Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Polarization in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Marj CastronovaEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_298


Distressed couples; Impasse; Mixed-agenda couples; Vulnerability cycle


Polarization has been sporadically noted in literature. Crosby’s (1989) edited work was foundational in considering the unique treatment needs of polarized couples. Jacobson and Christenson (1998) conceptualized the polarization process in their Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT) as a destructive way a couple handles conflicts of difference in their relationship. Baucom and Atkins (2013) defined the polarization process as a behavioral affective, and cognitive cycle in which unsuccessful attempts to quell relationship distress and to enhance intimacy backfire and result in spouses engaging in more extreme forms of behaviors over time and feeling increasingly hopeless, separate, and deeply dissatisfied (p. 150).

Adjectives used to describe the concept of polarization include devitalized, ambivalent, impasse, distressed, and mixed-agenda, etc.

Theoretical Context for Concept


This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Baucom, J. R., & Atkins, D. C. (2013). Understanding marital distress: Polarization process. In M. A. Fine & F. D. Fincham (Eds.), Handbook of family theories: A content-based approach (pp. 145–166). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Crosby, J. F. (1989). When one wants out and the other doesn’t: Doing therapy with polarized couples. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  3. Jacobson, M. S., & Christensen, A. (1998). Acceptance and change in couple therapy: A therapist’s guide to transforming relationships. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  4. Papp, P., Scheinkman, M., & Malpas, J. (2013). Breaking the mold: Sculpting impasses in couples’ therapy. Family Process, 52, 33–45.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Relational Wellness InstituteLas VegasUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Eli Karam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA