Couples counseling: re-establishing balance and equity.
Author: Pazaratz, Don
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 3
Accession Number: 242897530
Full Text: Abstract

There are many reasons couples come to feel discouraged, depressed, angry, and even demoralized about their relationship. When some mates perceive that they are not receiving sufficient equity (equal ratio of input to outcome) from their partners, they attribute negative motives of intentions, i.e., "my partner is deliberately shortchanging me." There are those who give up on pursuing the idea of equity and instead become totally absorbed in their own lives and interests. This paper discusses interventions that can help couples to restore equity while preventing negative interactional sequences from derailing the relationship. The case illustration demonstrates how counselors can assist couples to become more attuned to the relative fairness of the "give and take" exchange within their relationship.

KEY WORDS: Couples, marriage, equity, conflict resolution

TARGET AUDIENCE: Marriage and family therapists

PROGRAM LEVEL: Intermediate

DISCLOSURE: The author has nothing to disclose



The Value of Equity in Relationships

It is human nature to "shop around" for a mate, taking into consideration such qualities as physical attractiveness, income, and social status. This process of mate selection, where partners seek to have equal power, gifts, and resources, is known as equity (Baumeister & Wotman, 1994). Yet even though married people tend to begin a marriage approximately equal to their spouse in attractiveness, education, and intelligence, for many, ensuring that the relationship remains balanced can be an overwhelming challenge. Balance or equity in marriage is a function of respect, trust, and commitment (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2006). But in order for relationships to flourish and be fulfilling, the basic human emotions of love, liking, and intimacy must be actively addressed. Love and intimacy develop with the risk people will take to connect emotionally with their partner, when they believe their mate is honest and dependable (Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985). Liking, which is composed of affection and respect, is also fundamental to close relationships, without which the intimacy in the relationship would have difficulty being sustained (Rubin, 1979). As a result of expressing endearing emotions, evolving contentment arises, stabilizing relationships and providing equity and balance between partners (Fincham, Ferandes, & Humphreys, 1993).

Most couples desire stable and satisfying relations and are motivated to treat their partner fairly so that they will in turn receive, over time, what they have given (Goldenthal, 1996). Elkaim (1997) supports this view by concluding that when people are in chronically inequitable relationships, they are dissatisfied and distressed. This means that they are experiencing a lack of fairness or equal effort that has a negative effect on communication, intimacy, liking, and love. This lack of effort and positivity or the maintenance activities that sustain harmony have been sacrificed for personal growth (Ayers, 1993). Ickes (1997) found that most relationships deteriorate because the partners lack the ability to ensure fairness in the "give and take" process. In other words, the relationship has deteriorated because neither person attempted to make it work. Many individuals give up because they believe that their partner has also given up. This is supported by Dindia and Canary (1993), who add that maintenance activities are also necessary for relationship survival, as these prevent escalation or lead to de-escalation.

Lund (1985) disagrees that relationship stability is a function of equity or the love arid rewards gained in a relationship, contending that stability is contingent on a couple's ability to maintain commitment when there are conflicts in needs or dilemmas concerning priorities. For example, there are also relationships that deteriorate because of biological and psychological differences that were previously unknown or unforeseen but arose, making the relationship challenging (Karasu & Karasu, 2005). Sharpe (2000) views marriage from a developmental perspective as always evolving and said that relationship problems or dissatisfaction are a function of people growing apart or changing differentially. Stahmann and Helbert (1997) state that the course of marriage is similar to other life stages, where people mature, evolve, and experience a new awareness of the self, changing needs, and evolving social relationships. Stahmann and Helbert reason that as an individual struggles with the emerging self, the emotional closeness the person feels for his or her partner or the relationship may wane, as the person no longer values or depends upon his or her mate in the same way. In other words, for some partners, maintaining the relationship becomes secondary to pursuing one's own needs. For DiGiuseppe and Zee (1986), some relationships unravel because of severe conflicts that occur when couples have absolute demands or have developed extreme evaluative beliefs (criticisms) about their partners.

