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Newlywed Women's Marital Expectations: Lifelong Monogamy?

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Over time, perceptions of marriage in the United States have shifted from a social obligation to a decision based on personal fulfillment. This shift has been most pronounced for women who no longer rely upon marriage for financial security. Marriages based on personal fulfillment are more fragile so when love declines and constraints do not exist, infidelity and divorce are considered viable options. This study investigated newlywed women's marital expectations along with their experiences of infidelity and expectations of divorce. Newlywed women (N = 197) married 2 years or less completed an online survey. As expected, these women primarily conceptualized marriage in terms of love and personal fulfillment. They reported a variety of extramarital thoughts and behaviors, and 74% indicated some expectation of divorce.
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Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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Newlywed Women’s Marital Expectations: Lifelong Monogamy?
Kelly Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
California State University, San Bernardino
5500 University Parkway
San Bernardino, CA 92407
Phone: (909) 537-7687, Fax: (909) 537-7003
Email: kelly@csusb.edu
David W. Wright, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
Department of Child and Family Development
The University of Georgia
Family Science Center II, House D
Athens, GA 30602-3622
Phone: (706) 542-4825, Fax: (706) 542-4389
Email: dwright@fcs.uga.edu
Carlos G. Flores
Department of Psychology
California State University, San Bernardino
5500 University Parkway
San Bernardino, CA 92407
Phone: (909) 537-7687, Fax: (909) 537-7003
Email: cgflores@gmail.com
Correspondence and reprint requests should be addressed to: Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., Department
of Psychology and Human Development, California State University at San Bernardino,
5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, CA 92407. Phone: 909-537-7687, Kelly@csusb.edu.
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Abstract
Over time, perceptions of marriage in the United States have shifted from a social
obligation to a decision based on personal fulfillment. This shift has been most pronounced for
women who no longer rely upon marriage for financial security. Marriages based on personal
fulfillment are more fragile so when love declines and constraints do not exist, infidelity and
divorce are considered viable options. This study investigated newlywed women’s marital
expectations along with their experiences of infidelity and expectations of divorce. Newlywed
women (N=197) married 2 years or less completed an online survey. As expected, these women
primarily conceptualized marriage in terms of love and personal fulfillment. They reported a
variety of extramarital thoughts and behaviors, and 74% indicated some expectation of divorce.
INDEX WORDS: Newlyweds, Marriage, Marital Expectations, Infidelity, Divorce
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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Newlywed Women’s Marital Expectations: Lifelong Monogamy?
Over time, marital practices in the United States have changed (Cherlin, 2010). Whereas
in the past, marriage was typically conceptualized in terms of lifelong monogamy, today, divorce
and infidelity are relatively common (Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001; Whisman & Snyder,
2007). Marital practices began changing around the early 1900s, but the most rapid changes took
place in the 1960s (Popenoe, 1993). Prior to the 1960s, sex, cohabitation, and childbearing were
restricted to marital relationships, but today, individuals commonly engage in such practices
without marriage (Bachrach, Hindin, & Thomson, 2002; Ingoldsby, 2002). Additionally,
approximately half of first marriages today end in divorce, which is more than double the divorce
rate of 1960 (Celebrezze & Terry, 1964; Amato, 2010). The nature of marriage has changed most
dramatically for women, who prior to the 1960s, did not have as much power in intimate
relationships as they do today (Amato, 2007).
Women’s shifting power stems in part from advancements in birth control, workforce
participation, and changes in divorce laws (Popenoe, 1993; Teachman, Polonko, & Scanzoni,
1999). Prior to the advent of contraceptive pills, unmarried sex was more risky for women who
would experience prejudice and discrimination from out-of-wedlock births. With the ability to
control and time pregnancy, women became more free to participate in unmarried sex and pursue
a career without the risk of pregnancy. The participation of women in the workforce made them
less reliant on marriage for economic survival, and enabled them to marry for personal reasons
(e.g., love, satisfaction), rather than necessity (Rogers, 2004). Additionally, no-fault divorce
laws, which were implemented in the 1970s, allowed spouses to cite “irreconcilable differences”
as a reason for marital termination and increased women’s options for leaving their relationships
(Glick, 1975). These laws made divorce easier to attain, less culturally stigmatizing, and less
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psychologically distressing (Pinsof, 2002). Taken together, these changes have contributed to the
present state in which women can elect not to marry, or divorce when their marriage is no longer
satisfying.
