Development of Dissatisfactions

According to behavior theory, people select mates based on the actual and anticipated reinforcers received in the relationship (e.g., sexual pleasure, emotional intimacy, wealth, etc.). Couples who are initially satisfied with these reinforcers may become less satisfied over time because reinforcements become habitual and routine or because greater contact and/or life changes may expose important incompatibilities that were not apparent to the couple during the courtship phase of their relationship. When faced with important incompatibilities, partners may cease previously rewarding behaviors and engage in coercive techniques in an effort to get their own way. When one partner gives in to such aversive techniques, his or her partner is reinforced for using these techniques and will therefore be more likely to use them in the future. For example, Diane may nag Joe to complete his share of the housework. When Joe finally gives in to her nagging, her nagging is reinforced. The partner who gives in is also reinforced by the removal of the aver-sive stimulus. Thus, Joe is more likely to give in to the nagging in the future, because it is reinforcing for him to have the nagging stop. As partners become habituated to these aversive stimuli, the coercing partner must use them in greater amounts. Also, the coerced partner may engage in coercion to achieve his or her own goals. Thus, an initially satisfied couple may develop negative interaction patterns that cause them both distress, but which they are unable to stop.

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