STRESS FROM DAILY HASSLES IN COUPLES: ITS
EFFECTS ON INTRADYADIC STRESS, RELATIONSHIP
SATISFACTION, AND PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
Mariana K. Falconier
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
University of Bielefeld
University of Zurich
Hulka Schneider and Thomas Bradbury
University of California
According to the systemic-transactional stress model (STM; G. Bodenmann, European
Review of Applied Psychology, 1997; 47: 137), extradyadic stress from daily hassles can
have a negative impact on the individual psychological and physical health and the couple’s
relationship. This study is the ﬁrst one to test the STM propositions in a model that
includes both partners’ individual and relational outcomes simultaneously. The model also
includes actor and partner eﬀects as well as the interdependence between partners’ pro-
cesses. Cross-sectional, self-report data were collected from 110 community couples in
Switzerland. Consistent with STM predictions, results from the path model analysis indi-
cate that for actor eﬀects extradyadic stress from daily hassles relates directly to lower psy-
chological (increase in anxiety symptoms) and physical well-being and only indirectly to
lower relationship satisfaction through increased intradyadic stress from relationship prob-
lems and also through more depressive symptomatology in men. The female extradyadic
stress and intradyadic stress had partner eﬀects on the male intradyadic stress and the male
relationship satisfaction, respectively. Limitations as well as research and clinical implica-
tions for marriage and family therapists are discussed.
Several decades of research have consistently shown that stress poses risk not only for individ-
ual functioning but also for couples’ relationships. At the individual level, stress has been associ-
ated with a wide range of physical problems such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and immune
dysregulation (for a review see Robles & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003) and negative psychological out-
comes including mood disorders, sexual problems, and substance abuse (Howe, Levy, & Caplan,
2004; Koob & Kreek, 2007; Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007). At the couple level, various sources
of stress have been associated with psychological and physical aggression, communication prob-
lems, and relationship dissatisfaction and dissolution (for a review see Allen, Rhoades, Stanley, &
Markman, 2010; Buck & Neﬀ, 2012; Langer, Lawrence, & Barry, 2008; Story & Bradbury, 2004).
Understanding the mechanisms through which stress aﬀects partners individually and in their
Mariana K. Falconier, PhD, Department of Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University; Fridtjof Nussbeck, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld; Guy Bodenmann, PhD,
Department of Psychology, University of Zurich; Hulka Schneider, PhD and Thomas Bradbury, PhD, Department
of Psychology, University of California.
Address correspondence to Mariana K. Falconier, Marriage and Family Therapy Program, Department of
Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 7054 Haycock Road, Suite 202C, Falls
Church, Virginia 22043; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 1
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy
relationship is essential for prevention and intervention eﬀorts. This article reports the results of a
study that examined the ways in which stress from daily hassles aﬀects partners’ individual
psychological and physical well-being and their couples’ relationship. The study was guided by
author’s systemic-transactional model (STM; Bodenmann, 1997), which oﬀers a systems-oriented
approach to understand stress processes in the context of couple’s relationships. Findings from this
study may raise couple therapists’ awareness about the potential negative eﬀects of daily hassles
stress on individuals and their couples’ relationship and the need to help partners develop eﬀective
THE SYSTEMIC-TRANSACTIONAL MODEL
For several decades, stress processes and coping were examined from models focusing on the
individual and that were developed outside the marriage and family therapy (MFT) ﬁeld. Lazarus
and Folkman’s (1984) transactional approach, which was the most inﬂuential stress theory guiding
that research, proposed that individuals experience stress when the perceived demands of a situa-
tion exceed the perceived resources to meet those demands. In the 1980s, McCubbin and Patterson
(1983) developed the double ABC-X model (A =stressor; B =resources; C =perception of stres-
sor; X =crisis) based on Rueben Hill’s (1949) initial ABC-X model to understand families’