Aside from divorce, an additional outcome associated with women’s greater economic
and social power is infidelity. Estimates indicate that 21% of women participate in extramarital
sex at some point in marriage (Tafoya & Spitzberg, 2007). One reason for the relatively high rate
of infidelity is employment status. In the past, men were significantly more likely than women to
be employed, but today, both sexes work outside the home. Being employed increases the
likelihood of infidelity because individuals are exposed to more people, may engage in more
travel, and have more disposable income (South, Trent, & Shen, 2001). Other recent trends such
as online communications, social networking sites, and globalization, have served to broaden
access to extramarital partners (Subotnik, 2007). With greater access to partners and culturally
accepting views of divorce, the risks of engaging in extramarital sex are not as high as they were
in the past, particularly for women. For example, if a husband discovers his wife has had an
affair and seeks divorce, the woman is less likely now, compared to the past, to experience
devastating financial and social setbacks.
Although recent social changes have made infidelity and divorce more possible, the
likelihood of experiencing these outcomes varies based on intra and interpersonal factors. In
terms of personality traits, emotionally unstable (i.e., neurotic) individuals are more likely to
engage in extramarital sex and experience divorce (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, & Barrick, 1999;
Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Individuals who are less agreeable and less conscientious are more
likely to engage in extramarital sex (Buss & Shackelford, 1997; Schmitt, 2004). In general,
spouses with similar personalities and/or who report being highly religious are less likely to
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experience infidelity or divorce (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Orzeck & Lung, 2005), although
they are not necessarily more satisfied in their marriages. Extensive research has identified low
marital satisfaction, dysfunctional communication, and high conflict as contributors to infidelity
and divorce (e.g., Atwood & Seifer, 1997; Gottman & Levenson, 1992). One nationally
representative survey found that the most commonly cited reason for divorce was infidelity,
followed by incompatible personalities, substance abuse, growing apart, and communication
problems (Amato & Previtti, 2003). The presence or absence of these intra and interpersonal
factors help explain why some individuals experience marital instability, whereas others might
not. In the current study, we will examine women’s experiences of infidelity and expectations of
divorce, and whether these vary based on intra- and interpersonal characteristics.
Johnson’s (1999) commitment framework can be used to describe the changing nature of
marriage for women. Johnson proposed that individuals commit to relationships for three distinct
reasons: personal, structural, and moral reasons. Individuals who are personally committed
remain involved because they want to be in the relationship and find it rewarding. Those who are
committed for structural reasons remain with a partner because they feel they have to for
financial, social, or other constraining factors that make them unable to leave a relationship.
Individuals who are morally committed feel they ought to persist in a relationship because of
promises made to themselves, their partner, or God. Today, a majority of marriages are based on
personal commitment, meaning that individuals remain married as long as they want to be in the
relationship (Coontz, 2005; Ingoldsby, 2002). Although marriages based on personal
commitment are potentially more satisfying, they are also more unstable than marriages based on
structural or moral reasons because when love and satisfaction decline, there is a greater risk of
infidelity and divorce. Thus, because women do not have to get or stay married, they are more
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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likely to commit to a relationship for personal reasons. Based on this premise, one goal of the
present study will be to investigate women’s reasons for getting married, as well as their beliefs
about marriage.
Method
Participants
One hundred and ninety seven women completed an online survey. Participants had a
mean age of 27.33 years (SD = 4.505 years; range = 20-47 years), and a majority were
European/Caucasian (85%), heterosexual (95%), Christian (53%), educated (75% had earned a
Bachelor’s degree or higher), and employed (90%). Twelve percent considered themselves to be
very religious, 28% were fairly religious, 32% were slightly religious, and 28% were not
religious at all. Their average age at the time of marriage was 26.46 years (SD = 4.67 years;
range = 18 to 45 years) and, on average, they had been married for .86 years (SD = .68 years).
Participants dated their husbands for an average of 39.64 months (SD = 31.26 months) or
approximately 3.3 years prior to marriage.
Measures
Reasons for marriage. Participants were asked the following open-ended question that
was written by the researchers: “As you think back to before you married, what were your
reason(s) for getting married? Be specific.” After responding to this question, they were
presented with a list of possible reasons for marriage and asked to rank order their reasons by
assigning “1” to the most influential and “7” to the least influential. Participants could assign a
“0” to items that did not factor into their reasons for marriage. The list of items included:
financial reasons, religious reasons, legal benefits, to have children, love and satisfaction, long-
term stability, and social pressure to marry (from family, friends, church, society, etc.).
