Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Resolving Partnership Ambivalence: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Very Brief Cognitive and Experiential Interventions with Follow-Up/Résolution De L'ambivalence Du Partenariat : Essai Clinique Randomisé D'interventions Cognitives et Expérientielles Très Brèves Avec Suivi

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Resolving Partnership Ambivalence: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Very Brief Cognitive and Experiential Interventions with Follow-Up/Résolution De L'ambivalence Du Partenariat : Essai Clinique Randomisé D'interventions Cognitives et Expérientielles Très Brèves Avec Suivi

Article excerpt

A good partnership is among the most important conditions for a fulfilling life. Love, partnership, and family have been identified as central factors for wellbeing in various surveys (see Bodenmann, 2002, for a review). A central motive of individuals in committed relationships (partnerships) is intimacy, which is subjectively experienced as a feeling of connectedness (e.g., Laurenceau, Rivera, Schaffer, & Pietre-monaco, 2004). Consequently, it can be assumed that the intimacy motive is activated in persons within close relationships most of the time (Fitzsimons & Bargh, 2003).

Besides striving for relationship satisfaction, individuals also try to avoid threats to their intimate relationship or its quality, such as couple conflicts (e.g., Simpson, Orina, & Ickes, 2003). Accordingly, couple conflicts are considered central characteristics of dysfunctional partnerships (Fincham & Beach, 1999), and a phase of increased interpersonal conflicts typically precedes separation (Duck, 1982). Furthermore, interpersonal conflicts are assumed to go along with inner conflicts, such as feelings of ambivalence (Duck, 1982). Ambivalent partners are usually not sure if a separation would be the right thing to do or whether they should give the continuation of the partnership another chance (e.g., Riehl-Emde, Frei, & Willi, 1994). If in this situation an ambivalent person is incapable of making a decision, the ambivalence regarding continuation or separation (subsequently named partnership ambivalence) will most likely constitute a heavy burden (e.g., Braverman, 1987; van Harreveld, Rutjens, Rotteveel, Nordgren, & van der Pligt, 2009).

Generally, ambivalence is understood as a specific kind of /«impersonal motivational conflict that is to be distinguished from interpersonal conflicts (Grosse Holtforth & Michalak, 2008). Sincoff(1990) defined ambivalences as "overlapping approach-avoidance tendencies, manifested behaviorally, cognitively, or affectively, and directed toward a given person, experience, or other object, as well as toward a set of objects" (p. 44).

Because ambivalence is subjectively experienced as a burden, a longer period of ambivalence may be associated with psychological symptoms such as depressiveness, helplessness, or fear about the future (e.g., Kelly, Mansell, & Wood, 2011). Accordingly, Boiler (2009) found a cross-sectional, positive relationship between partnership ambivalence and depressive symptoms. The diathesis-stress model of depression (e.g., Brown & Moran, 1998) assumes that an individual may develop clinical depression if he or she has some biological, psychological, and sociocultural predispositions and is exposed to high levels of stress. Empirical research confirms that an accumulation of stressors increases the risk of developing a depressive disorder (Kendler, Karkowski, & Prescott, 1999), and that the experience of intrapersonal conflicts is related to depression (e.g., Stangier, Ukrow, Schermelleh-Engel, Grabe, & Lauterbach, 2007).

INTERVENTIONS FOR RESOLVING PARTNERSHIP AMBIVALENCE

Very stressful ambivalence may be an independent reason why individuals seek out counselling or psychotherapy. Assuming that intense and enduring ambivalence may result in psychological problems and disorders, the development of effective interventions for resolving ambivalence seems strongly indicated. Consequently, several interventions were used in this study to treat partnership ambivalence.

The aim of psychological interventions for the treatment of goal and decision conflicts (e.g., Engle & Arkowitz, 2006; Grosse Holtforth & Michalak, 2008; Trachsel & Grosse Holtforth, 2012) is to weaken or resolve the intrapersonal conflict. These interventions may also be located in the phase models of psychological change. In terms of the stages of change model (e.g., Prochaska & Norcross, 2004), ambivalence-focused interventions attempt to help the person shift from the stages of precontemplation and contemplation (ambivalence is located at the stage of contemplation) to the stages of preparation and action. …

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