The Need for Relational Awareness

Couples establish rituals and rules that define communal interactions. These expectations are based on beliefs and values that are enacted to maintain the relationship and its meaning through symbolic or reaffirming actions. Positive communication patterns result in equity, empathy, compromise, supportive interactions, and long-term relationship satisfaction and stability (Ayers, 1993). Careful attention to these emotional bonds helps couples to sustain the relationship (Dindia & Baxter, 1987). However, an imbalance occurs when one partner overlooks compromise (reaffirming acts) and establishes the right to define or to dictate relationship goals (Morton, Alexander, & Altman, 1976). When one partner is more self-serving and gets more of his or her desires met, this imbalance or inequity means the other partner receives less, and he or she can often feel at a disadvantage or experience a loss for having sacrificed his or her wishes for the benefit of the relationship.

Kramer (1997) proposes that the postmodern socialization process may have overvalued individual autonomy and assertiveness and interfered with the development of intimacy, connectedness, and mutuality. Accordingly, Kramer believes that most personal problems of anxiety, depression, and isolation are the result of self-centeredness or a failure to bond with one's mate and to see the benefit of reciprocity. This preoccupation with the self, or self-centeredness, can lead to one partner feeling entitled and the other feeling vulnerable, but paradoxically unable (and in some cases, unwilling) to change or improve the emotional tone of the relationship (Lantz, 2000). This means that couples' problems begin with an exaggerated need for a personal self at the expense of the relationship. This pursuit of self-satisfaction can lead to emotional conflict and blurred boundaries.

Despite empathy's crucial role in creating intimacy, such as treating one's mate with fairness and respect, it is often overlooked by those who need it most. An inability to demonstrate feelings for one's partner, or to respond emotionally, prevents effective communication and connection on a meaningful or fulfilling level (Ciaramicoli & Ketcham, 2000). However, when mates convey that they are interested in their partner's feelings and thoughts, this attunement helps to rebuild relationships torn apart by misunderstanding or indifference. By paying careful attention to the "meaningful potential" of their lives together, marital partners can offset resentment and increase connection, since this reflectiveness can restore confidence, trust, and faith in the relationship (Lantz, 2000).

The Impact of Inequity

When a relationship deteriorates, couples frequently believe that the relationship has lost its luster. Partners may conclude that the resulting imbalance or lack of equity is degrading, painful, and possibly toxic. Yet, the lack of equity may have arisen because partners have difficulty accepting some of their mate's self-serving needs or are unwilling to give up their position of advantage. As a result, some partners are unable to de-escalate or incapable of getting past anger over perceived unfairness. As interactions become more emotional and accusatory, some partners justify their anger and fail to temper their dissatisfaction, and thus cannot de-escalate or forgive (Madsen, 1999). The maintenance activities have deteriorated and there is a lack of agreement, or agreed-upon resolution. Without understanding or a common purpose, partners may condemn their mate for having a different view or being difficult, or may even condemn themselves for being in the relationship (Ellis, 1986). Unilateral control and the establishment of a domineering or controlling relationship may evolve (Courtright, Millar & RogersMillar, 1979).

When partners do not feel there is reciprocity, tensions can arise over the perceived advantages one partner has created for himself or herself within the relationship (Christensen & Jacobson, 1999). The disadvantaged partner may come to feel devalued, taken advantage of, and unfulfilled, and is therefore less open and in turn withholds positivity (Canary & Stafford, 1992). Arguments over selfishness can evolve. As a result, disaffected partners may justify pursuing their own priorities due to feeling discounted, estranged, or even controlled. Disagreements over who is causing the relationship imbalance can quickly escalate into hostilities, or a crisis, and the derailment of the relationship (Sharpe, 2000). Madsen (1999) points out that unpleasant emotions such as anger are inevitable in intimate relationships, but most couples do not realize that these can be either destructive or the impetus for changes and can help to restore the balance in the relationship. Unless the concept and spirit of equity is revived, anger will define the nature and course of communication.

