Psychological hurt in couple relationships: Prevention and resolution

Fitzgerald, Jennifer (Jennifer R.) (2005). Psychological hurt in couple relationships: Prevention and resolution PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Fitzgerald, Jennifer (Jennifer R.)
Thesis Title Psychological hurt in couple relationships: Prevention and resolution
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Judith Feeney
Katherine Sofronoff
Total pages 484
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects L
380105 Social and Community Psychology
780108 Behavioural and cognitive sciences
Formatted abstract

Psychological hurt within couple relationships (e.g., from active disassociation, implicit rejection, criticism, infidelity or other acts of betrayal) can have negative effects on both individual recipients and couple relationships. In Study 1,107 couples reported on hurtful events in their relationship. Role-related differences in reporting were found, generally reflecting a self-serving bias. Forgiveness, but not relationship satisfaction, moderated some role-related differences : When targets were forgiving, role-related differences were no longer present for distress-maintaining attributions or perceptions of remorse, and forgiving targets also indicated significantly less global hurt for themselves and less negative effects on their relationships than were perceived by actors. Attachment dimensions were important predictors of reactions to hurtful events: Females ' relationship anxiety predicted more angry and ruminating reactions for females, and more perceptions of negative effects on targets and relationships for both males and females. Males ' relationship anxiety predicted more rumination, and their avoidance predicted less open reactions. The couples were also asked to discuss what they found helpful and unhelpful in resolving episodes of hurt, and what factors influenced the resolution process. Regulation of emotions, constructive discussion and perspective-taking were most frequently suggested as helping the resolution process. Perceived barriers to resolution included under- or over-regulation of negative emotions, lack of motivation to apologize or acknowledge the partners' experience, and a desire to retaliate or avoid. Couples also emphasized the importance of appropriate timing for communication about hurtful events. The tension between talking about the hurt immediately, versus waiting to get calm and "think things over", emerged as an issue both between and within couples. 

In Study 2, cross-sectional analyses again revealed role-related differences in reports of hurtful events. There was little evidence of moderating effects of satisfaction or forgiveness, but several interactions between role and emotion (at time of reporting). Higher levels of hurt and anger were associated with role-related differences in attributions of intentionality for male targets, and role-related differences in emotional tone and perception of remorse for female targets. By contrast, at lower levels of emotion, biased reporting was not evident. Analyses also revealed that forgiven events were reported differently from unforgiven events: Reports of forgiven events indicated more satisfaction with outcome, less distress and more open reactions than for unforgiven events. The expected negative association between insecure attachment and forgiveness was found. For females, after controlling for attributions and open reactions, the insecure attachment-forgiveness association was no longer significant. For self-efficacy to handle hurtful events constructively, females' attachment avoidance predicted their efficacy as actors, while attachment anxiety predicted their efficacy as targets. For males, relationship satisfaction predicted their efficacy as actors and their confidence in partners ' efficacy as targets and actors.

 A controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the longitudinal impact of a one-day educational workshop for newly committed couples, aiming to prevent hurtful events and promote effective resolution. The 69 community coup les were randomly assigned to intervention- and wait-list control-groups. Workshop material was developed from the suggestions of the couples in Study 1, and was expanded from attachment, behavioural, crisis and forgiveness theoretical perspectives. Analyses of couples' accounts of hurtful events in their relationship (gathered before and after the workshop) indicated a decrease in biased reporting, and an increase in targets' forgiveness and actors' remorse, from pre-to post-intervention. 

Modest results were obtained from analyses of distal measures of relationship functioning. Intervention-group males became less controlling of negative emotions from pre-intervention to follow-up and intervention-group females improved on relationship satisfaction, and self- and partner-efficacy as targets. Importantly, from pre-intervention to follow-up, relationship satisfaction increased for females in insecure dyads, in contrast to females in secure or control dyads. Support was found for the hypothesis that husbands' (rather than wives') forgiveness would have greater impact on couples' relationships. After controlling for post-intervention relationship satisfaction, there was a positive correlation between male (but not female) targets' post-intervention forgiveness and both females ' and males' relationship satisfaction at follow-up. 

The theoretical and clinical implications of these findings for couple relationships and distress-prevention are discussed. 

Keyword Interpersonal relations -- Psychological aspects

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:52:00 EST