Understanding Marital Distress

Polarization Processes

Authored by: Brian R. Baucom , David C. Atkins

Handbook of Family Theories

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  March  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415879453
eBook ISBN: 9780203075180
Adobe ISBN: 9781135118754


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Well-functioning marriages 2 2

As we write this chapter, the sociopolitical definition of marriage is in rapid flux. In this chapter, we use the term marriage to refer broadly to committed, intimate relationships composed of two adults who share a sense of history, who experience emotional bonding with one another, and who meet the needs of one another as well as of their intimate relationship independent of the gender composition of the couple (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010).

can be seen in spouses’ ability to adapt to and tolerate each other's differences, work together to create and preserve intimacy, and flexibly respond to and resolve conflict. In contrast, spouses in distressed marriages frequently do not engage in these collaborative processes, but rather think, interact, and experience one another in ways that make intimacy more difficult to achieve and that intensify existing conflict. We refer to escalating behavioral, cognitive, and emotional processes in distressed marriages as polarization processes. This chapter argues that polarization processes exacerbate marital distress that occurs as a result of individual differences becoming more pronounced, conflict becoming more entrenched, and spouses becoming less tolerant of each other. Moreover, polarization processes are influenced by intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intergenerational risk factors.

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