According to Ricketts and Gochros (1987), many individuals are unaware of the cause of their emotions and mistakenly blame their mate for their own reactions. This conclusion is supported by Cole and Wetzler (1999), who have found that most couples who attend therapy exhibit an excess of suspicion, deception, and quarrelsomeness. For example, when an individual feels insecure in a relationship, that person often believes that his or her partner is controlling or demanding, rather than being able to recognize the impact of his or her own insecurity. Ellis (1986) points out that overly emotional people have irrational beliefs. They demand that their partner, the person they should be able to trust, must not deliberately offend and hurt them. The resulting anger and anxiety that arise from disappointment, according to Nichols (1988), reflect an individual's lack of inner strength or low self-esteem, which undermine the person's ability to accept disappointments in relationships or the change in (perceived) equity. These dispirited individuals neither understand nor know how to express intense emotions that accompany being in a romantic relationship. They hold unrealistic expectations about intimacy, which contribute to intense anger, anxiety, and depression. In fact, where partners are constantly at odds, such as in addictive-enmeshed relationships, they have not relinquished their fantasies of the perfect beloved (Feeney, 1999).

How Communication Can Restore Relationships

In conflictual relationships where there are arguments over fairness and the couple cannot agree as to what is going on between them, there is a fundamental disagreement and confusion as to who is the cause of the problem (taking advantage of the other) and who is reacting. Thus, circularity as a communication pattern is established. Nevertheless, there can also be efforts to discuss issues, to negotiate a compromise, and to resolve problems of equity. There can also be issues that seem irreconcilable. When these lead to obstruction or avoidance, this impasse may cause one or both partners to retaliate or to seek the upper hand (Anderson, 1997). Where conflicts, passive-aggressiveness, or power struggles persist, relationships deteriorate even further because neither person attempts to restore the idea of partnership. As equity deteriorates, each person feels hurt or offended and justifies his or her anger and uncompromising stance by pointing to the partner's self-serving behaviors. Each individual has become self-absorbed and indifferent as to how his or her behaviors have contributed to the conflict. Consequently, both persons conclude that their partner is the problem. This preoccupation with one's own emotions, a lack of listening, and diminished reflectiveness can lead to excessive defensiveness, anger, contempt, withholding, withdrawal, or physical/emotional distancing of partners (Ciaramicoli & Ketcham, 2000).

Manipulation is a tactic often used when one partner feels that he or she has the right to influence the relationship (Ginsberg, 1997) and to gain an advantage. The person who provides most of the resources, such as material goods, affection, security, and the like, may feel entitled to have his or her own way and justifies having more. However, the individual with the final power is the one who needs the relationship (or emotional closeness) the least (Blair, 1964). This emotional advantage may also occur because the other partner, usually the disadvantaged person, is convinced that he or she needs the relationship more. Thus, the person who tries the hardest to save the relationship is the one who fears that he or she has more to lose, or is more dependent on his or her mate's resources, affection, and companionship. Sometimes a relationship imbalance leads to a power struggle, stalemate, or even an ultimatum. The unfair use of power, or manipulation, can also trigger anxiety and cause a breakdown in trust. When maintenance activities are no longer effective at stabilizing a relationship, profound destabilization occurs in some individuals, who become submissive and give in to outrageous demands or behaviors (Driscoll, 1998). Nevertheless, the effort to re-establish equity may also help the disadvantaged person to re-evaluate the relative fairness of "give and take." In essence, if the person is not too desperate to "hang on to" the relationship, he or she may awaken the unique self and look at options beyond the relationship.

Case Illustration

A common example of inequity occurs in couples with patterns of dominance and submission. This is especially prevalent when one partner has entered into a relationship possessing more resources, such as better finances, employment, home, vehicle, and the like. The advantaged mate can often be more fully connected to a social or support network, i.e., extended family, friends, community, a sense of belonging, and may even be somewhat older. Typically, the justifications for domineering or controlling behaviors by the advantaged partner are the problems or issues in the disadvantaged partner's life (background), such as his or her inability to manage life (as successfully) and unresolved issues from that person's previous relationship(s) or family background. Consequently, some domineering partners describe the relationship from their perspective, which enables them to define the relationship's utility (purpose) and its function (goals) for their own benefit. Implicitly, the other partner is defined, as are his or her role and position, relative to the advantaged partner's needs (Pazaratz, 2004). The following case example illustrates some issues of inequity that were brought to and resolved in couples counseling. Kamphaus and Campbell (2006) believe the benefit of case studies is that they include assessment methods and interpretation of findings and provide a linkage to ensure best practices are enacted during counseling.

