It is recognized that couple therapy reduces relationship distress, but to this day, no studies examined the effect of couple therapy on romantic disengagement. Romantic disengagement is defined as “the process of emotional uncoupling, commonly referred to as growing apart from one’s partner, or feeling indifferent toward them” (Barry, Lawrence & Langer, 2008). A study conducted in Katherine Peloquin’s Couples and Relationships Research Lab has investigated romantic disengagement in couples undergoing therapy. Questionnaires were filled by 163 mixed-sex/gender couples on two occasions, at the start of therapy and at follow-up 15 weeks later. This allowed to measure the evolution of romantic disengagement for both partners over the course of therapy. Attachment insecurities (anxiety and avoidance) were also assessed to evaluate their role in the evolution of romantic disengagement over the course of therapy.
What did we find?
Our results show that for both partners, romantic disengagement diminished significatively between the intake at the start of therapy and the follow-up, 15 weeks later, which means that couple therapy may enable both partners to feel less emotional detachment towards their partner.
Regarding attachment, results differed between men and women. Men with attachment-related avoidance (discomfort with intimacy and emotional distance) reported higher romantic disengagement at follow-up than those who reported lower avoidance. Moreover, men whose partner presented higher attachment-related anxiety (doubts as to one’s personal value and fear of being rejected by the partner) also reported higher romantic disengagement at follow-up, compared to men whose partner reported lower attachment-related anxiety.
These results therefore suggest that couple therapy could be effective to reduce both partners’ romantic disengagement. However, since the findings showed that men presented higher romantic disengagement at follow-up when they or their partner presented higher attachment-related insecurities, the authors suggest addressing attachment styles in both partners in couple therapy in order to reduce their level of romantic disengagement.
For more details, we invite you to consult the full article:
Callaci, M., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Labonté, T., Brassard, A., Tremblay, N., & Péloquin, K. (2020) Attachment Insecurities Predicting Romantic Disengagement Over the Course of Couple Therapy in a naturalistic setting. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.