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Detection of unhealthy communication patterns in romantic relationships




Smith, Amy D., author
Quirk, Kelley, advisor
Faw, Meara, committee member
Harvey, Ashley, committee member
Lucas-Thompson, Rachel, committee member

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Unhealthy communication expressions are predictive of distress and poor functioning in romantic relationships yet the ability to detect these expressions is understudied. Study 1 presents the validation of a new procedure allowing for the objective assessment of detection abilities producing a final set of 15 videos (11 unhealthy interactions and 4 neutral conflict interactions). Six real-life couples volunteered to film four two-minute videos each for the creation of this procedure. Each couple was asked to portray three interactions including an assigned unhealthy communication expression and one neutral interaction on topics of their choice. The total sample of 24 videos were viewed by Gottman Couple Therapy Level 1 or Level 2 certified couples' therapists currently enrolled in or recently graduated from a COAMFTE-accredited Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program. Each therapist rated the videos on whether the video showed unhealthy communication expressions, their concern for the relationship based on the interaction, and the level of satisfaction they perceived the couple had with their relationship. Nine videos failed to be validated with two videos having contradictory ratings in their portrayal of unhealthy communication patterns from what was intended, two for having low levels of internal reliability related to concern for the relationship, two for ratings of level of concern inconsistent with the hypothesis, and three for ratings of level of satisfaction inconsistent with the hypothesis. Implications for the use of this procedure in future research are provided. In Study 2, binary logistic regression models were used to explore individual level predictors of observed detection abilities based on four of the videos validated in Study 1. Participants were asked to view the series of four videos, two of which portrayed unhealthy communication patterns and two of which portrayed neutral conflict interactions. Based on Social Learning Theory and documented errors in directed attention, three early childhood variables (attachment, interparental conflict, and betrayal trauma) and two attention related variables (dissociation and mindfulness) were tested. Results revealed that self-blame related to interparental conflict predicted lower detection abilities, including both over- and under-detection and trait dissociation predicted under-detection. Attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, betrayal trauma, and trait mindfulness were not significant predictors of detection ability. A discussion of the findings and implications for future research are provided. Study 3 was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based relationship education program for individuals at improving the ability to form healthy relationships including the ability to detect early warning signs of unhealthy relationships, confidence in making decisions in relationships, use of skillful communication, and relationship satisfaction. . Participants were undergraduate students currently enrolled in a college course on intervention and prevention programs and were randomly assigned to two conditions: (1) relationship education program with a mindfulness component or (2) standard relationship education program. Repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed significant pre-/post-test differences related to confidence in the ability to detect early warning signs of unhealthy relationship functioning and trend level differences in confidence in decision making and skillful communication. No significant differences were found between groups. Implications for future research are provided.


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four horsemen
relationship education
unhealthy communication patterns
danger signs
romantic relationships


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