Case Facts and Planning

Charles, age 44, is a Caucasian, divorced father of three grown children ages 18, 20, and 22 (who live on their own) who has a physical disability (deformed leg and walks with a cane). He met and fell in love with Sarita, age 28, an unwed mother of East Indian origin, with a 12-year-old daughter. After dating for four months, Charles and Sarita married, and then she and her daughter moved into his spacious, upscale home. Within two months, conflict arose over a number of issues: Charles' pit bull and the fear Sarita had of the animal, Charles' overly close relationship with his grown children, who Sarita felt were inconsiderate of her relationship with Charles (their private time together) by dropping in unannounced any time of day or night, and constant phone calls from his friends and clients that also took precedence over the relationship.

Charles stated that since Sarita had moved in with him, his children confirmed his view that she was trying to change his whole life. He did not agree that his dog was dangerous, his children were overly involved in their relationship, he spent too much time sorting out his adult children's problems, or he spent too much time on the phone with his friends and clients, detracting from their time together. While Charles did not articulate it explicitly, his meta-message was that he thought Sarita resented him because he had not changed his habits and ideas sufficiently to accommodate her. Lehman (2005) emphasizes that change produces transition in family structure and family life that needs to be assimilated. But Charles was not prepared to give up his close relationships with his children and his friends, or to overlook the needs of his clients, or to muzzle his dog when he was not home. He accused Sarita of not appreciating the benefits that his lifestyle and money provided her and her child, especially since they had previously lived in a one-room apartment. He also stated that Sarita had insulted his best friend and his friend's wife by not greeting them more enthusiastically when they came to visit.

Sarita admitted she gained a tremendous social leap because of the marriage, but she also believed her love for Charles had contributed to his overall well-being. Sarita maintained that Charles indirectly encouraged his children's and friends' interference in their relationship by seeking their opinions as to whether Sarita was being reasonable in the changes she expected of him. Sarita added that Charles' daughter (Janice), who lived with Charles' ex-wife, did in fact meddle. Sarita recounted how Janice spoke openly that Charles' home should not have been rearranged by Sarita and it was not decorated with taste. Janice had reacted angrily when Sarita asked her to remove her possessions from Charles' home, since she no longer lived there. Janice also stated to Sarita that muzzling the dog was cruel, even though the dog's manner had not improved toward Sarita subsequent to obedience classes. Janice also discounted Sarita's fears of being attacked if left alone with the unmuzzled dog. Additionally, Sarita defended her coolness toward Charles' best friend because Alan would ignore her, treating her like a nonperson. Sarita summarized that she needed to feel connection and not dependence, which could not occur unless Charles made the relationship a higher priority.

Contextual Issues

Central goals of counseling were to clarify expectations, define relationship goals, and establish priorities. Positions held by Sarita and Charles were juxtaposed to those maintenance behaviors necessary or energy needed to keep the relationship together. According to Freidlander, Escuders, and Heatherington (2006), it is vital for the therapist to track specific positive and negative behaviors in sessions. Sarita wanted equity, or an equal say, in the relationship. Charles was extremely reluctant to acknowledge Sarita's grievances, as he could not see any issue from her position. The therapist did not take sides, instead employing acceptance and acting non-judgmental. Nevertheless, enlisting empathy was critical in getting Charles to understand what Sarita felt and yet not to feel what Sarita felt. Thus, Charles was asked to be task-oriented (non-emotional) and to determine whether the dog and everyone else might be happier if the dog lived with Janice. Another issue raised by Sarita was whether Charles' best friend was being racist in his interactions with Sarita, ignoring her in Charles' presence but justifying his acts by claiming that she had been rude to him. Even though Charles may disagree with Sarita's observations and feelings, Charles was asked whether he could continue to invite this man into his home knowing how Sarita felt belittled.

