Satisfaction in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships: An Exploration of Discourse and Lived Experience

PhD Thesis

Colahan, Matthew 2014. Satisfaction in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships: An Exploration of Discourse and Lived Experience. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsColahan, Matthew
TypePhD Thesis

‘Relationship Satisfaction’ is highly valued within the socio-political language of modern coupledom, and its perceived absence is understood as anxiety-provoking and may prompt partners to self-refer to couples therapy. The psychological literature on the topic is vast, but tends to focus on asserting intra-psychological explanations as a way of ‘objectively knowing’ and ‘improving’ couples’ attempts at ‘doing’ satisfying relating. The present thesis expands the empirical work on relationship satisfaction by drawing on social constructionism and phenomenology to highlight the ways in which the taken-for-granted assumptions of popular discourse shape the possibilities for ‘being satisfied’ within heterosexual relationships.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven couples therapists from Relate and were analysed using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) in order to expose the role and power of therapy in the construction of ‘satisfying relating’. Furthermore, thirteen interviews were conducted with ‘lay people’ who self-identified as being in a ‘long-term heterosexual’ relationship. The transcripts were analysed twice using a novel ‘twin focus’ approach which included FDA and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to map the complex relations between the private-subjective, the interpersonal, and the social life worlds of ‘satisfied’ partners.
Commonalities between the two FDAs are presented and theorised in terms of the discursive cycle of knowledge. This suggests that certain ways of thinking about, and ‘doing’ relationship satisfaction are sustained and recycled through the prescriptions of therapy, yet therapists have limited awareness of their role in this discursive norm-setting mechanism. However, variations are also presented which suggest there is multiplicity and resistance which is not captured by the theoretical account of the ‘cycle’. The IPA presents relationship satisfaction in terms of a range of experiential depths and qualities which signify in ways that sometimes elude talk. This ‘richness’ is missing from the mainstream literature and cannot be captured by a focus on discourse alone. Finally, insights from all three analyses shed light on relationship satisfaction as a fluid relational process which is always-already enmeshed in broader discursive frameworks, and which is experienced as the dissolving of partners’ lifeworld boundaries. The benefits of these re-conceptualisations are presented for academic psychology and the practice of couples therapy

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintApr 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited11 Dec 2014
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