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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Beliefs about marriage. Participants were asked the following open-ended question that
was written by the researchers: “In this study, beliefs are defined as your own personal views.
Using this definition, please identify your core beliefs about marriage.”
Personality. Saucier’s (1994) Mini-Markers scale (MM) was used to assess personality.
Participants were asked to read a list of 40 adjectives (8 items for each personality trait) and
indicate whether the adjective was descriptive of their personality using a 9-point Likert scale (1
= extremely inaccurate; 9 = extremely accurate). The scale has demonstrated a robust factor
structure, good internal consistency, criterion validity (i.e., concurrent and predictive), and
external validity (Dwight, Cummings, & Glenar, 1998; Saucier, 1994). In the present study,
Cronbach’s alpha coefficients were .86 for extroversion, .81 for conscientiousness and emotional
stability, .80 for agreeableness, and .73 for openness.
Quality of alternatives. Participants completed the quality of alternatives subscale of the
Investment Model Scale (IMS) (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). The IMS has demonstrated
good construct (i.e., convergent and discriminant), predictive, and external validity, and has been
tested with thousands of participants in different regions of the world (Arriaga & Agnew; 2001;
Rusbult et al., 1998). The quality of alternatives subscale consists of 10-items designed to assess
the desirability of relationship options (e.g., “The alternatives to my relationship, such as dating
another, spending time with friends or on my own, are close to ideal) using a 9-point scale (0 =
don’t agree at all; 8 = agree completely). Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the scale was .81.
Commitment. Participants completed a set of questions developed by Johnson,
Caughlin, and Huston (1999) to assess personal commitment (15 items), structural commitment
(19 items; questions pertaining to children were omitted), and moral commitment (13 items). For
personal commitment, participants used a 7-point Likert scale to respond to questions about love,
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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couple identity, and relationship fulfillment. For structural commitment, participants used a 9-
point Likert scale to indicate their agreement with statements about alternatives, social pressure
to stay together, difficult termination procedures, and relationship investment. For moral
commitment, participants used a 9-point Likert scale to indicate their attitudes about divorce,
partner commitment obligations, and constancy values. Johnson et al.’s psychometric assessment
of the Commitment Framework indicated three distinct components of commitment via factor
analysis and a causal indicators model, as well as good construct validity. In the present study,
alpha coefficients were .92 for personal commitment, .86 for moral commitment, and .87 for
structural commitment. Inter-item correlations within each subscale were statistically significant.
It is important to note that although alternatives are assessed as a component of structural
commitment in this measure, the items are distinct from Rusbult et al.’s (1998) quality of
alternatives measure, with structural commitment focusing on relationship benefits that would be
missed upon termination (e.g., current residence, help with housework) and the latter focusing on
finding a suitable alternative partner.
Infidelity. A measure developed by Drigotas, Safstrom, and Gentilia (1999) was used to
assess infidelity. The scale consists of 10 items that address a broad range of extramarital
behaviors. Participants were asked to think of a person, other than their spouse, to whom they
felt attracted since getting married, and respond to questions about flirting, emotional and
physical intimacy, and doing “couple” activities with this person (see Table 1). Participants
recorded responses using a 9-point Likert scale (0 = not at all, never; 8 = extremely, very often).
Drigotas et al. demonstrated good construct and predictive validity. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient
was .94 in the current study.
Divorce expectations. Two questions were used to assess divorce expectations that were
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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written by the researchers: “Considering everything (the way you are, the way your partner is,
the way the world is), what do you think are the chances that you and your spouse could divorce
at some point?” This question was open-ended and participants recorded their responses using a
scale from 0 to 100%. The second question was also written by the researchers and asked
whether participants expected to remain married to their current spouse for life, and response
options were “yes” or “no.”
Demographics and relationship characteristics. Participants’ age, ethnicity, education
level, religion, and employment status were assessed. Information was also collected about
participants’ length of marriage, age at the time of marriage, length of time dating their spouse
prior to marriage, whether they cohabited prior to marriage, and whether their parents were
divorced.
Procedure
The study was limited to women in their first marriage because the goal was to assess
reasons for marriage among women who had not already experienced divorce. Additionally,
participants had to have been married for two years or less. Two years was selected as the
preferred time frame because marital satisfaction typically declines during the first two years of
marriage (Huston & Houts, 1998) Two years also allowed enough time for women to have
considered infidelity or divorce if their needs were not being met by their spouse. Due to
potential confounding effects, the sample was limited to individuals who did not have children.