Case Formulation

Case formulation is based on how theory informs therapeutic intervention, or the way in which clinicians formulate clients' problems, and shapes their ideas of how to effect change in their clients' lives. In this case illustration, Charles was in a superior position relative to that of Sarita. His advantages were that he was an older white man from the dominant culture and that Sarita had come into his home with her daughter, under his terms and conditions. While he treated her with dignity, respect, and love, she did not feel that her views counted, since he conveyed that his largess and generosity were more than sufficient. He also interacted with his friends and children as if he were still single and seemed to value their views more highly than hers. Charles did acknowledge the joy Sarita brought into his life by her good nature, genuineness, and focus on the relationship. During interchanges, they eventually agreed that each person brought different resources to the relationship. However, Charles argued that he brought more to the relationship and felt it would be unfair to him to give up his lifestyle too. He reminded Sarita that he gave her an opportunity to have a home and resources (a new car) that someone in her position would not likely attain marrying someone of her own age and background. Charles also pointed out that he accepted Sarita's daughter, Brunka, but noted that Sarita was in constant conflict with his children, especially Janice. Sarita pointed out that Charles was always taking their perspective on issues rather than helping her to build a connection with them.

Fairness issues are central to any form of couples counseling. It is the lack of enacted fairness in close relationships that leads to conflict. But, it is not easy to agree upon what creates a fair relationship (Boszormenyi-Nagy, 1987).

Treatment Intervention

Briefly, couples counseling aims to help partners think differently about themselves and their partners in order to move toward harmony and balance by recognizing the strengths and their partner's positive efforts (Goldenthal, 1996). In the course of four sessions, while Charles and Sarita did not always agree with the other's position, they never escalated verbally, nor overpowered, manipulated, or embarrassed the other. Their receptiveness to counseling made it easier to show them how they engaged in communication sequences that brought up uncomfortable feelings and styles of interacting that led to deadlocks. For example, when Sarita's complaints about Charles' family were dismissed, Sarita felt that Charles always discounted her feelings and that he would never make any concessions. Charles, on the other hand, felt defensive, believing that Sarita did not appreciate what he provided for her and that she was being insensitive to his feelings. Sarita and Charles were therefore taught to recognize each other's feelings as genuine even though they disagreed.

There were times when each person made what they felt were compromises that the other did not feel went far enough. Why, then, did each person persist in doing things their way, even though they were aware that their attitude created more stress? From their description of interactions, they did not know how to do anything else or to feel and to behave differently; thus, they maintained the power struggle. Each reacted with the same feelings of frustration and hurt. Both were unable to imagine an alternative to the way they behaved, and if they did realize there was something wrong, they were uncomfortable with giving in. Thus they needed to recognize when they reacted to the other or entered into roles that began sequences. It was when Sarita stated that she was not prepared to beg and plead for equality that Charles realized that he could not maintain his position of advantage and save the relationship. Relinquishing control or dominance by Charles was enacted by getting him to move a degree closer to a midpoint when he was cautious about making changes. In terms of clarifying communication, discussions centered on meta-messages, or what was being conveyed indirectly to Sarita and what she had taken from the dialogue. Charles eventually acknowledged that he had not taken the behavior of his two grown male children seriously enough when they walked into his home at 6:30 one morning, unannounced, while he and Sarita were naked (I never asked where the 12-year-old daughter was at the time). Charles agreed that his sons were showing a lack of respect for Sarita and indirectly encouraging him not to accept the marriage too. In terms of Charles' denial that his dog was dangerous and stating that everyone else got along with the dog, he eventually (with a good deal of pressure by the therapist) concurred that the dog's strong dislike for Sarita terrified her and its aggressiveness was a metaphor for how Charles, his family, and best friend Alan were treating Sarita. When Charles could not be convinced that Alan's behavior was subtle racism directed toward Sarita, confrontation was utilized judiciously to point out the differences and inconsistencies between attitudes, words, and behaviors. Charles ultimately conceded that Alan's inflexibility toward Sarita added a strain to his marriage that he could live without.


