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Marital therapy: assertiveness to live happily in a couple

Marital therapy: assertiveness to live happily in a couple

August 17, 2022

On certain occasions, some couples that initially seemed to understand and understand each other in most situations, they can come with the passage of time to constitute a nucleus full of conflicts and constant discussions .

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

One of the components that make up the psychological interventions based on Social Skills Training and one of the most used to Marital Therapies of cognitive-behavioral current is the Learning of Assertive Behavior.


The role of assertiveness

Within the scope of psychological intervention, the terms assertive behavior and behavior based on social skills can be understood as analogous.

A) Yes, Assertive behavior is defined as that ability that allows the person to manifest and communicate freely , have an active orientation and attitude in life and act to value actions in a respectable way (Fensterheim and Baer, ​​2008). Méndez, Olivares and Ros (2008), propose the following classification of social skills from the lists of previous behaviors: opinions, feelings, requests, conversations and rights. It is also important to train in non-verbal aspects such as adequacy in the tone of voice, eye contact, body and facial expression.


Assertiveness and self-esteem

Assertiveness maintains a close relationship with the concept of self-esteem, since everything that an individual does, has its reflection in the idea that it develops on itself (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. There are numerous investigations that affirm that an adequate level of esteem towards oneself is fundamental to favor the establishment of relationships satisfactory interpersonal

Assertive, non-assertive and aggressive behaviors

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


  • Non-assertive behavior is defined as unsafe behavior where the person does not defend firmly their own ideas, which usually causes emotional discomfort and a negative self-perception when facing 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 intentionally causes pain to others in order to achieve their own objectives.

What components include interventions in conjugal problems with greater empirical support?

At the level of conyugale psychological intervention, among the techniques that have proven most effective (from studies conducted with population samples with deficits in interpersonal relationships) are Cognitive Therapy (TC) and Social Skills Training, whose central element falls in the Training in Assertiveness (Holpe, Hoyt and Heimberg, 1995). In fact, Chambless's 1998 studies show how The cognitive-behavioral intervention is one of the empirically validated treatments for couples therapy .

On the other hand, Cognitive Therapy tries to modify the negative cognitive schemas on which the subject bases the concept he has of himself. Because this phenomenon has a positive and bidirectional correlation with the negativity expressed, the more one increases, the more the other increases. Thus, the final objective of the CT will be the modification of these pessimistic beliefs that guide the cognitive-behavioral dynamics that condition the habitual functioning of the person.

In reference to Behavioral Therapy, the most effective and most widespread intervention within the clinical context is the Social Skills Training, where the subject learns from the imitation of models appropriate behaviors and socially more adaptive .

Elements of this type of therapy

Fensterheim and Baer (2008) state that an Assertiveness Training program must include the following elements:

1. Plan to establish objectives and goals to achieve.

2. Training in emotional communication.

3. Assertive behavior test in a safe context.

4. Behavioral practice exercises in the real context.

Once the initial analysis on the dynamics of the specific relationship, the problematic behaviors and the antecedents and consequent of said behaviors, the first point that must be worked is the establishment of objectives and goals to be reached in the intervention.From that moment on, the part most related to the learning of assertive behavior begins properly (elements 2, 3 and 4 previously exposed).

Conjugal interventions: what are they?

A considerable number of problems in couples' relationships are caused by learning deficits in individual development throughout the subject's life. The lack of the acquisition of Social Skills during personal development means that these individuals can not express in adult life what they have not integrated in the first years of life. The approach of Behavioral Therapy defends the idea that people get intimacy because they have learned to achieve it.

The achievement of privacy is one of the ultimate goals in the treatment of marital problems , where Assertive Learning plays one of the main roles as an effective therapeutic strategy, as pointed out by Fensterheim and Baer (2008).

