Personal Relationships (7)

I noted in my last post about the book that although I’d initially thought I’d cover the rest of the book in that post, I at the end found myself unable to do so because the post would end up being too long; this post will cover the remaining chapters and points of interest and will be the last post about the book.

The first of the remaining chapters is a chapter about ‘Maintaining Relationships’; as usual most of the coverage focuses on romantic relationships. Some quotes:

“The most frequent focus of maintenance research has been the identification of behaviors or interactions that relational partners can enact to sustain their relationship […]. Numerous typologies of such behaviors exist […] Stafford and Canary’s (1991) initial research on the topic generated five positive and proactive maintenance strategies, which have become widely used […] Positivity refers to attempts to make interactions pleasant. These include acting nice and cheerful when one does not feel that way, performing favors for the partner, and withholding complaints. Openness involves direct discussion about the relationship, including talk about the history of the involvement, rules made, and personal disclosure. Assurances involve support of the partner, comforting the partner, and making one’s commitment clear. Social networks refers to relying on friends and family to support the relationship (e.g., having dinner every Sunday at the in-laws). Finally, sharing tasks refers to doing one’s fair share of household chores […] Early on, Duck (1988) questioned the extent to which maintenance behaviors are intentionally enacted. This issue is central because it addresses whether maintenance as a process requires effort and planning or occurs as a by-product of relating. […] some behaviors might start as strategies but over time become routine […] Dainton and Aylor (2002) found that the same behaviors are used intentionally and unintentionally […] [They] speculated that maintenance might be performed routinely until something happens to disrupt the routine. At that point, relational partners might turn to strategic maintenance enactment. As such, routine maintenance might be used during times when preferred levels of satisfaction and commitment are experienced, and strategic maintenance might be enacted during times of perceived uncertainty.[1]”

“One popular axiom is that relationships are easy to get into and hard to get out of, and evidence exists to support this axiom. Attridge (1994) reviewed various “barriers” to dissolving romantic relationships […] Attridge noted that both internal and external barriers prevent people from treating marriages like blind dates and that smart relational partners would make use of barriers to keep their relationships intact (e.g., remind the partner of religious premises of marriage). In terms of internal barriers that Attridge (1994) reviewed, the first is commitment. […] Next, one’s religious beliefs regarding the sanctity of marriage compel people to remain. Also, one’s self-identity – that is, viewing oneself in terms of the relationship – acts as a barrier to dissolution. Next, irretrievable personal investments (such as spending time with the partner) work against dissolution. Finally, Attridge argued that the presence of children acted as an internal barrier, especially for women; women who have children are more likely to remain in a marriage than are women without children.
In terms of external barriers, Attridge (1994) cited several. Not surprisingly, these include legal barriers, financial obligations, and social networks that promote the bond. In addition to these, we would add a perception of a lack of alternatives. Both Rusbult and Johnson’s models indicate that having no perceived alternatives increases one’s commitment to the partner. Both Johnson (2001) and Rusbult and Martz (1995) have shown that abused women remain in these marriages because they perceive that they have no alternative associations or resources that they can leverage to leave their unhappy state. Conversely, Heaton and Albrecht (1991) found that “social contact – whether having potential sources of help, receiving help, or spending social and recreational time away from home – is positively associated with instability” […] Relationships with barriers are probably stable, but they do not necessarily contain characteristics that demarcate a high-quality relationship. To ensure the continuation of such qualities, one needs to engage in individual and relational strategies that help create and sustain liking, love, commitment, and so forth.”

“research shows that maintenance strategies provide the bases for increases in intimacy […]. That is, the use of maintenance behaviors helps dating partners develop their involvements. Moreover, people who do not engage in maintenance behaviors are more likely to de-escalate or terminate their relationships […] Yet the functional utility of maintenance behaviors does not endure for long. […] Canary, Stafford, and Semic (2002) conducted a panel study examining married partners’ maintenance activity and relational characteristics (liking, commitment, and control mutuality) at three points in time, each a month apart. They found that maintenance behaviors are strongly associated with relational characteristics concurrently, but that the effects completely fade within a month’s time (when controlling for the previous months’ reports). Thus, it appears that maintenance strategies must be used continuously if they are to sustain desired relational characteristics. Being positive, assuring the partner of one’s love and commitment, sharing tasks, and so forth represent proactive relational behaviors to be sure, but they must be enacted on a regular basis to matter.”