The way in which Sarita and Charles described the issues within their relationship added to each person's belief of relative unfairness or inequity. Each partner's sense of being discounted by the other strained communication so that each became defensive, passive-avoidant, and overly formal. Their inferences that they were under-appreciated reinforced their tendency to withdraw emotionally after disagreements. Both claimed that the other withheld positivity and made them feel controlled, punished, and devalued. Neither person saw how blaming their mate for all the problems prevented compromise and a solution. They had to learn new ways of interacting, to replace old ways that were not always successful and, on occasion, made matters worse. They were provided with new ways to understand themselves as a couple (assimilation) and each other (tolerance) and to develop new knowledge (insight) in areas of relating, feeling, experiencing, and negotiating instead of feeling satisfaction when the other was hurt or complained of inequity. This counseling approach is consistent with a constructionistic framework wherein communication is reconstructed with an emphasis on emotional balancing (Christensen, Jacobson, & Babcock, 1995; Watts, 2002).


Nichols (1988) believes that counseling is a process in which the therapist continually integrates information as to the understanding of how marriage fits into our ever-changing society. Sarita and Charles are an example of a mixed-race marriage bringing together vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds that can create the context for equity issues. Charles wanted Sarita to appreciate the advantages he provided and saw the relationship from a white male perspective. Charles held cultural ideals that had little to do with who he is or what he really wanted. Charles was shown that the strategies he employed to initiate and develop the relationship were not being used to maintain it. In fact, he was using attitudes of defensiveness and stonewalling, which Gottman (1995) believes doom marriages.

Doyle (1995) theorizes that virtually everyone engaged in an intimate relationship is deluded by societal messages of stereotypes and sex role prejudices. Sabatelli and Cecil-Pigo (1985) state that couples therapy can correct this illusion by focusing on dyadic cohesion, which ensures commitment and relationship stability. In other words, couples need to understand that keeping an account of perceived advantages and benefits may undermine the relationship (Floyd & Morman, 2006). During therapy sessions, Sarita and Charles were given information on interactional sequences such as showing them how social experiences and family-of-origin connections affect their faulty assumptions. They were cautioned that they were both sensitive to inequity. For his part, Charles reacted with anger and resentment. Sarita become sad, frustrated, and withdrawn. Their reaction to each other would seem to be gender-specific, according to Sprecher (1986).

Bell (1997) states that there are implied rules in relationships that cover discussions of emotional issues, such as how much affection and closeness will be allowed, what gets talked about, and what roles and feelings are acceptable. By preserving familiar and predictable communication patterns, the safety of both partners and the equity within the relationship is maintained. However, some problems arise due to a lack of insight into the nature of gender and background differences and have a severe effect on equity. In the case example, the couple did not have equity to begin with, and Charles assumed that Sarita would view the relationship as he did. Sarita believed that she deserved equity. Each became confused when their mate did not respond positively to their ideas or beliefs. Each person was unaware of the differential impact of socialization, or how different socializing experiences shaped their mate's perspectives, such as priorities, use of language, interests, flexibility, and goals. Instead, the tendency was to find fault with the other for not deriving the same meaning from the relationship, and this is identified by Lehman (2005) as the reason for resentment in couples. Simpson and Roles (1998) have found that When individuals become aware of gender differences and attachment styles, this knowledge improves affect regulation, conflict resolution, and relationship-centered anxiety. As both partners became attuned to what they wanted, and understood how their mate's desires were influenced by different experiences, they were better able to comprehend how problems of inequity derived from misunderstandings, assumptions, or inferences, which is supported by Beck (1988).


Implications for Counseling

Couples enter therapy due to everyday problems and lifestyle challenges. When transactional patterns are beyond the couple's awareness, the sequence that evolves may make communication more complex. However, the practitioner is positioned to observe the verbal and nonverbal ways that couples relate, react, cue, or signal their mate when sequences unfold.

