Men in unhappy relationships: Perceptions of couple therapy

Douglas A. Spiker, Joseph H. Hammer, Kenneth J. Parnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Research suggests men are reluctant to seek couple therapy. Parnell and Hammer (2018) established the utility of the theory of planned behavior (TPB) in explaining men’s relationship help seeking. The present study addressed gaps in their investigation by using a sample of men (N = 206) who reported being unhappy with their romantic relationship; incorporating the key theoretical constructs of relationship satisfaction, self-stigma of seeking help, and perceived need; parsing the unique relationship of conformity to the masculine norms of self-reliance and restrictive emotionality with help-seeking perceptions; and determining whether personality (i.e., neuroticism) obviated the importance of accounting for conformity to masculine norms when seeking to understand couple help seeking. To address these important research gaps, an structural equation modeling (SEM) alternative model testing framework was used and bootstrap analyses were conducted to test for indirect effects. The results evidenced several important findings: (1) conformity to masculine norms accounted for unique variance in help-seeking perceptions beyond neuroticism, (2) self-reliance and restrictive emotionality evidenced differential direct and indirect effects on help-seeking outcomes, (3) perceived need and self-stigma accounted for the most variance in the SEM model, and (4) relationship satisfaction was not associated with attitudes but low relationship satisfaction was associated with more perceived social pressure (i.e., subjective norms) to engage in couple therapy. Our results provided further support for the use of TPB in understanding men’s relationship help seeking and highlighted several implications for how to engage men in couple therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2015-2035
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Participants were 206 community-dwelling adult men who reported having been in a relationship for at least 6 months (M = 16.34 years, SD = 14.44 years) and self-identified as experiencing their relationship as unhappy, unrewarding, or unsatisfying by agreeing to participate in the study. Each participant rated their relationship satisfaction on the couples satisfaction index (CSI-4; Funk & Rogge, 2007), and the sample reported low relationship satisfaction overall (see Table 1). Recruitment for the study was done via ResearchMatch, a national health volunteer registry that was created by several academic institutions and supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health as part of the Clinical Translational Science Award program. ResearchMatch has a large population of volunteers who have consented to be contacted by researchers about health studies for which they may be eligible. Review and approval for this study and all procedures was

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Couples
  • help seeking
  • masculinity
  • personality
  • theory of planned behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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