Steven L. Sayers
Marital dysfunction, as in most clinical problems, is best described from a variety of perspectives. Spouses can behave in a spiteful way toward one another-they criticize, accuse, and stomp away angrily. At times, they fight physically, and some relationships are characterized by one spouse, usually the male, dominating and controlling the other through violence and intimidation. Marital dysfunction, however, is more than the unpleasant behavior we see or that is reported to us by unhappy spouses. Research over the last several decades has documented characteristic ways that an unhappy spouse is likely to think about his or her partner and relationship. In addition, unhappy spouses have characteristic ways of feeling and responding emotionally to conflict that are different from those of spouses who report being happy with their relationships. Furthermore, attachment theory suggests that long-held dispositions toward relationships might have an influence on one's current marital relationship. Thus, marital dysfunction is multidimensional, and the astute clinician considers a variety of ways of understanding and describing couples. Correspondingly, there is a wide range of choices for the assessment of couples. First, however, marital dysfunction is described below on several important dimensions.