responses to major stressful events (e.g., war, crimes, accidents, death). It was not until the
1990s that researchers began to focus speciﬁcally on stress processes in the context of couple’s
Research on couples’ stress and coping processes has been conducted largely by clinical and
social psychologists. Nonetheless, the models developed in this area of research as well as the
empirical ﬁndings are relevant for the practice of MFT. The most recent review of the literature on
stress processes in couples (Randall & Bodenmann, 2009) identiﬁed two models as guiding most
studies: the vulnerability-stress-adaptation model (Karney & Bradbury, 1995) and the STM
(Bodenmann, 1997). Karney and Bradbury (1995) developed the vulnerability-stress-adaptation
model to explain the eﬀects of external stressors on couples. According to this model, the extent to
which stressors external to the couple’s relationship aﬀect that relationship depends not only on
the nature of the stressful event but also on partners’ enduring vulnerabilities (e.g., problematic
personality traits) and adaptive processes (e.g., ability to provide support). The STM (Bodenmann,
1997) applied a systemic perspective to Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) transactional stress theory
and emphasizes both partners’ interdependence and reciprocal inﬂuence in the stress and coping
processes. In other words, STM considers that one partner’s stress appraisal, experience, and cop-
ing depend on the other partner’s, and therefore, one partner’s stress and coping experience cannot
be understood without considering the other partner’s experience. It is this systemic focus and
emphasis on partners’ interdependence processes that make STM a useful conceptual model in the
MFT ﬁeld as it is consistent with MFT models’ systemic orientation (Nichols & Schwartz, 2006).
In addition, and unlike the ABC-X model and the vulnerability-stress-adaptation model,
STM views the couple’s relationship not only as being aﬀected by external stressors but also as a
source of stress itself (intradyadic stress; Bodenmann, Ledermann, & Bradbury, 2007). Couples
experience external or extradyadic stress from situations that originate outside the couple such as
challenges related to the workplace, ﬁnances, children, extended family members, neighbors,
friends, community, etc. By contrast, internal or intradyadic stress, also called relationship stress,
refers to the stress experienced from situations that arise within the couple’s relationship such as
incompatibility, conﬂict, and disagreement between the partners regarding values, goals, attitudes,
and habits on various diﬀerent domains (e.g., childrearing, intimacy, ﬁnancial management, per-
sonal boundaries, recreational time, etc.). According to STM, extradyadic stress increases the part-
ners’ likelihood of experiencing individual physical and psychological distress as well as
intradyadic stress (spill-over of external stress into the dyad). This means that the couple’s dynam-
ics are likely to be aﬀected negatively by the subjective stress that each partner experiences from
external stressors, creating in turn an additional source of stress for both partners.
Systemic-transactional model has also proposed that dyadic coping, which refers to the strate-
gies that partners use to cope with stress, either by providing support to each other or relying on
conjoint eﬀorts to deal with common stressors, protects couples from the negative eﬀects of stress.
2JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
This aspect of the STM model has received support in studies conducted not only in the U.S.
(Papp & Witt, 2010) but also in France (Untas, Quintard, Koleck, Borteyrou, & Azencot, 2009),
Germany (Herzberg, 2012), and Italy (Iafrate, Bertoni, Margola, Cigoli, & Acitelli, 2012) among
Even though the STM model has been applied to the study of couples coping with major exter-
nal stressors such as breast cancer (Badr, Carmack, Kashy, Cristofanilli, & Revenson, 2010) or
life-threatening cancer not responding to ﬁrst-line therapies (Fife Betsy, Weaver Michael, Cook
William, & Stump Timothy, 2013), STM considers chronic minor external stressors or daily hassles
to be a source of signiﬁcant extradyadic stress for couples (Revenson & Lepore, 2012). Daily has-
sles may range from losing a cellular phone to dealing with a diﬃcult coworker or handling com-
peting work and home demands. Unlike some major and/or acute stressors such as unemployment
or a terminal illness that may either lead a couple to separate or provide an opportunity for mutual
support and growth (Williams, 1995), the pile-up of daily hassles has been found to be associated
consistently with poor relationship quality and divorce (Totenhagen, Butler, & Ridley, 2012).
