Marriage therapy: assertiveness to live happily as a couple

On some occasions, some couples who initially seemed to understand and understand each other in most situations, over time they can become a core full of constant conflict and discussion.

In some cases these expressed differences are insurmountable, but in a considerable percentage the origin of the problem can be derived from a lack of interpersonal or social skills.

One of the components that make up psychological interventions based on social skills training and one of the most used in cognitive-behavioral marriage therapy is assertive behavior learning.

The role of assertiveness

In the field of psychological intervention, the terms assertive behavior and social competence-based behavior can be understood as analogous.

like that, assertive behavior is defined as the ability to allow the person to express themselves and communicate freely, Have an active orientation and attitude in life and act by valuing actions in a respectable way (Fensterheim and Baer, ​​2008). Méndez, Olivares and Ros (2008) propose the following classification of social skills from lists of previous behaviors: opinions, feelings, demands, conversations and rights. Training in non-verbal aspects such as matching tone of voice, eye contact, body and facial expression is also important.

Assertiveness and self-esteem

Assertiveness has a close relationship with the concept of self-esteem, since everything an individual does is reflected in the idea that they develop on themselves (self-concept).

Therefore, a positive correlation can be established between these two phenomena: as the expression of assertiveness increases, the level of self-esteem also increases, and vice versa. Numerous surveys indicate that an adequate level of self-esteem is essential for fostering relationships satisfactory interpersonal skills.

Assertive, non-affirmative and aggressive behaviors

A relevant aspect that must first be addressed on the concept of assertiveness is to determine the difference between assertive, non-assertive and aggressive behaviors. Unlike the first:

  • Non-assertive behavior is defined as dangerous behavior where the person does not firmly stand up for their own ideas, which often causes emotional discomfort and negative self-esteem in certain situations.
  • Aggressive behavior refers to the expression of hostility and excessive harshness general as a form of psychological organization of the individual in such a way that it intentionally causes pain to others in order to achieve its own goals.

What components include interventions in marital problems with the most empirical support?

In terms of marital psychological intervention, among the techniques that have most demonstrated their effectiveness (from studies conducted with samples of populations with deficits in interpersonal relationships) are cognitive therapy (TDM) and training in social skills, the central element is assertiveness training (Holpe, Hoyt & Heimberg, 1995). In fact, the 1998 Chambless studies show how cognitive-behavioral intervention is one of the empirically validated treatments for couples therapy.

For its part, cognitive therapy attempts to modify the negative cognitive patterns on which the subject bases his conception of himself. Because this phenomenon has a positive and two-way correlation with the expressed negativity, the more one increases by 1, the more the other increases. Thus, the ultimate goal of computed tomography will be to modify those pessimistic beliefs that guide the cognitive-behavioral dynamics that condition a person’s normal functioning.

In terms of behavioral therapy, the most effective and widespread intervention in the clinical setting is social skills training, where the subject learns by imitating appropriate and socially more adaptive patterns of behavior.

Elements of this type of therapy

Fensterheim and Baer (2008) state that an assertiveness training program should include the following:

1. Plan the setting of goals and objectives to be achieved.

2. Training in emotional communication.

3. Test of assertive behavior in a safe setting.

4. Behavioral exercises of assertive practice in the real context.

Once the initial analysis is done on the dynamics of a specific relationship, the problematic behaviors and the antecedents and consequences of these behaviors, the first point to work on is the establishment of objectives and goals to be achieved in the process. ‘intervention. . From this point on, begins the part most related to learning assertive behavior (elements 2, 3 and 4 above).

Conjugal interventions: what do they consist of?

A considerable number of problems in couple relationships are caused by learning deficits in individual development throughout the individual’s life. The lack of acquisition of social skills during personal development means that these individuals cannot express in adulthood what they did not integrate in the first years of life. The behavioral therapy approach advocates the idea that people achieve intimacy because they have learned to do so.

Achieving intimacy is one of the ultimate goals in dealing with marital problems, Where assertive learning plays one of the main roles as an effective therapeutic strategy, as noted by Fensterheim and Baer (2008).

