Prof. dr. Esther Kluwer

How do relationships work? What are the ingredients of happy (and unhappy) relationships? These are central questions in my research. I study how and why partners (and ex-partners) maintain their relationship, sometimes under stressful circumstances, and how this affects their wellbeing. 

Research projects:

(1) Relationships in times of COVID-19: What is the impact of COVID-19 on Dutch relationships and families? Together with professional organizations for relationship and family therapy, NVRG and EFT Nederland, we conducted longitudinal research into the experiences of couples and families during 2020 and 2021. This project is supported by a ZonMw grant 'COVID-19: Science for practice'.

(2) Relationship transitions: Important relationship transitions require adaptation and the better couples are equipped to adapt, the better they will fare. For example, the transition to parenthood is generally seen as one of the most challenging events in the early stages of marriage. But is it really that detrimental for marriage and do all couples go through the same changes? We consider the factors that explain why some couples fare better or worse than others across life transitions.

(3) Relationship distress: Ample research has shown that relationship distress is associated with mental and physical health problems. Relationship problems also affect how partners function in other life domains, such as parenting and work. We study how external stressors affect relationships and help seeking behavior.

(4) Autonomy and relatedness: A driving force of relationship maintenance is the fulfillment of basic psychological needs, in particular, the needs for relatedness and autonomy. Combining theoretical insights from self-determination theory and family systems theory, we investigated to what extent relatedness and autonomy need fulfillment interact to affect relationship maintenance behavior.

(5) Divorce: Even after couples divorce, their relationship does not cease to exist, as most ex-partners share custody over their children. Which factors play a role in the transition from ex-partners to co-parents? Important questions are to what extent feelings of anger, revenge and forgiveness affect post-divorce relationships and the well-being of ex-partners and their children, and what the association is between post-divorce loss and conflict. I conducted several research projects (also for the Dutch Ministery of Justice) on post-divorce relationships, also among couples in high-conflict divorce.