Inter personal dynamics in couples
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Inter-personal Dynamics in Couples. Catalina Woldarsky Psyc 3430 M April 1, 2008. Outline. Overview of couples research Predictors of divorce - J. Gottman “we-ness” - D. Reid Approaches to working with couples Emotion-focused couple therapy . Overview of Research . Why study couples?

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Inter personal dynamics in couples l.jpg

Inter-personal Dynamics in Couples

Catalina Woldarsky

Psyc 3430 M

April 1, 2008

Outline l.jpg

  • Overview of couples research

  • Predictors of divorce - J. Gottman

  • “we-ness” - D. Reid

  • Approaches to working with couples

    • Emotion-focused couple therapy

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Overview of Research

  • Why study couples?

    • increased rates of accidents, physical illness, suicide, violence and homicide

  • Couples Distress

    • communication, lack of emotional concern, infidelity

    • individual psychopathology

  • Diverse methodologies

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Gottman & Levenson (1992)

  • Objective: to identify predictors of divorce

  • Multi-method approach

  • “Rapid Couples Interaction Scoring System” was developed & used to group couples into 2 groups:

    • Regulated Couples

    • Non-regulated Couples

  • This distinction allowed for prediction of marital dissolution with 75% accuracy in a 4 year study

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Gottman’s Research

  • Regulated couples

    +ve probl-solv behav > -ve probl-solv behav

    • neutral/+ve probl description, assent, humour

  • Non-regulated couples

    • -ve probl-solv behav > +ve probl-solv behav

    • complaint, criticism, defensiveness

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The 4 Horsemen of Apocalypse

  • “Cascade Model of Dissolution” - using these 4 variables, prediction of divorce increased to 85%

    • Contempt = greatest predictor of divorce

    • Criticism

    • Defensiveness

    • Stonewalling

  • Later divorcing is predicted by ABSENCE of +ve affect (affection, interest & humour) NOT simply presence of -ve affect

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Stable Marriages

  • Volatile:

    • high on immediate persuasion attempts with little active listening & validation

  • Validating:

    • both partners actively listen & reflect back feelings before attempts to persuade

  • Conflict-Avoiding:

    • very little engagement in persuasion attempts

  • Balance theory of marriage - each couple will find a balance btwn +ve & -ve affect (homeostasis)

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Sound Marital House Theory

Gottman & Levenson (1996)

  • Creating shared symbolic meaning

  • Regulating conflict

  • Creating positive sentiment over-ride

  • Marital friendship

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The Identity of the Couple

Systemic-Constructivist approach:Integrates the intrapersonal with the Interpersonal processes and is highly contextually sensitive.

  • Examines how each partner’s “assumptive worlds” become intertwined in marriage

  • Marriage reflects intricately the ‘personalities’, deep feelings and core sense of meaning of the partners.

  • To be happy each partner must develop & maintain a fulfilling identity within the relationship.

  • In this process, each partner conjointly validates a sense of who each is. This requires considerable interpersonal awareness & commitment.

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“We-ness” - D. Reid

  • “We-ness” refers to the identity that each partner establishes in relationship to the other.

  • This sense of we-ness is a psychological construction that becomes evident in the language system that forms the bond between the married partners.

  • It contains an antidote to egocentric primacy & any excessive dependency or invasiveness.

  • It is understood that this egocentricity is at the root of many problems of communication within committed relationships.

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We-ness Coding Scale

  • LEVEL 1: Domination of “I” vs. “You.”

  • LEVEL 2: Primacy of view, not hearing.

  • LEVEL 3: Tacit Recognition of Relationship.

  • LEVEL 4: Interpersonal aware, but…

  • LEVEL 5: Share Experiences, Stories.

  • LEVEL 6: Intuitive Sense of Self as Couple.

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Interpersonal Processing is the Power of Three

“Relational Selves” in sync.= value of other.








Ways of living

Culture &










Ways of living

Culture &



3. = Us”

“Us is greater than parts”





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Approaches to working with Couples

  • There are 3 empirically-supported approaches:

    • Cognitive-Behavioural Couples Therapy

    • Emotion-focused Couples Therapy

    • Insight-oriented Couples Therapy

  • Common Factor: Promotion of each partner’s acceptance of the other & their differences – use of these differences to promote empathy & intimacy.

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Emotional Acceptance

All of these approaches work with these assumptions:

  • Each partner has feelings that are understandable

  • Each partner has a story that makes sense

  • Each partner has hold of some truth about the relationship

  • Each partner has a position on the problem that is worthy of attention & consideration

  • Acceptance of the values of each couple & partner as long as they DO NOT promote destructive actions

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  • Greenberg & Johnson (1988)

  • Therapy involves having partners reveal their most vulnerable feelings to each other to promote bonding, and being able to take a self-focus to reveal and regulate one’s own emotions.

  • Key Intervention involves identifying & modifying the couples’ cycle (I.e., set way of responding to each other that keeps them feeling stuck)

  • Research has found that the single most effective way of resolving couples conflict is for partners to reveal their underlying vulnerable feelings and their attachment, identity and intimacy needs(Greenberg & Johnson, 1988; Greenberg, James, & Conry 1988, Greenberg, Ford, Alden & Johnson 1993)

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Key Dimensions:Attachment & Identity

  • Emotional expression influences how others respond.

  • Partners form emotional attachments through their emotion systems.

  • Partners also form a sense of who they are, and a sense of self-esteem, through the validation of their emotions by others.



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Affiliation (attachment) Cycles

Pursue - Distance

  • Pursuer: Sad, Lonely, Anxious, Fears abandonment

  • Distancer: Anxious, Angry, Insecure

    Attack/Blame – Defend

  • Same as above

    Demand – Withdraw

  • Same as above

    Cling – Push away

  • Clinger: Anxious, Helpless

  • Push away: Anger, Burdened, Trapped

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Influence (Identity) Cycles

Dominate – Submit

  • Dominant: Fear of loss of status /control, Shame

  • Submissive: Fear, Inadequacy, Anger

    Define – Defer

  • Same as above

    Lead – Follow

  • Leader: Anxious

  • Follower: Inadequate, Helpless, Angry

    Over-function – Under-function

  • Same as above

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Phases of EFT-C

  • Cycle de-escalation

    • Establishing a “working alliance” & framing issues/conflict in terms of emotional pain and deprivation of emotional needs

    • Identifying the negative cycle

    • Exploring underlying emotions of each position

  • Change in interactional positions

    • promoting identification with the disowned aspects of experience that may arise in the redefined cycle

    • the expression of specific needs and wants to restructure the interaction

  • Consolidation and integration