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Maintaining a committed relationship over a long period of time is a challenging task for couples, as both partners need to be responsive to each partner’s preferences and needs, function well together, and be attentive to their environment. Balancing these factors can be difficult, particularly given that all of these domains are likely to change over time. Therefore, partners inevitably experience conflict as they engage in this ongoing process, often differing in their approaches to the myriad factors they must address. Conflict is a normative process that has the potential to help a couple move forward adaptively by restoring balance within the relationship when the differences between partners are addressed. However, it is how an individual handles conflict that determines whether conflict contributes to relationship maintenance. This chapter presents an integrative conceptual model of conflict management using the Valence-Affective-Connection (VAC) model, which comprises three axes along which conflict management and problem-solving tactics vary as well as two timeframes of relationship maintenance. It is our hope that the VAC model will contribute to future research by presenting a framework for deriving testable hypotheses that build on well-established relational theories and incorporate key principles from individual models of psychopathology and physical health.
This chapter provides an overview of major empirically-supported therapeutic approaches to alleviating relationship distress, including behavioral couple therapy and its derivatives (cognitive-behavioral couple therapy and integrative-behavioral couple therapy); emotionally-focused couple therapy; and insight-oriented couple therapy. The underlying theory and recent empirical support for each approach is described. The emerging theoretical work on common factors in couple therapy across different orientations as well as the development of a transtheoretical model are included. Also, the chapter discusses the adaptation of couple therapy beyond the treatment of general relationship distress to address specific, difficult to treat relationship problems, such as infidelity and intimate partner violence. We also review the use of couple-based interventions for treating individual problems such as psychopathology. Finally, the chapter addresses the importance of providing couple-based interventions in a manner that is sensitive and appropriate for couples of different sociodemographic characteristics such as age, race, education, and sexual orientation.