An intimate look at couples in conflict

The New York Times has an in-depth article that tracks the course of group psychotherapy for couples with relationship problems, giving a revealing insight into what happens when couples volunteer for a group aimed at helping them understand and resolve conflict.

Group psychotherapy can take various approaches to how problems are understood but it typically relies on the idea that everyone can observe similar problems in others, each of whom can provide immediate peer feedback.

Some studies have found that couples group therapy has advantages over individual couple therapy. For example, a 2004 study found that couples in group therapy to prevent a re-occurrence of even quite serious domestic violence were more likely to be violence-free than those in individual couples therapy.

Nevertheless, it’s probably true to say that group couples therapy is quite under-researched at the present time so it’s difficult to get a completely clear picture.

There are varying approaches (not all will be like the group portrayed in the NYT article), all of which seem to be about equally effective.

One area that has significantly advanced, largely due to the work on John Gottman and his colleagues, is in understanding how patterns of communication between couples affect their relationship, and ultimately, chances of staying together.

What studies ‚Äî pioneered by John Gottman, a psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of Washington ‚Äî have rather convincingly shown are the marital patterns likely to result in divorce. In his famous “love lab,” the Family Research Laboratory, Gottman observed more than 3,000 couples during three decades of research, analyzing their discourse, including arguments, and recording their physiological responses. What he concluded is that it wasn’t whether people fought ‚Äî 69 percent of his subjects never resolved their conflicts ‚Äî but how they fought. The relatively happy couples did not escalate disagreements; they broke tension with jokes and distraction and made “repairs” after arguments. When wives raised issues gently, for example, neither partner’s heart rate exceeded 95 beats per minute and the ratio of positive to negative comments during a fight was an amazing five to one.

Link to NYT article ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’.
Link to Edge article and video interview with John Gottman.

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