Do troubled relationships need more positivity — or the exact opposite?

Based on a robust literature indicating that happy couples tend to think and behave more positively in their relationships than less happy couples do, most interventions designed to treat and prevent marital distress tend to encourage couples to engage in more-positive cognitive and behavioral processes and avoid more-negative ones. Consistent with the limited effectiveness of such interventions, however, findings from four independent longitudinal studies of newlyweds indicate that positive processes may not only fail to help distressed couples, they may hurt them. Specifically, although more-positive expectations, more-positive attributions, less-negative behavior, and more forgiveness most effectively maintained satisfaction among spouses facing infrequent and minor problems, less-positive expectations, less-positive attributions, more-negative behavior, and less forgiveness most effectively maintained satisfaction among spouses facing more-frequent and more-severe problems, partly because those processes helped spouses acknowledge, address, and resolve those problems. Accordingly, distressed and at-risk couples may benefit from interventions that teach them to think and behave in ways that motivate them to resolve their problems, even if those thoughts and behaviors are associated with negative emotions in the moment.

Source: “When Positive Processes Hurt Relationships” from Current Directions in Psychological Science

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