couple
Therapy”, Behaviour Therapy, 43: 25–35.
Carr A., “The evidence base for couple therapy, family therapy and systemic interventions for adult-focused problems”, Journal of Family Therapy (2014) 36: 158-194.
Carr A., “Couple therapy, family therapy and systemic interventions for adult-focused problems: the current evidence base”, Journal of Family Therapy (2018) 40: 492–536.
Dattilio F. M. & Padesky C. A. (1990) “Cognitive Therapy with Couples”, (6) Descleé De Brouwer.
Davis S. D., Lebow J. L., Sprenkle D. H., “Common Factors of Change in Couple Therapy, Behavior Therapy (2012) 43: 36-48.
Ghochani M., Safarian Toosi M.R. & Khoynezhad G.R. (2021) Investigation of the Effectiveness of the Combined Couple Therapy for Couples on the Improvement of Intimacy and PTSD, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 49:3, 299-320.