We typically go into partner or couple relationships to gain emotional and physical closeness with someone. Typically, we still want to retain our individuality and identity, yet differences exist between us due to our expectations, perspectives, experiences, beliefs, knowledge, interests, desires, or values. In addition to our own uniqueness, each of us changes over time and may have multiple needs or wants in various contexts.
Often partners find that they have gotten into habits or repetitive patterns that make them feel misunderstood or unappreciated. Consequently, many people become dissatisfied or disappointed because they have not found a way to handle their differences and/or feel misjudged by their partner and feel emotional distance from the other. Conflict is inevitable in every relationship, and all couples need to learn what factors contribute to the misunderstandings and differences between them, and how to manage them together.
Stress, like other emotions, can be contagious, and compound each partner’s attempt to convey their own feelings and positions, while trying to understand their partner’s emotions and perspectives. By reacting and responding to one another, couples influence one another’s stress reactivity for better or worse. Positive couple interactions, including support and validation, also can be contagious and lessen stress responses.
Healthy relationships are characterized as occurring when both partners actively participate in a dynamic process of speaking clearly, listening, and collaborating. Couples’ treatment focuses on the interactions and communication between the partners, and on individual’s issues as they impact the couple. By recognizing their issues as occurring within the couple interactions, both partners can then contribute to enhancing their relationship.
Studies show that couple therapy can significantly improve relationships so that partners communicate more constructively. When partners deal with stress together and perceive their partner as helpful and supportive, they report greater relationship satisfaction. Couple therapy can positively impact individual problems such as depression. Psychotherapy for couples shows significant results in lessening or alleviating couple distress – for example, it is found that men who perceive their marriage as unsuccessful are at a high risk for premature death and health problems. Psychologists are effective in guiding the development of constructive interactions, deeper understanding of self and others, empathy, and building strong supportive relationships.