1. Promote confidentiality

To achieve intimacy between the members of the couple, the main therapeutic indications and basic milestones aim to:

1. Help each spouse to identify the specific behaviors necessary to improve the marital relationship in general.

2. Help change these behaviors by replacing them with more adaptive behaviors.

3. Show each member that change in each of them is a necessary condition to generate change in the other member.

4. Help the development of verbal and non-verbal communication between the members of the couple.

5. Assist in the process of setting achievable short-term goals in the area of ​​emotional communication.

On the other hand, the following observations should also be taken into account:

  • The spouse should not be blamed for all the problemsBut failure in relationships is a shared responsibility.
  • It is recommended not to give up your own identity. Although the two members form a marriage nucleus, there are individual plots that are not fully shared.
  • Linked to the previous pointIt is important not to invade the other’s space and to respect their privacy in some respects.
  • Excessive independence can lead to distancing between the two members of the couple. The marital relationship is by nature reciprocal and mutually interdependent, therefore, the conduct of one of the spouses irreparably affects the other and also the relationship itself.

2. Assertiveness training

More precisely and according to Fensterheim and Baer (2008), the components most commonly addressed in assertiveness training in relationships correspond to the following:

  • General plan for modifying problematic behaviors: The goal is to identify conflicting behavior between spouses. It is essential to know which behaviors displease each member of the couple in order to modify them and replace them with more adaptive behaviors.
  • wedding contract: Agreement based on a document from which the two spouses undertake to comply and exercise the consequences that may result.
  • Affirmed emotional communication: Adopt a new form of open and sincere communication where feelings and thoughts are expressed and shared. This point is essential to avoid the appearance of misunderstandings and subjective misinterpretations on situations that end up becoming conflicting. We are also working on some pointers to learn a more appropriate way to have a discussion with one another, in which points of view can be approached and the conflict resolved rather than aggravating.
  • Assertive decision making: This component aims to affect the perception of one of the members of the couple on the belief that it is the other spouse who makes the most decisions, so that he can feel excluded and despised. These indications are aimed at renegotiating and distributing in a more equitable and satisfactory manner the percentage of decisions involving the conjugal nucleus.

3. The behavior test technique

It is the central technique of assertiveness training, and its purpose is for the person to learn new behavioral skills, Be very useful in the practice of social situations. More precisely, it consists in reproducing a safe environment, like the consultation of the therapist (where it is possible to manipulate these scenes), in which a work is carried out on the natural daily situations of the person so that the person can assess his problematic behaviors. . negative consequences that could arise in its real context.

In addition, it is achieved that the person decreases the level of anxiety when performing a certain behavior. At the beginning, the proposed performances are very modeled, later they are semi-directed and, finally, they are totally spontaneous and improvised.

4. Behavior modification

Techniques based on operant conditioning were the first to be used in the field of behavior modification.. It is called operative or instrumental learning because the behavior is used as a means to achieve a desired consequence. The fundamental premise is the so-called law of effect proposed by Thorndike (one of the most important theorists of learning), who argues that if a behavior is followed by a positive effect, the probability of performing behavior in the future will be increased. .

One of the main goals of assertive couple behavior training is the ability to demand behavior change from the other member of the couple. Thus, it is essential to pay attention to the behaviors that one wishes to strengthen / weaken in the other. For this, it is extremely important to understand and take into account the procedures of instrumental conditioning.

More precisely, in the two-person intervention, a new dynamic will be established in which these desired and adaptive behaviors will be systematically rewarded with pleasant consequences so that they tend to repeat themselves in the future, while those judged to be unpleasant will be penalized. their gradual elimination.

To conclude

In the text, it was observed that the interventions proposed in the treatment of couple problems include both cognitive and behavioral components. like that, the modification of the underlying beliefs motivating the problematic behaviors observable from the outside this is a prerequisite that both parties must meet.

In the more behavioral part, the theories of instrumental learning and behavior tests allow to acquire and consolidate the most beneficial adaptive behaviors for the interrelation between the two members of the couple.

Bibliographical references:

  • Baron, RA and Byrne, D. (2004) Social Psychology. Pearson: Madrid.
  • Fertensheim, H. I Baer, ​​J. (2008) Don’t say yes when you mean no. Debolsillo: Barcelona.
  • Pages, FJ (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Olivares, J. and Méndez, FX (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: New library.

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