Daily Hassles and Relationship Functioning: Pathways of Inﬂuence
In explaining the eﬀect of daily hassles on couple’s functioning, STM argues that partners’
extradyadic stress from daily hassles may not only reduce relationship satisfaction in a direct way
but also indirectly through two main mediating mechanisms: increase in intradyadic stress (rela-
tionship stress) and deterioration of individual psychological and physical well-being (Figure 1).
Partners stressed from daily hassles may tend to spend less time together as a couple, reducing their
sense of togetherness and intimacy. Problematic personal characteristics such as hostility, intoler-
ance, or rigidity may be exacerbated and manifest more prominently, which may contribute to
negative interactions. In addition, due to their seemingly triviality, daily hassles may not be accom-
panied by a partner’s support or empathic understanding as major life stressors often are. This
emotional distance and conﬂict that daily hassles may bring to the relationship can create addi-
tional sources of stress for each partner, which in turn may contribute to feeling less satisﬁed with
the couple’s relationship. Two studies have already provided empirical support for the mediating
role of intradyadic stress in the association between extradyadic stress from daily hassles and
reduced relationship satisfaction (Bodenmann, Ledermann, & Bradbury, 2007; Ledermann,
Bodenmann, Rudaz, & Bradbury, 2010).
Regarding the second mediating mechanism, STM argues that the ongoing presence of minor
stress creates psychological distress (e.g., increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms) and reduces
physical well-being (e.g., headaches or back pain), which in turn aﬀects partners’ levels of satisfac-
tion with their couple’s relationship (Randall & Bodenmann, 2009). Despite its rational appeal, no
study has examined the mediating role of deterioration of physical and psychological health in the
link between daily hassles stress and reduced relationship satisfaction. Most studies have either
focused on the impact of stress on individual well-being (Serido, Almeida, & Wethington, 2004) or
on couple’s functioning (Neﬀ& Karney, 2009) separately but not on both simultaneously. None-
theless, ﬁndings linking poor physical health, anxiety, and/or depression with stress on the one
hand and lower relationship satisfaction on the other suggest that deterioration of physical and
psychological well-being might be playing such a mediating role. Stressful life events (for a review
see Liu & Alloy, 2010), general chronic stress (Mckintosh, Gillanders, & Rodgers, 2010; Stefanek,
Dagmar, Hildegunn, & Spiel, 2012), and work stress (Rusli, Edimansyah, & Naing, 2008) have all
been found to be associated with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Various studies have
also reported that an individual’s level of depression and/or anxiety can aﬀect their satisfaction
with their couple’s relationship (Atkins, Bortnik, Hahlweg, & Klann, 2011; Lemmens, Buysee, He-
ene, Eisler, & Demyttenaere, 2007; Whisman & Uebelacker, 2009). Poor physical health has also
been associated with increased stress (for a review see Robles & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003) and relation-
ship diﬃculties (Hawkins & Booth, 2005; Umberson, Williams, Powers, Liu, & Needham, 2006).
PURPOSE OF THE PRESENT STUDY
The main goal of this study is to test STM proposed mechanisms of inﬂuence by including not
only both partners’ experiences of extra- and intradyadic stress and relationship satisfaction but
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 3
also their individual physical well-being as well as their depression and anxiety symptoms. Examin-
ing both individual and relational outcomes within the same model allows for a more complete
understanding of the individual and relational eﬀects of stress in couples as each eﬀect is controlled
for the other postulated eﬀects. In addition, by examining both partners’ variables within the same
stress model, this study allows for the examination and control of both actor and partner eﬀects,
which is consistent with the actor–partner interdependence model (APIM; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook,
2006) approach to treat partners’ interdependence.
