In order to treat marital conflict, the therapist needs to get a picture of the emotional state of each spouse. Three criteria Guerin and his colleagues assess are: the degree of projection and self-focus, position on the expectation-to-alienation progression, and the adaptive level of functioning.
Degree of Projection and Self-Focus
This measurement can serve as an index for the severity of the conflict and a prognosis for the outcome. The authors state that, “the therapist must reinforce the ability of each spouse to recognize projection for what it is — blaming the other for one’s own limitations— and to understand his or her own role in the conflict.” In other words, it is likely that one spouse is placing the cause of their pain outside of themselves. Projecting blame demands change in another person instead of taking responsibility for our own behavior. The higher the projection, the higher the intensity of conflict. Self-focus, then, is the ability to accept responsibility for one’s own emotional response and subsequent behavior.
This theoretical construct tracks the development of the negative feelings within the individual in response to relationship stimuli. Expectations that were brought into the marriage, as well as disappointment and conflict, are followed. Often, the path leads to emotional alienation. When expectations are unmet, individuals are disappointed, then hurt, and finally resentful. Oftentimes, the end of prolonged bitterness is alienation— a place where someone cannot be hurt or even reached emotionally.
Adaptive Level of Functioning
Adaptive level of functioning refers to the relative ability to maintain functioning in the areas of productivity, relationships, and personal well-being in the face of significant amounts of stress. Lower levels of functioning in at least one or more of these areas are typically seen in marital conflict. It is important to identify what order in which an individual allows these areas to decline under stress. Typically in more severe marital conflict, more than one of these three areas are compromised.
Many individual factors play into marital conflict. Each person comes into the marriage with a set of personal characteristics that determine how they will function in the marital relationship. Therapists must take these into consideration when treating a couple in counseling.
If you or your spouse are concerned about marriage counseling and afraid of what it looks like, one of the first steps is courageously picking up the phone. Call Amy Wine Counseling Center at 832-421-8714 to get set up for a first appointment today!