Archive for the ‘Research Findings’ Category

Communicating Emotion: Can Your Partner Read Your Mind During an Argument?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

This post is written by:

Lindsey Backer-Fulghum
Graduate Student in Social Psychology
Baylor University

As a couple, you may experience some of your strongest emotions during a conflict with your partner. But how good are you and your partner at recognizing each other’s emotions? According to our recent research, couples do this fairly well. Partners are pretty good at distinguishing between hard emotions such as anger, irritation, annoyance, and aggravation and soft emotions such as sadness, hurt, disappointment, and concern. However, expressing and recognizing emotions during a conflict is a little more complicated than this.

Our research suggests the overall climate of a relationship is important in determining what emotions are expressed. If you and your partner have a climate of typically expressing anger during conflicts, then you are likely to express anger regardless of what you are currently feeling. On the other hand, if you have a climate of rarely expressing anger, then you may not express anger and it may go unnoticed.

Although anger may go undetected if not typically expressed, anger is much easier to detect than other negative emotions such as sadness. This is because people are much more sensitive to threatening emotions. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. You would benefit more from responding quickly to someone acting angry and threatening, compared to someone acting sad and who needs comfort. Our research shows that the angrier your partner is, the less sad they may appear. Interesting though, we found that couples were much better than trained observers at detecting sadness. Although couples and observers were equally likely to pick-up on anger and less likely to pick-up on sadness, couples were better at detecting sadness than observers.

Taking these findings together, couples are able to communicate emotions quite well during a conflict. Therefore, it seems as though couples may be able to read each other’s minds very well during an argument.

Feeling sexy and marriage happiness

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

This post is written by:

Natalie Nichols
Graduate Student in Clinical Psychology
Baylor University

Women: Do you think you’re sexy? The answer may be more important than you think.

A recent article published in the Journal of Family Psychology by Meltzer and McNulty describes a study that investigated how a woman’s body image affects her marital relationship.  Previous research has already shown that indeed, women who have a more positive body image tend to experience higher relationship satisfaction than women with poor body image.  The reason is this:

 1. Women with high self-esteem tend to be more confident that their partner accepts them and is committed to them, so they feel more comfortable taking “emotional risks.”  Emotional risks include sharing intimate thoughts and desires. 

2. Women that take more emotional risks are more likely to remain happy in their relationships because they tend to feel closer to their partners. 

3. Women with positive body image tend to also take more emotional risks.  For example, women with positive body image engage in more sexual behavior. Why?  Because they fear sexual rejection less than women with poor body image, so they desire, initiate, and engage in sex more often.

 4. Couples that have sex frequently tend to have more sexual satisfaction than couples that do not have sex very often.

 5. Higher sexual satisfaction tends to lead to higher relationship or marital satisfaction. 

Then, what does this new study have to say?  The authors basically identified what specific aspect of body image is responsible for this increase (or decrease) in women’s sexual satisfaction.  The authors divided body image into three things: sexual attractiveness, physical condition, and weight concern.  After giving more than 50 couples several questionnaires, the authors found that how a woman perceived herself sexually—that is, how sexually attractive she believed she was, was the only component of body image that affected marital satisfaction.  So, it goes like this: 1. A woman thinks she is sexually attractive, so 2. She feels more confident about having sex with her husband (perhaps more often), so 3. The couple enjoys more sexual satisfaction, so 4. They are also more satisfied with their marriage in general. 

Another important finding to note: Wives’ perceived sexual attractiveness ultimately affects not only their own marital satisfaction, but their husband’s, too.  In fact, wives’ perceptions of their sexual attractiveness accounted for 6 percent of their husband’s marital satisfaction and 19 percent of their own marital satisfaction.

Moral of the story: In assessing your own marital issues, you may consider thinking about your sexual relationship.  Wives, how confident are you in your sexual attractiveness?  If you tend to have negative feelings, such as shame or dissatisfaction, with your body, you may be more anxious about sex.  As shown in this study, this anxiety can ultimately lead to reduced sexual satisfaction, and ultimately less marital satisfaction for both of you. 


Meltzer, A. L. & McNulty, J.  K. (2010).  Body Image and Marital Satisfaction: Evidence for the Mediating Role of Sexual Frequency and Sexual Satisfaction.  Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 156-164. 


Dodo Bird Advice for Couples

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The dodo bird might be able to tell us something about building a strong marriage. To explain why this is, I first need to tell you something about what researchers have found in studies investigating how much couples actually benefit from getting couples counseling. There are a few different well-established techniques for doing couples counseling (these techniques have names like integrative behavioral couple therapy, emotionally focused couple therapy, and insight oriented couple therapy), and each counselor usually believes that his or her own chosen technique is the best. Studies have been conducted that are like contests between the different techniques, testing them to determine which technique works best. Often, these studies end up finding that all the techniques are effective. Psychologists sometimes call this the dodo bird effect, named after the dodo bird from the book, Alice in Wonderland. In the book, Alice joins a seemingly endless circular race, which ends when the dodo bird declares “All have won and all must receive prizes.”

The thing we learn from this is that, sometimes, it does not matter what you do, just as long as you are still in the race. Why is it that several different approaches to couple therapy have all been found to be helpful? Part of the reason might be that all the approaches tested in these studies are programs that were developed by experienced clinical researchers. But, another more important part of the reason is that, when couples start therapy, they are taking steps to improve their relationship. They are investing time and making an effort. The type of therapy they receive may not be as important as the fact that they are actively doing something for their relationship. Of course, this basic lesson can apply to all types of relationships, and not just couples in counseling. It can be used to make a good relationship better, or to help a new couple build a secure relationship strong enough to last a lifetime.

So, what can we learn from the dodo bird? The important thing is not so much what technique you use to make your relationship strong, but rather, whether or not you actually invest time and effort in any technique to make your relationship strong. Don’t forget to do something today to invest in your relationship. Regardless of what you do, chances are, you will receive the prize.

Study Finds Two Reasons Why Couples Fight

Monday, July 26th, 2010

An article recently published in the journal Psychological Assessment describes a series of studies I conducted to identify couples’ underlying concerns during conflicts. As described in the Couple Conflict Consultant resource bank, there are two basic types of underlying concern that appear to drive the majority of conflicts between partners. During a conflict, your underlying concern is your fundamental reason for feeling upset. It is the fuel that gives the conflict heat.

This recently published research was based on several thousand married participants, and in this research, I used a statistical procedure called factor analysis to study the words people use when they describe a conflict with a spouse. By analyzing how different types of words tend to be used together, I discovered that most conflicts boil down to just two basic underlying concerns: perceived threat and perceived neglect. Your underlying concern is a perceived threat when you believe you are being unfairly blamed, controlled, attacked, or criticized. Your underlying concern is a perceived neglect when you believe your partner is failing to make a desired contribution to the relationship.

To resolve conflict, it is important for each partner to recognize his or her underlying concerns. One way to do this is to complete a free assessment using the Couple Conflict Consultant. The assessment results will include scores for both perceived threat and perceived neglect and they are based on the same scales that were used in the recently published research article. I recommend that couples complete an assessment after every relationship conflict. By getting repeated feedback on your underlying concerns, you will eventually develop an ability to quickly and accurately recognize these concerns whenever they occur.

The reference for the above study is:

Sanford, K. (2010). Perceived threat and perceived neglect: Couples’ underlying concerns during conflict. Psychological Assessment, 22, 288-297.

The study was also summarized at the following websites:

Science Daily

Web MD