1. Enhance intimacy

In order to achieve intimacy between the members of the couple, the therapeutic indications and main basic milestones are oriented towards:

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

2. Help modify these behaviors by replacing them with more adaptive ones.

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

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

5. Help in the process of establishing feasible short-term objectives in the field of emotional communication.

On the other hand, we must also take into account the following observations:

  • The spouse should not be blamed for all the problems , but the failure in relationships are shared responsibility.
  • It is recommended not to abandon one's identity . Although both members form a matrimonial nucleus there are individual plots that are not fully shared
  • Related to the previous point , it is important not to invade the space of the other and to respect their privacy in certain aspects.
  • An excess of independence can lead to a distancing between both members of the couple. The marital relationship is by nature reciprocal and mutually interdependent, therefore, the conduct of one of the spouses irremediably affects the other and also the relationship itself.

2. The Assertiveness Training

More concretely and according to Fensterheim and Baer (2008), the components most commonly addressed in the Assertiveness Training within couple relationships correspond to the following:

  • General plan for the modification of problematic behaviors : whose purpose is the identification of conflict generating behaviors between the spouses. It is essential to know which behaviors are displeasing to each member of the couple in order to modify them and replace them with more adaptive ones.
  • Marriage contract : agreement based on a document from which both spouses are committed to compliance and to exercise the consequences that may arise.
  • Assertive emotional communication : adopt a new form of open and honest communication where feelings and thoughts of one's own are expressed and shared. This point is fundamental to prevent the emergence of misunderstandings and erroneous subjective interpretations about situations that end up becoming conflicting. Likewise, some indications are also worked on to learn a more adequate way to maintain a discussion with the other, in which points of view can be approached and the conflict resolved instead of aggravating it further.
  • Assertive decision making This component aims to influence the perception of one of the partners about the belief that it is the other spouse who makes the most decisions, so that he or she may feel excluded and despised. With these indications it is intended to re-negotiate and distribute in a more equitable and satisfactory manner the percentage of decisions that involve the marital core.

3. The Behavior Test Technique

This is the central technique of Assertiveness Training, and its purpose is for the person to learn new behavioral skills , being very useful in the practice of social situations. In particular, it consists of reproducing a safe environment, such as the therapist's consultation (where it is possible to manipulate these scenes), in which one works on the person's daily natural situations in order that the person can evaluate their problematic behaviors without suffer the negative consequences that could occur in their real context.

In addition, it is possible for the person to reduce the level of anxiety when carrying out a certain behavior. At first the representations that are proposed are very patterned, later they are semi-directed and, finally, they are totally spontaneous and improvised.

4. The Modification of Conduct

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

One of the main focuses of acting of the Assertive Behavior Training within the couple consists of the ability to request a change of behavior in the other member of the couple. Thus, it is essential to pay attention to the behaviors that we want to strengthen / weaken in the other. For this purpose it is highly relevant to understand and take into account the procedures of Instrumental Conditioning.

More concretely, in the intervention in pairs, a new dynamic will be established in which the desirable and adaptive behaviors will be rewarded consistently through pleasant consequences in order that they tend to repeat themselves in the future, while those considered unpleasant to be penalized will be penalized. get its gradual elimination.

In conclusion

In the text it has been observed that the proposed interventions in the treatment of couple problems include both cognitive and behavioral components. A) Yes, the modification of underlying motivating beliefs of externally observable problem behaviors It is a necessary prerequisite to be addressed by both parties.

In the most behavioral part, the Theory of Instrumental Learning and the Behavior Test allow to acquire and strengthen those adaptive behaviors most beneficial for the interrelation between both members of the couple.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baron, R. A. Byrne, D. (2004) Social Psychology. Pearson: Madrid.
  • Fertensheim, H. I Baer, ​​J. (2008) Do not say yes when you want to say no. Debolsillo: Barcelona.
  • Labrador, F. J. (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Olivares, J. and Méndez, F. X. (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: New library.

Skills for Healthy Romantic Relationships | Joanne Davila | TEDxSBU (August 2022).


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