Understanding Basic Relationship Processes
What differentiates healthy, satisfied couples from those who are not? This line of research examines the specific mechanisms within romantic relationships that are associated with relationship satisfaction and health-related outcomes. This research integrates observational measures of dyadic communication behaviors with physiological indicators of emotional arousal.
A specific focus of the research in this area pertains to a deleterious pattern of communication called the "demand-withdraw pattern." This pattern is common during conflict and is characterized by one partner pressuring or criticizing while the other partner withdraws or avoids the conversation. Demand-withdraw is not only an important predictor of relationship dissatisfaction, but it also provides a window into basic relationship processes related to gender-stereotyped behaviors, power differences, aging, and emotional arousal during conflict.
Causes and Consequences of Difficulties in Emotional Functioning
Ineffective emotion regulation, or dysfunction in the affective system, can have severe consequences for interpersonal relationships and for individual functioning. For example, individuals with deficits in emotion regulation may be particularly vulnerable to distress or maladaptive responses in the face of challenging situations. The REH lab is currently involved in a number of studies examining the links between emotion-related processes and both intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. This includes investigations of a) the links between emotion regulation and aggressive behaviors, b) the degree to which emotion regulation moderates the impact of past stressful experiences, and c) the neural correlates of emotional symptoms across a range of psychological disorders.
Relationships, Stress, and Fertility Treatment
While fertility treatment is a major source of stress and is highly associated with negative psychological outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and relationship distress, not everyone suffers such negative consequences. Thus, the question is: What factors predict who is at risk for depression and/or relationship distress when faced with the challenges of fertility treatment? And how might these factors differ for different populations (e.g., same-sex couples pursuing parenthood)?
In collaboration with researchers at UCSF, these questions are being addressed with a prospective longitudinal cohort of couples who underwent treatment for infertility, as well as in a sample of same-sex couples who utilized fertility treatment services. Future work in this area will be targeted toward investigations of risk factors for psychological distress during fertility treatment, the impact of infertility on relationships, and the optimization of service delivery for LGBTQ individuals and couples.