By monitoring the range of tolerable transactions, the practitioner can know when to intervene in an interaction. This includes stimulating it and its intensity, prolonging the course of transactions, encouraging alternative strategies (Cozolino, 2004), and probing to give both the therapist and the couple information about the nature of the issues. The way in which partners respond to the intervention informs the therapist about the flexibility of the couple's transactions, the type of solutions each is seeking, and the possibility of alternative coping styles. For couples who have a greater tendency to collect grievances, counseling can inform them of the importance of forgiveness, which promotes well-being and teaches them how to rebuild the relationship (Gottman, 1995). For the antagonistic couple, therapy can make them aware of destructive patterns and negative cycles (interactional sequences) and how they are prone to fluctuate between extremes. They can be taught, for example, with emotionally focused therapy (EFT) to create new, more satisfactory interactional patterns (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988). They can learn to develop realistic hopes and expectations by eliciting themes of competence, connection, and vision to inform and renew the couple (Siegal, 1995). But ultimately, when partners become committed to each other, they are more likely to accommodate rather than undermine their mate over a lack of perceived inequity.

This article is approved by the following for continuing education credit:

The American Psychotherapy Association provides this continuing education credit for Diplomates and certified members, who we recommend obtain 15 CEs per year to maintain their status.

After studying this article, participants should be better able to do the following:

1. Explain that case formulation represents the steps between finding out what is going on (assessment) and determining what, if anything, to do about it (treatment intervention)

2. Assess when marriages experience a deficit and identify the relationship-building skills needed to overcome the deficit

3. Discuss that in order for marriages to succeed, couples require intimacy, equality, and flexibility

KEY WORDS: Couples, marriage, equity, conflict resolution

TARGET AUDIENCE: Marriage and family therapists

PROGRAM LEVEL: Intermediate

DISCLOSURES: The author has nothing to disclose



To earn CE credit, complete the exam for this article on page 82 or complete the exam online at (select "Online CE").


1. What is the meaning of equity in relationships?

a. Provides couples with criteria for understanding the background of their mate

b. identifies gender-specific roles and responsibilities within the relationship

c. a process of mate selection that when actively addressed leads to love, liking, and intimacy

d. assists those in couples to connect emotionally with their partner when they believe their mate is honest and dependable

e. process of mate selection in which partners seek to have power, gifts, and resources

2. Circularity as a communication pattern is established when--

a. each individual has become self-absorbed and indifferent a's to how his or her behavior has contributed to the conflict

b. there is a fundamental disagreement and confusion as to who is the cause of the problem and who is reacting

c. conflicts, passive-aggressiveness, or power struggles persist, displacing maintenance activities that lead to de-escalation

d. manipulation is overused as a tactic or one partner feels that he or she has the right to influence the relationship

e. the implied roles in relationships are not followed that govern discussion of emotional issues, i.e. how much affection and closeness will be allowed, what is discussed, and what roles and feelings are acceptable

3. Inequity arose between Charles and Sarita because--

a. The importance of preserving familiar and predictable communication was overlooked and discounted

b. Janice emphasized their gender and background differences

c. Sarita demanded that each validate the other's ideas and beliefs

d. they were too busy fighting about Charles' dog

e. both over-focused on their mate's particular attachment to their family origin

4. During therapy sessions, the practitioner--

a. creates the shared meaning of equity so that negative interactional sequences do not derail the relationship

b. wants partners to put their socioeconomic and racial background issues in

c. teaches couples how to confront perceived advantages and disadvantages

d. integrates information as to the understanding of how marriage fits into our ever-changing society

e. teaches partners how to establish rituals and rules that define communal interaction

5. The benefit of case studies is that they

a. help clients to focus on best practices during counseling

b. help clinicians to prepare their notes and to clarify expectations, define relationship goals, and establish priorities

c. enlist empathy so that each partner understands that their mate feels, and yet not to feel what the partner felt

d. include assessment methods and interpretations of findings

e. preserve knowledge and facts for conflict resolution


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DON PAZARATZ, EdD, LPsych, has worked with couples and families in Canada and the U.S. since 1970, both in the public and private sectors. Pazaratz is president and founder of Haydon Youth Services in Oshawa, Ontario, and Warren Youth Services in Calgary, Alberta. He has published numerous articles on couples counseling and on residential treatment of disturbed adolescents. His book Residential Treatment of Adolescents: Integrative Principles and Practices has just been published by Routledge.
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