Even though STM is a not a treatment model like most MFT models are, it may be useful to
couples’ therapists as it oﬀers a conceptual model that can guide the assessment of couples’ interac-
tions and areas of intervention by explaining how daily hassles stress can create relationship
tensions as well as deteriorate each partner’s individual physical and psychological well-being.
The main goal of the present study is to test the propositions advanced by STM using an
APIM approach with data collected from both partners. Below is a list of the hypotheses that are
part of the conceptual model depicted in Figure 1.
1. Each partner’s extradyadic stress from daily hassles will have a direct negative association
with their own relationship satisfaction.
2. Each partner’s extradyadic stress from daily hassles will also have an indirect negative
association with their own relationship satisfaction through the mediating mechanisms
listed below and with their partner’s relationship satisfaction through mediating
a. Increases in the each partner’s intradyadic stress (stress from problems internal to the
b. Increases in their own symptoms of depression and anxiety.
c. Decreases in their own physical well-being.
Figure 1. Conceptual Model.
Note. The model also includes covariances between partners’ physical well-being, anxiety and
depression (not depicted for clarity of presentation). Covariances are between error terms. Length
of relationship was controlled for by adding it as an exogenous variable aﬀecting all variables.
Positive statistical associations are depicted with “+”, negative associations with “!”.
4JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
Given that marital negative interactions have been found to be associated with symptoms of
depression (Whisman & Uebelacker, 2009) and anxiety (Addis & Bernard, 2002; Chambless,
Bryan, Aiken, Steketee, & Hooley, 2001) and poor health outcomes (Hawkins & Booth, 2005;
Umberson et al., 2006), it is expected that partner’s intradyadic stress may also aﬀect their own
physical health and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Therefore, a third hypothesis is included.
3. Each partner’s intradyadic stress will have not only a direct but also an indirect associa-
tion with their own relationship satisfaction through the following mechanisms:
(a). Increases in their own symptoms of depression and anxiety.
(b). Decreases in their own physical well-being.
To control for partners’ interdependence and in line with the assumptions of APIM, the model
includes associations between all (residual) variables at the same stage of the presumed path model,
that is, the external variables of external stress are correlated; both variables depicting the internal
stress are correlated (residual correlation); female and male well-being, anxiety, and depression are
intercorrelated (residual correlations) as are the two relationship satisfaction variables (residual
correlations). These residual correlations need to be included since both partners’ scores may be
associated to a higher degree than expected by the predictors (above and beyond their eﬀects;
Kenny et al., 2006). The model also includes associations between the error terms of physical
well-being and symptoms of anxiety and depression for each partner as past research has provided
evidence of such associations (Ormel, Rijsdijk, Sullivan, van Sonderen, & Kempen, 2002).
Controlling for these relationships prevents ﬁnding spurious relationships.
Participants were 110 heterosexual couples from a community sample residing in the Ger-
man speaking part of Switzerland. To participate in the study, both partners had to be at least
18 years old and in their current committed relationship for at least 1 year. On average, men
were 44.4 years old (SD =15.93) and women were 41.22 years old (SD =15.56). In terms of
educational level, 47.2% of men and 72.7% of women held a high school degree, whereas
51.8% of men and 26.4% of women held at least an undergraduate degree. Most men (88.1%)
were either working or studying, whereas for women 45.5% were employed, 28.2% were home-
makers, and 21.8% were students. Individual income ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 USD,
which at the time of data collection meant that couples were middle-class in Switzerland (Fed-
eral Statistical Oﬃce, 2013). The majority of men (58.2%) and women (50.9%) were Protestant,
17.3% of men and 25.5% of women were Catholic, 15.5% of men and 13.6% of women had
other religious aﬃliation, and 9.1% of men and 10% of women reported no religious aﬃliation
at all. Even though all couples had been together in a committed relationship for a least a year,
only 75.5% of them were living together and 54.5% had children. The average length of the
relationship was 18.21 years (SD =13.78). Results from ANOVAs did not indicate any signiﬁ-
cant diﬀerence between cohabitating couples and those that were not on any of the variables of
interest in this study.