Children can serve to keep a marriage together, such as when couples stay together for the sake
of the children, or promote divorce, such as when parents believe children should not be exposed
to ongoing conflict (White, 1990).
Participants were recruited through listserv announcements, web site postings, and
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newlywed web sites (e.g., www.thenest.com). The announcements described the study, outlined
participant criteria, and provided a link to the online consent form and survey. Participants were
asked not to complete the survey with the help of their spouse because sensitive topics were
addressed (e.g., infidelity) and the researchers believed participants would be most honest if they
did not consult their partners. They were informed that participation was voluntary and that all
responses would be kept confidential. Upon completing the survey, they could enter a draw for a
$100 gift card.
Description of Qualitative Analyses
Two of the variables in this study (i.e., reasons for marriage, beliefs about marriage) were
assessed using open-ended questions in which participants could type lengthy responses.
Information collected from these questions was analyzed using the constant comparative method
with Atlas.ti, a qualitative analysis software program. The constant comparative method involves
reading through the data and inductively identifying conceptual categories (Strauss & Corbin,
1990). Rather than coding the data word-for-word, the researchers looked for themes in
participants’ responses. The first author read through and openly coded the data several times
before deciding on the final codes. As themes continued to emerge, they were compared to
previous themes to examine whether they could be collapsed into an existing category or stand
on their own. A method known as “axial coding” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) was then used to
compare themes across participants and identify relationships among the themes. In this phase,
the researcher examined all codes and grouped them into broad conceptual categories. The
conceptual categories are reported in the qualitative results below and examples from each
category are provided to highlight the most common themes. In order to assess confirmability
(e.g., objectivity, neutrality; Tobin & Begley, 2003) of the results, random segments of the data
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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were assigned to the second author who used the first author’s codebook to independently code
the data. After comparing codes with those of the first author, the second author determined that
the initial codes accurately reflected participants’ responses. Inter-rater agreement was 100%.
Results
What Reasons Do Women Identify for Getting Married?
This research question was assessed in two parts. The first part asked participants to think
back to before they were married and identify reasons for getting married. Participants reported a
total of 1245 reasons, with several participants describing multiple reasons for marriage. The
1245 responses were classified into 68 codes, and these codes were further collapsed into 12
broad categories. The largest category, with 25.5% of responses was labeled characteristics
about the relationship because participants described something about their relationship as a
reason for getting married. Within this category, the most commonly identified characteristics
were: companionship, sharing of core values, and having a trusting relationship. The next biggest
category was personal fulfillment (15.5% of responses), which included reasons such as love and
happiness. Long-term stability (12%) was reported by a number of participants and referred to
marrying for lifelong commitment and security. Several participants (9.5%) described partner
characteristics such as having a desirable partner, being attracted to their spouse, and feeling as
though their spouse was their soul mate. Others (9%) identified needing a partner, which
included fears about being alone, feelings of being better with a partner, and not being able to
imagine life without a partner. Timing (8%) referred to reasons such as having been with a
partner for a lengthy period of time, feeling that marriage was a natural next step, or deciding
that it was simply “the right time” to get married. In the less frequent categories, some reported
getting married because they wanted to start a family (5%), had legal reasons (4%) such as
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financial or immigration benefits, felt socially obligated (3.5%) by family or society, wanted
public recognition of their relationship (3.5%), for religious reasons (3.5%), and a few
participants (1%) cited impractical reasons (e.g., to change their partner’s character, they were
given an ultimatum, they were unsure why they married).
The second question that was used to identify reasons for marriage had participants rank,
in order of importance, factors that influenced their decision to marry. If one or more factors
played no part in their decision to marry, they could assign a “0”. Eighty-one percent indicated
their primary reason for marriage was love, 13% indicated long-term stability, 5% identified
religious reasons, 3% said to have children, 2% indicated social pressure, 2% identified legal
reasons, and 1% said for financial reasons.
What are Women’s Beliefs about Marriage?