“Rusbult (1987) identified variations in the way that people respond to their partners during troubled times. These tendencies to accommodate reflect two dimensions: passive versus active and constructive versus destructive. Exit is an active and destructive behavior that includes threats to leave the partner; voice is an active and constructive strategy that involves discussing the problem without hostility; Loyalty is a passive and constructive approach that involves giving in to the partner; and Neglect is a passive and destructive approach that includes passive– aggressive reactions. Several studies have shown that committed individuals are more likely to engage in the more civil forms of accommodation – voice and loyalty – and that these behaviors have a more positive associations than do neglect or exit with relational quality. […] Tests of Rusbult’s model have largely endorsed its basic tenets, as reported elsewhere (Canary & Zelley, 2000).”

“a longstanding assumption is that in established relationships much communication involves taken-for-granted presumptions and expectations, and “habits of adjustment to the other person become perfected and require less participation of the consciousness” (Waller, 1951, p. 311). This would imply that over time maintenance would be achieved routinely rather than strategically. […] Research supports these presuppositions.”

The next chapter is called ‘The Treatment of Relationship Distress: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Findings’ – a few observations from the chapter:

“distressed married couples are more prone than nondistressed couples to aversive, destructive patterns of communication […] distressed couples are more likely to engage in exchanges in which one person’s hurtful comment is reciprocated with greater intensity by the receiving partner. […] Studies of couples’ conversations have shown that distressed partners are more likely to respond negatively to each other’s expressions of negative affect than are members of nondistressed couples (negative reciprocity); furthermore, these expressions of negative affect are not as likely to be offset by high levels of positive affect as they are in nondistressed relationships […] social learning theory emphasizes that a spouse’s behavior is both learned and influenced by the other partner’s behavior. Over time, spouses’ influence on each other becomes a stronger predictor of current behavior than the influences of previous close relationships.”

CBCT [Cognitive–Behavioral Couple Therapy] researchers have identified five major types of cognitions involved in couple relationship functioning […] The first three cognitions involve evaluations of specific events. Selective attention involves how each member of a couple idiosyncratically notices, or fails to notice, particular aspects of relationship events. Selective attention contributes to distressed couples’ low rates of agreement about the occurrence and quality of specific events, as well as negative biases in perceptions of each other’s messages […] Attributions are inferences made about the determinants of partners’ positive and negative behaviors. The tendency of distressed partners to attribute each other’s negative actions to global, stable traits has been referred to as “distress-maintaining attributions” because they leave little room for future optimism that one’s partner will behave in a more pleasing manner in other situations […] Expectancies, or predictions that each member of the couple makes about particular relationship events in the immediate or more distant future, are the last type of cognitions involving specific events. Negative relationship expectancies have been associated with lower [relationship] satisfaction […] The fourth and fifth categories of cognition are forms of what cognitive therapists have referred to as basic or core beliefs shaping one’s experience of the world. These include (a) assumptions, or beliefs that each individual holds about the characteristics of individuals and intimate relationships, and (b) standards, or each individual’s personal beliefs about the characteristics that an intimate relationship and its members “should” have […] Couples’ assumptions and standards are associated with current relationship distress, either when these beliefs are unrealistic or when the partners are not satisfied with how their personal standards are being met in their relationship […] many of the problematic behavioral interactions between spouses may evolve from the partners’ relatively stable cognitions about the relationship. Unless these cognitions are taken into account, successful intervention is likely to be compromised.” [The important point being that in a distressed relationship you can address: a) behaviours, b) how people in the relationship think about the behaviours, or c) both – and c seems at least theoretically to be superior to either of the other choices].