Community couples were recruited through newspaper ads and ﬂyers posted in medical oﬃces
in order to get a broader range in physical health, as studies based on community samples usually
fail to have enough variance in this variable due to a relatively good physical health in Switzerland
(Swiss Health Observatory, 2008). Every couple interested in participating was either handed or
mailed two sets of questionnaires, one for each partner. Each set included a consent letter, instruc-
tions and questionnaires that should be completed independently without consulting the partner
and returned within 2 weeks. Questionnaires did not include any identifying information except
for an impersonal code linking the two partners’ questionnaires. Participants were not reimbursed.
Out of the 650 questionnaires that were distributed, 265 were returned but 45 were excluded from
statistical analyses as only one partner had fully completed the questionnaires.
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 5
All measures were completed in German. On the demographic form, participants provided
information on age, gender, country of origin, educational and income level, employment status,
relationship status, relationship duration, number of children, and religious aﬃliation.
Extradyadic Stress from daily hassles. The 8-item chronic extradyadic stress subscale from the
30-item Multidimensional Stress Questionnaire for Couples [MSQ-C; Bodenmann, 2006) that was
used in past studies (Bodenmann, Ledermann, & Bradbury, 2007) to assess extradyadic stress from
daily hassles was also used in the present study. The MSQ-C is an adaptation of the original Hassles
Scale (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981) that included minor stressors, both internal and
external to the relationship (for a description of this adaptation, Bodenmann, 2006). Respondents
rate how stressful daily situations outside their couple’s relationship (e.g., work load, ﬁnancial
problems, conﬂict with colleagues or friends, etc.) have been over the past 12 months on a 4-point
Likert-type scale ranging from 1 =not at all to 4 =highly stressful. As the measure covers diﬀerent
life domains, it cannot be considered a psychometric scale, yet the mean score of all eight items
reﬂects the individual stress level.
Intradyadic Stress. Similar to previous studies (Bodenmann, Ledermann, & Bradbury, 2007),
the 10-item chronic intradyadic stress subscale from the MSQ-C was used to assess chronic stress
internal to the couple’s relationship. Respondents rate on a 4-point Likert-type scale (ranging from
1=not at all to 4 =highly stressful) how stressful situations originating within the couple’s rela-
tionship (e.g., arguments, diﬀerences in attitudes, disturbing habits of the partner, feeling neglected
by the partner) have been over the past 12 months. The validity and reliability of the MSQ-C have
been established in previous studies in German (Bodenmann, 2006). In the present study, the inter-
nal consistency of this scale was a=.82 for men and a=.84 for women.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety. Each type of symptoms was assessed with the 7-item
anxiety subscale and the 7-item depression subscale from the German version of the Depression
Anxiety and Stress Scales–21 (DASS-21; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995), available from the DASS
website (http://www2.psy.unsw.edu.au/groups/dass). Each of these subscales asks respondents to
rate the frequency with which they have experienced symptoms of either depression (e.g., lack of
enthusiasm, low self-worth, sadness, etc.) or anxiety (e.g., physiological agitation, breathing diﬃ-
culties, etc.) within the past week on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 =never to
3=everyday. Even though the German version of the DASS has not been validated, the English
version of the DASS has been validated in various previous studies (Crawford & Henry, 2003;
Henry & Crawford, 2005). The internal consistency was a=.77 for men and a=.87 for women
(depression subscale) and a=.64 for men and a=.62 for women (anxiety subscale).
Physical Well-being. The Physical Well-being Questionnaire (PWBQ; Mohr, 1986) assesses
18 diﬀerent physical symptoms (e.g., back pain, headaches) in the last 2 weeks on a 5-point Likert-
type scale ranging from 0 =never to 4 =every day. The reliability and validity of the PWBQ have
been established for the PWBQ in German (Mohr, 1986).In the present study, the internal consis-
tency was a=.89 for men and a=.90 for women.