To answer this question, participants were asked to describe their core beliefs about
marriage. The researchers identified a total of 1265 responses, which were classified into 80
codes. These codes were further grouped into five broad categories: 84% of responses described
beliefs that were related to characteristics of the relationship. For example, they stated that
marriage should be a loving, supportive relationship, and that marriage takes hard work, and
should be based on honesty and trust. Others (9%) described characteristics that were related to
cultural views of marriage including that society is better because of marriage, marriage should
only be between a man and woman, and people divorce too easily. The less frequently mentioned
beliefs included personal benefits (3%) (e.g., marriage should make you happy, the costs of
marriage should not outweigh the benefits), spousal characteristics (2%) (e.g., it is important to
find the right person to marry, if a spouse cheats or is abusive, divorce should be considered),
and family centered beliefs (2%) (e.g., marriage is a first step toward creating a new family,
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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marriage involves having children).
Given that most of the marital beliefs were classified as characteristics of the
relationship (84%), it was important to examine sub-categories within this group. There were six
sub-categories identified. Participants described marital beliefs related to friendship
characteristics (32.5%) such as marriage should be based on a deep friendship, partners need to
support each other emotionally, and it is necessary to have good communication in marriage.
Several (21%) described beliefs relating to commitment and a long-term outlook including
marriage is about a life-long commitment, marriage is meant to last forever, and spouses should
share a view of the future. Some (17%) described the effort involved in marriage such as
marriage is hard work, marriage is about compromise and getting through the good times and
bad, marriage is about teamwork and taking care of each other. A number (15.5%) identified
characteristics that applied only to lovers such as marriage is about sex, passion, and intimacy,
and a person’s spouse should be their top priority, above all else. Some (13.5%) described values
about marriage including marriage is based on fidelity and loyalty, marriage is about a promise
made to God/in front of God, and marriage should be an equal partnership between two people.
Finally, a few participants (.5%) described financial beliefs such as marriage allows people to
obtain financial benefits they otherwise could not attain, marriage is a business partnership, and
marriage provides financial security.
What are Women’s Experiences of Infidelity and Do these Experiences Vary Based on
Intra and Interpersonal Characteristics?
Infidelity experiences were assessed by computing the means and standard deviations for
items on the infidelity assessment. In general, participants reported a range of extramarital
thoughts or behaviors, with the most common being flirting, feeling arousal, and thinking about
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the alternative partner. Complete results are shown in Table 1.
[Table 1 about here]
A composite score for infidelity was used as the dependent variable in a regression
analysis to examine intra- and interpersonal variations in experiences of infidelity. Rather than
control for the influence of specific variables, all intra- and interpersonal characteristics were
used as predictors in the model. Although researchers have identified a variety of infidelity
predictors in previous studies, associations have not been examined among newlywed women so
we decided not to control for predictors. Categorical variables were dummy coded into two
groups. The regression model was significant (R2 = .234, adjusted R2 = .125; p = .010).
Individuals were more likely to have engaged in infidelity if they had an open personality type (ß
= .240, p < .01), had been involved with their partners for an extensive period of time = .195,
p < .05), and/or perceived of high quality alternatives = .214, p < .05). They were less likely
to have engaged in infidelity if they were very or fairly religious (ß = -.229, p < .05). A summary
of the complete results is shown in Table 2.
[Table 2 about here]
What are Women’s Expectations of Divorce and Do these Expectations Vary Based on
Intra and Interpersonal Characteristics?
Participants were asked to estimate the percentage chance of experiencing divorce. On
average, they perceived there to be 13.20% chance (SD=19.46%; Range = 0-100%). They were
also asked if they expected to remain married to their current spouse for life. Ninety-seven
percent selected “yes” and 3% selected “no”.
Percentage chance of divorce was used as a dependent variable in a multiple regression
analysis to examine whether divorce expectations varied based on intra- and interpersonal
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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characteristics. The regression model was significant (R2 = .746, adjusted R2 = .557; p = .000).
Individuals were more likely to expect divorce if they were employed (ß = .133, p < .05), had
disagreeable personalities = -.158, p < .05), if they were had been involved with their partners
for less time (ß = -.157, p < .05), and if they reported low levels of personal commitment (ß = -
.546, p < .01). A summary of these results is shown in Table 3.