“CBCT teaches partners to monitor and test the appropriateness of their cognitions. It incorporates some standard cognitive restructuring strategies, such as (a) considering alternative attributions for a partner’s negative behavior; (b) asking for behavioral data to test a negative perception concerning a partner (e.g., that the partner never complies with requests); and (c) evaluating extreme standards by generating lists of the advantages and disadvantages of expectations to live up to this standard. […] Overall, we propose that some of the common elements in the effective approaches that we have reviewed include (a) broadening partners’ perspectives on sources of their difficulties as a couple, as well as on their strengths as a couple; (b) increasing the partners’ abilities to differentiate between the strengths and problems within their current relationship, versus characteristics that occurred in prior relationships; (c) motivating and directing the couple to reduce behavioral patterns that maintain or worsen relationship distress; and (d) increasing the range of constructive strategies that partners have available for influencing each other. […] Although the quality of the therapeutic alliance in explaining treatment effects has not been investigated empirically in couple therapy, the therapeutic alliance has received considerable attention in psychotherapy research more generally. A recent meta-analysis of psychotherapy concluded that the therapeutic alliance explains between 38% and 77% of the variance in treatment outcome, whereas specific techniques account for only 0% to 8% of the variance (Wampold, 2001).”

The last chapter is a sort of ‘bringing it all together’-chapter with some key points to take away from the book. I thought I’d include a few of these here even if I’ve talked about them before:

“The ratio of positive and negative behaviors during conflict interactions is also critical to relationships as viewed from a social exchange perspective […]. The study of conflict communication in married couples, however, has shown that negative behavior tends to have a stronger impact on relationship satisfaction than positive behavior. […] In discussing social exchange processes and emotion, Planalp, Fitness, and Fehr debunk the idea that social exchange processes are cold and calculating and argue that “the basic concepts and processes of social exchange theory can be viewed as deeply emotional.” For example, they note that rewards and costs are often experienced as positive and negative feelings. In addition, our reactions to inequity and inequality in our relationships are likely to be highly emotional, and indeed such social exchange concepts as comparison levels and comparison levels for alternatives are basically about positive and negative feelings toward the partner and toward potential alternatives. […] Although there is some controversy about the extent to which social exchange processes are relevant to committed relationships that are going well, it is clear that people want their relationships to be fair and equitable, and exchange processes tend to become the focus when relationships are not going well.”

“Fincham and Beach suggest that the evidence for an association between attributions and relationship satisfaction is one of the most robust findings in the area of close relationships […] understanding a person’s interpretation of partner behavior may be as important as observing that behavior […] [However] many cognitive variables, apart from attributions, are associated with relationship satisfaction. Their list includes discrepancies between the partner’s behavior and one’s ideal standards, social comparison processes such as seeing one’s relationships as superior to the norm, memory processes that lead to the recall of positive versus negative memories, and self-evaluation maintenance processes that serve to maintain self-esteem even when one compares poorly with the partner.”

“Commitment seems to be the strongest predictor of relational stability, and other factors include religious beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, viewing one’s identity in terms of the relationship, personal investments in the relationship, and children. Le and Agnew (2003) conducted a meta-analysis to test Rusbult’s (1980) investment model of commitment. They found that Rusbult’s three variables of satisfaction with, alternatives to, and investment in the relationship were significantly related to commitment to that relationship and together accounted for two-thirds of the variance in commitment.”

“cognitive distortions in a positive direction tend to be characteristic of happy couples. Those who idealize their partners and who tend to see their partners in a more positive light than their partners view themselves are likely to be happier than other couples. The attributions of these couples are likely to be affected, and they are likely to blame themselves for negative events and give their partners the credit for positive events […] there is a lot of evidence in this volume supporting the powerful role that cognitions can play in personal relationships. Whether our focus is on cognitions at the cultural level or at the interpersonal level, they seem to have powerful effects on relationship behavior and satisfaction. Also, the effects are likely to be reciprocal, with cognitions affecting relationship satisfaction and satisfaction affecting cognitions.”


April 1, 2015 - Posted by | Books, Psychology

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