Relationship satisfaction. The German validated version by Sander and B€
ocker (1993) of the
7-item Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS; Hendrick, 1988) was used to assess relationship satis-
faction. The RAS measures global relationship satisfaction on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging
from 1 =low to 5 =high. The validity and reliability of the RAS are well established (Hendrick,
Dicke, & Hendrick, 1998). In this study, the internal consistency was a=.88 for men and a=.92
Given that the data were not normally distributed at the multivariate level (Yuan, Lambert,
and Fouladi’s (2004) normalized coeﬃcient =9.163), Spearman’s correlations were used to exam-
ine the intercorrelational matrix among variables and the Wilcoxon signed rank test for paired
samples was used to analyze gender diﬀerences in variables. Path model analysis using EQS 6.1.
and the maximum likelihood estimation method were used to test the conceptual model. Model ﬁt
was assessed through the robust Yuan–Bentler scaled chi-square (v2
YB), an adjusted chi-square sta-
tistic used with non-normal data (Yuan & Bentler, 2000). Model ﬁt was also evaluated with the
three ﬁt indices recommended by Hu and Bentler (1999): robust Bentler’s Comparative Fit Index
6JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
(CFI >.96), the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR <.08), and the robust root mean
square residual of approximation (RMSEA <.06). As an additional indicator of model ﬁt, the
langrage multiplier (LM) coeﬃcients were inspected to search for possible model misspeciﬁcations.
Due to the sample size of 110 couples, only length of relationship was controlled by adding it as an
exogenous variable aﬀecting all variables. This demographic variable tends to correlate highly with
other demographic variables such as presence of children and age, which was also true in this study
(presence of children r=.75; men’s age r=.90; women’s age r=.93). To test the signiﬁcance
of mediation eﬀects for non-normal distributions, EQS provides a corrected statistic for the Sobel
test of indirect eﬀects.
Results from the Wilcoxon signed rank test (Table 1) indicated that women experienced sig-
niﬁcantly more extradyadic stress from daily hassles (women M=1.74, SD =0.43; men
M=1.61, SD =0.33),intradyadic stress (women M=1.66, SD =0.46; men M=1.58,
SD =0.41), symptoms of depression (women M=5.62, SD =6.43; men M=4.02, SD =4.32),
and symptoms of anxiety (women M=2.99, SD =3.72; men M=2.04, SD =6.43), as well as
signiﬁcantly lower levels of physical well-being (women M=3.83, SD =0.56; men M=4.13,
SD =0.55) than men. No signiﬁcant diﬀerences were found between partners’ relationship
satisfaction (women M=4.33, SD =0.63; men M=4.42, SD =0.54).
Table 2 reports the coeﬃcients for the Spearman’s bivariate correlations among path model
variables. Except for the coeﬃcient between the female extradyadic stress from daily hassles and
her intradyadic stress (r=.68), signiﬁcant correlation coeﬃcients ranged from r=0.23 to
r=0.52. Signiﬁcant correlations between scores of partners on the same variable conﬁrmed the
need to control for partners’ interdependence in the main model using APIM.
Results from path model analysis showed an acceptable ﬁt to the data (v2
p=.09; robust CFI =.973; SRMR =.054; RMSEA =.055 (.000, .099). A conceptual examina-
tion of the LM test results did not suggest any misspeciﬁcation of the model. Standardized results
with both statistically (p<.05) and nonstatistically signiﬁcant paths are presented in Figure 2.
Contrary to Hypothesis 1, no direct association was found between each partner’s extradyadic
stress from daily hassles and their own relationship satisfaction (men b=.12; women b=.00).