[Table 3 about here]
Discussion
The goal of the present study was to examine newlywed women’s marital expectations,
including perceived likelihood of infidelity and divorce. In the United States, marriage has
traditionally been conceptualized as a lifelong, monogamous partnership, but today’s high rates
of infidelity and divorce question this definition. The nature of marriage is changing, particularly
for women (Bachrach et al., 2002; Cherlin, 2004). Today, more than ever, marriage is based on
love and personal fulfillment, rather than constraining factors, which makes it more satisfying,
but at the same time less stable (Coontz, 2005). According to Johnson’s Commitment
Framework, this represents a shift from structural to personal commitment. In other words,
women’s marital commitment is predicted more by their relationship satisfaction than by factors
such as social pressure or economic barriers. There is a greater risk of infidelity and divorce in
marriages based on personal commitment because when love and satisfaction decline,
individuals look for need fulfillment elsewhere.
Reasons for Marriage
Women identified a variety of motivations to marry. The most commonly mentioned
were love, the strong friendship they had with their spouse, happiness, and lifelong commitment.
Overall, these results support observations made by historians that people today marry primarily
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for love and personal fulfillment (Coontz, 2005). This represents a shift from the past, when
individuals, particularly women, tended to marry more for social, economic, or political reasons.
This study’s findings also fit with western values of individualism and gender egalitarianism
(e.g., friendship based marriage) (Pinsof, 2002). Cherlin (2004) has commented on the
paradoxical nature of marriage in the United States stating that Americans value marriage and
marry at higher rates than individuals in other westernized nations, but focus so much on self-
fulfillment and personal freedom that divorce rates approximate 50%. In order to succeed in
lifelong marriage, individuals need to adopt a “we” rather than “me” centered perspective.
Although few women in their first two years of marriage expected divorce from the outset, many
of their primary motivations for and beliefs about marriage focused on subjective qualities, such
as love and satisfaction, which tend to decline over time.
Beliefs about Marriage
Participants inductively identified their core beliefs about marriage. Similar to their
reasons for marriage, a majority (84%) of responses pertained to relationship characteristics. The
most commonly mentioned belief was that marriage should be based on love. The themes of
friendship, being best friends with one’s spouse, and lifelong commitment emerged repeatedly
from the data. These descriptions had also been reported as reasons for marriage. Clearly, the
themes of love, friendship, and lifelong commitment are central to women’s marital
conceptualizations, and are likely influenced by cultural definitions of marriage. That is, in
American society, marriage is romanticized through the media and spouses are expected to be a
friend, lover, and lifelong partner (Putnam, 2000). These demanding expectations on the marital
relationship are difficult to fulfill and often lead to dissatisfaction (McNulty & Karney, 2004).
Romantic views of marriage, combined with an increasingly individualistic culture, and an over-
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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reliance on one’s spouse for need fulfillment heighten the risk of infidelity and divorce (Amato,
Johnson, Booth, & Roger, 2003; Houston & Houts, 1998).
Other relationship-oriented beliefs were that marriage is hard work and takes effort from
both partners to succeed. Participants indicated that spouses should be a top priority for each
other, even more so than eventual children. Marriage was also thought of in terms of intimacy,
sex, and passion. Related to this, the concepts of monogamy and trust were reported as
indispensable in marriage. Many indicated that infidelity and broken trust would be reason to
seek counseling or divorce. Participants described religious values as well, indicating that
marriage is about a promise made to or in front of God. Finally, only a few participants described
the practical, financial benefits of marriage. They thought partners should share finances and that
marriage allows people to obtain financial security they otherwise could not attain. In summary,
a majority of women’s reasons for and beliefs about marriage centered on love, which may put
them at greater risk for infidelity and divorce when love and satisfaction decline.
Infidelity Experiences
Many newlywed women had engaged in some form of extramarital thought or behavior.
Most admitted feeling attracted to another person and had spent time thinking about and flirting
with this person. Fewer individuals reported being emotionally and/or physically intimate, but
many were tempted to do so. It is important to note that responses about infidelity are influenced
by social desirable response bias (Allen, et al., 2005), and reports in this study were likely
conservative due to underreporting.
Infidelity experiences varied based on intra- and interpersonal characteristics. Individuals
were more likely to have engaged in infidelity if they had an open personality type, had been
involved with their partners for an extensive period of time, and perceived of high quality
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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alternatives. A number of researchers have identified neuroticism, agreeableness, and
conscientiousness as infidelity predictors, whereas one researcher reported an association
between openness and infidelity, and this finding held for men only (Buss & Shackelford, 1997).
