Trauma and Relationship Satisfaction in Treatment Seeking Couples: A Dyadic Investigation of Differentiation as a Mediator

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between interpersonal trauma history and relationship satisfaction, and the mediating effect of differentiation—the ability to balance a separate and connected sense of self—as described in Bowen’s family systems theory. Data were collected through an online questionnaire distributed upon consent at an on-campus couple and family therapy clinic. Differentiation was measured by the Family Distance Regulation scale, comprised of items from the Separation-Individuation Test of Adolescence (SITA; Levine et al. in J Person Assess 50(1): 123−137, 1986. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa5001_14), and the Social Connectedness Scale-Revised (SCS-R; Lee et al. 2001). Results suggested that interpersonal trauma history was negatively related to level of differentiation. However, when including number of children and relationship length as control variables, differentiation was not supported as a mediator between interpersonal trauma history and relationship satisfaction. When couples present with interpersonal trauma history, it may be useful for couple and family therapists to focus on differentiation levels to encourage a balance of separateness and connectedness.

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VanBergen, A.M., Bartle-Haring, S., Kawar, C. et al. Trauma and Relationship Satisfaction in Treatment Seeking Couples: A Dyadic Investigation of Differentiation as a Mediator. Contemp Fam Ther 43, 140–153 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-021-09565-x

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Keywords

  • Interpersonal trauma
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Depression
  • Distance regulation
  • Differentiation
  • Bowen family systems theory