Nonetheless, in support of Hypothesis 2, an indirect, negative association between each partner’s
daily hassles stress and their own relationship satisfaction (men: b
=!.40) was found. Sobel tests indicated those indirect eﬀects were signiﬁcant for men
(t=!2.13, p<.05) and for women (t=!3.78, p<.05). Regarding the hypothesized mediating
Descriptive Statistics and Probability for the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test for Paired
Rank Test ProbabilityM SD M SD
Extradyadic daily hassles stress 1.61 0.33 1.74 0.43 !2.31 .02
Intradyadic stress 1.58 0.41 1.66 0.46 !2.10 .04
Depressive symptoms 4.02 4.32 5.62 6.43 !2.28 .02
Anxiety symptoms 2.04 6.43 2.99 3.72 !2.39 .02
Physical well-being 4.13 0.55 3.83 0.56 !4.21 .00
Relationship satisfaction 4.42 0.54 4.33 0.63 !1.42 .16
Note. N = 110 men and 110 women.
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 7
mechanisms, intradyadic stress seemed to play a mediating role. Each partner’s extradyadic stress
from daily hassles was positively associated with their own intradyadic stress from relationship
problems (men b=.31; women b=.49), which in turn was negatively associated with their own
relationship satisfaction directly (men b=!.44; women b=!.63) and indirectly through their
own symptoms of depression. Sobel tests indicated that each partners’ intradyadic stress had an
indirect, negative eﬀect (men: b
=!.12; women: b
=!.12) on their own relationship
Intercorrelations Among Path Model Variable for Women (Above Diagonal) and Men
(Below Diagonal) and Dyads (Bolded Diagonal)
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Extradyadic daily hassles stress .16 .44** .17 .27** !.39** !.33**
2. Intradyadic Stress .32** .47** .37** .06 !.27** !.68**
3. Symptoms of depression .34* .35** .20* .29** !.31** !.37**
4. Symptoms of anxiety .42** .34** .51** .07 !.52** !.09
5. Physical well-being !.42** !.23* !.42** !.51** .16 .29**
6. Relationship satisfaction !.01 !.55** !.30** !.16 .11 .50**
Note. N =110 men and 110 women. Correlations between the dyad members are presented
in bold along the diagonal. *p<.05; **p<.01 (one-tailed).
Figure 2. Standardized results with statistically signiﬁcant paths. (v2
robust CFI =.973; SRMR =.054; RMSEA =.055 (.000, .099). Only signiﬁcant paths at the .05
level have been included).
Note. Full lines depict signiﬁcant paths (p< .05) and broken lines depict nonsigniﬁcant paths.
The model also includes covariances between partners’ physical well-being, anxiety, and depres-
sion. Covariances are between error terms. Length of relationship was controlled for by adding it
as an exogenous variable aﬀecting all variables.
8JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
satisfaction (men: t=!2.06, p<.05; women: t=!2.02, p<.05). Each partner’s intradyadic
stress was positively related to their own symptoms of depression (men b=.22; women b=56),
which were in turn negatively associated with their own relationship satisfaction (men b=!.22;
Contrary to expectations, neither symptoms of anxiety nor physical well-being mediated the
negative association between extradyadic stress from daily hassles and relationship satisfaction.
Even though each partner’s stress from daily hassles was statistically signiﬁcantly associated with
both symptoms of anxiety (men b=.37; women b=.35) and physical well-being (men b=!.44;
women b=!.43), relationship satisfaction was not for either symptoms of anxiety (men b=.17;
women b=.01) or physical well-being (men b=.12; women b=.07). There was also a trend of an
association of the male symptoms of anxiety and physical well-being with his relationship satisfac-
tion. Unlike physical well-being and symptoms of anxiety, symptoms of depression mediated the
link between extradyadic stress from daily hassles and relationship satisfaction but only for men.