Open people tend to be proactive, creative, interested in new ideas, and generally do not suppress
feelings. It is possible that the greater equality of sexes today, compared to the past, enables
women, who may have previously suppressed their feelings, to explore extramarital relationships
with greater liberty. Indeed, people who believe their needs are not being met by their spouse are
more likely to engage in extramarital sex (Prins, Buunk, & VanYperen, 1993). Relationship
length was positively associated with infidelity, suggesting that as time goes on, factors such as
relational boredom, dissatisfaction, and exposure to alternative partners increase the likelihood of
engaging in extramarital relations. Exposure to and perception of alternative partners have been
identified as strong predictors of infidelity in previous research (Allen et al., 2005; South et al.,
2001). Women in this study were less likely to have engaged in infidelity if they identified
themselves as religious, which is similar to prior work that identifies religion as a protective
factor against extramarital sex (Atkins et al., 2001).
Divorce Expectations
Participants in the current study have been raised in a culture of divorce. It was important
to examine whether this social trend has impacted how they think about divorce as they enter
marriage. Seventy-five percent of women reported some expectation of divorce and on average,
they perceived there to be 13% chance of divorcing. When asked if they expected to remain
married to their spouse for life, 3% indicated they did not. These results support the notion that
newlyweds enter marriage with at least some expectation of divorce.
Participants were more likely to expect divorce if they were employed, had disagreeable
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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personalities, had been involved with their partner for less time, and/or reported low levels of
personal commitment. The finding of divorce expectations being higher for those with
disagreeable personalities is new. Previous research has found this characteristic to predict
infidelity, but not divorce (Buss & Shackelford, 1997; Schmitt, 2004). It is possible that
newlywed women who are less agreeable expect divorce, and that this pessimistic attitude
combined with an unfriendly personality leads to marital dissatisfaction (for both partners) and
subsequent divorce. It is worthy of mention that length of time together was positively associated
with infidelity, but negatively associated with divorce expectations. Length of time together may
contribute to relational boredom and dissatisfaction, which leads to infidelity, but it serves as a
protective mechanism against divorce because individuals risk losing irretrievable investments
that have been put into the relationship (e.g., time, finances, emotional disclosures). As
predicted, women were more likely to expect divorce if they were employed and if they reported
low levels of personal commitment. This fits with Johnson’s commitment framework in that
women today marry primarily for personal, rather than structural (e.g., financial) reasons, and
that when personal commitment declines, divorce is considered a viable option.
Strengths and Limitations
The data for this study were collected online, which is both a strength and limitation.
Internet data collection has the advantages of being anonymous, cost effective, and
geographically wide ranging (Whitley, 2002). In this study, participants were disclosing personal
information about sensitive topics so anonymity was important. This method additionally
enabled the researchers to recruit a large sample from regions across the U.S., and allowed
participants to write responses in their own words and complete the survey at a time they found
convenient. The disadvantages included a loss of detail that would have been available through
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
20
other methods such as interviewing. The researchers could not ask participants to elaborate on
points, use follow-up questions, or adjust questions once the study had begun. An additional
concern was that the researchers had little control over the environment in which participants
completed the survey. They were instructed to complete the survey without help from their
spouse, but may have ignored this instruction and/or elicited the help of additional people. They
may have also been distracted by telephone calls, television programs, or other environmental
disruptions. Additionally, the sample reflected a somewhat homogenous group in that a majority
was Caucasian, educated, and employed. Studies on the meaning of marriage have been
conducted for more diverse groups (e.g., Curran, Utley, & Muraco, 2010), although to our
knowledge, information about infidelity and divorce expectations has not previously been
reported.
Conclusions
This study provided an examination of newlywed women’s marital conceptualizations,
including their experiences of infidelity and expectations of divorce. An overwhelming majority
of newlyweds conceptualized marriage in terms of love and personal fulfillment, which is
consistent with previous research (Coontz, 2005; Pinsof, 2002) and helps explain the relatively
high incidence of infidelity and divorce. Infidelity experiences and divorce expectations varied
based on intra and interpersonal characteristics, reinforcing the fact that not all women
experience these outcomes. Practitioners and family life educators can use these findings to
develop programs for young adults that teach skills for maintaining healthy, satisfying
relationships and making careful, deliberate choices about marriage. Programs such as these will
improve the quality of intimate relationships and at the same time help lower the incidence of
infidelity and divorce. An eventual goal from this research will be to foster a variety of socially
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
21
acceptable life paths including permanent singlehood, serial monogamy, and marriage. When
socially acceptable alternatives exist, individuals will not marry simply because “it is the next
step” or “the right thing to do”. They will make choices that best suit their needs, which will
ideally result in a more honest, happier society with lower rates of infidelity and divorce.
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
22
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Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
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Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations for Newlywed Women’s Experiences of Infidelity
Question
Mean
SD
Felt attraction toward person
6.24
2.02
Attraction they had for you
6.32
2.16
Felt arousal in their presence
4.81
2.56
Time spent thinking of them
4.23
2.41
Time spent flirting with them
4.46
2.61
Did couple things together
2.94
2.55
How tempted to be emotionally intimate
3.48
2.65
How emotionally intimate were you
3.11
2.62
How tempted to be physically intimate
3.42
2.92
How physically intimate were you
2.39
2.67
Composite infidelity score
4.16
2.04
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
28
Table 2
Multiple Regression Results Predicting Infidelity Experiences from Intra and Interpersonal
Characteristics
Independent variable
B
SE B
β
European/Caucasian
-.268
.591
-.040
Age at time of marriage
.020
.047
.039
High religiosity
-1.027
.497
-.229*
Employed
.990
.627
.139
Personality
Openness
.075
.029
.240**
Conscientiousness
-.004
.025
-.014
Extroversion
.001
.021
.002
Agreeableness
-.044
.032
-.136
Emotional Stability
.013
.023
-.054
Parental divorce
-.779
.472
-.152
Cohabited before marriage
Length of time involved with spouse
Personal commitment
.367
.015
-.017
.518
.007
.015
.075
.195*
-.117
Structural commitment
-.004
.008
-.052
Moral commitment
.025
.014
.204
Quality of alternatives
.059
.026
.214*
*p < .05. **p < 0.01.
Newlywed Women and Marital Expectations
29
Table 3
Multiple Regression Results Predicting Divorce Expectations from Intra and Interpersonal
Characteristics
Independent variable
B
SE B
β
European/Caucasian
-.492
3.495
-.009
Age at time of marriage
-.114
.278
-.028
High religiosity
-2.129
3.010
-.059
Employed
7.651
3.815
.133*
Personality
Openness
.120
.175
.048
Conscientiousness
-.010
.147
-.004
Extroversion
.068
.124
.037
Agreeableness
-.411
.191
-.158*
Emotional Stability
-.105
.137
-.056
Parental divorce
3.933
2.781
.096
Cohabited before marriage
Length of time involved with spouse
Personal commitment
2.079
-.097
-.635
3.076
.041
.088
.053
-.157*
-.546**
Structural commitment
-.033
.048
-.049
Moral commitment
-.046
.083
-.048
Quality of alternatives
.219
.155
.098
*p < .05. **p < 0.01.
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Extramarital involvement (EMI) occurs with high prevalence among couples in clinical and community settings, frequently resulting in considerable distress both to participants and their spouses. The field lacks a synthesized review of this literature. Without such a synthesis, it has been difficult for researchers and clinicians to have an understanding of what is and is not known about EMI. This article reviews the large and scattered EMI literature using a framework that encompasses multiple source domains across the temporal process of engaging in and responding to EMI. In addition, this review delineates conceptual and methodological limitations to previous work in this area and articulates directions for further research.
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This study assesses the empirical viability of Johnson's (1991) commitment framework. The core principle is that commitment, rather than a unitary phenomenon, involves three distinct experiences: wanting to stay married, feeling morally obligated to stay married, and feeling constrained to stay married. Using data from a sample of married couples, we show that direct measures of the three experiences are not highly correlated with each other, that a measure of so-called global commitment is a function primarily, if not exclusively, of personal commitment, that the three direct measures of the experiences of commitment are associated for the most part with the components of each type as hypothesized in the commitment framework, and that the three types of commitment and their components are not associated in the same way with other variables.
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Although much has been learned from cross-sectional research on marriage, an understanding of how marriages develop, succeed, and fail is best achieved with longitudinal data. In view of growing interest in longitudinal research on marriage, the authors reviewed and evaluated the literature on how the quality and stability of marriages change over time. First, prevailing theoretical perspectives are examined for their ability to explain change in marital quality and stability. Second, the methods and findings of 115 longitudinal studies—representing over 45,000 marriages—are summarized and evaluated, yielding specific suggestions for improving this research. Finally, a model is outlined that integrates the strengths of previous theories of marriage, accounts for established findings, and indicates new directions for research on how marriages change. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)