Male stress from daily hassles was positively related to his own symptoms of depression (b=.22),
which were in turn associated negatively with the male relationship satisfaction (b=!.22). By
contrast, the female daily hassles stress was not associated with her own symptoms of depression
There was also a partner eﬀect of the female extradyadic stress from daily hassles as it was
indirectly associated with the male relationship satisfaction (b
=!.24) through both part-
ners’ intradyadic stress. The Sobel test indicated that this negative indirect eﬀect was statistically
signiﬁcant (t=!4.02; p<.05). The female stress from daily hassles had not only a signiﬁcant,
positive actor eﬀect (b=.49) but also a signiﬁcant positive, partner eﬀect (b=.20). In turn, the
male intradyadic stress was negatively associated with his own relationship satisfaction (b=!.44)
and the female intradyadic stress had a partner eﬀect on relationship satisfaction (b=!.30).
Except for the partner eﬀects of the female intra- and extradyadic stress, no other partner eﬀects
were statistically signiﬁcant in the model.
The path model analysis also indicated signiﬁcant positive residual correlations between both
partners’ level of intradyadic stress (ϴ=.43) and physical well-being (ϴ=.17). Both partners’ intra-
dyadic stress was associated above and beyond the association that can be explained by both part-
ners’ extradyadic stress from daily hassles. No signiﬁcant residual correlations were found between
both partners’ daily hassles stress (ϴ=.19), symptoms of depression (ϴ=.11) and anxiety (ϴ=.10),
and relationship satisfaction (ϴ=.17). Residuals for anxiety and depression symptoms were posi-
tively correlated for both men (ϴ=.55) and women (ϴ=.40) and so was physical well-being with
symptoms of anxiety (men ϴ=!.42; women ϴ=!.44). Symptoms of anxiety correlated positively
with physical well-being (men ϴ=!.38; women ϴ=!.19). The full model accounted for 67% and
51% of the variation in female and male relationship satisfaction, respectively.
The main goal of the present study was to test and provide support for the propositions
advanced by the STM that emphasizes that partners’ stress processes are interdependent and
explains the mechanisms through which extradyadic stress from daily hassles can have individual
and relational eﬀects in couples. STM argues that it is not just major stressful events external to
the couple that can have negative eﬀects on individuals and relationships but that it is also the
extradyadic stress from daily hassles, whose potential harmful eﬀects are often underestimated,
that can also contribute directly and indirectly to deteriorate each partner’s individual physical
and psychological health and the couple’s relationship. Unlike previous studies, the model tested
in this study included both individual and relational outcomes as well as indicators of both,
psychological and physical functioning. Results from the test of this model are consistent with
many of STM predictions and can inform assessment and treatment in couples’ therapy.
Findings have to be considered in light of the fact that women in this study reported to experi-
ence more stress and poorer psychological and physical well-being than their partners, which is in
line with gender diﬀerences found in past studies (Bouchard & Shih, 2013; Kiecolt-Glasser &
Newton, 2001; Neﬀ& Karney, 2005; Zwicker & DeLongis, 2010). Compared to their male part-
ners, women reported higher levels of extradyadic stress from daily hassles and intradyadic stress
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 9
from relationship problems as well more symptoms of depression and anxiety. Nonetheless,
women still reported to be as equally satisﬁed with their couple’s relationship as their partners did.
According to STM, the external stress from daily hassles decrease partners’ satisfaction with
their relationship not only directly but also indirectly by having negative eﬀects on the individual
psychological and physical health as well as by increasing the intradyadic stress from relation-
ship problems. When all factors involving individual and relational outcomes were considered,
there was no evidence of a direct association between daily hassles stress and relationship satis-
faction. The absence of such a direct link diﬀers from Ledermann, Bodenmann, Rudaz, and
Bradbury (2010) ﬁnding in their study, which may be suggesting that any seemingly direct asso-
ciation between stress from daily hassles and relationship satisfaction may not be signiﬁcant
once more mediating mechanisms such as changes in psychological well-being (which was not
part of Ledermann, Bodenmann, Rudaz, & Bradbury model) are included.
Nonetheless, our results did support STM’s proposition of an indirect association between
extradyadic stress from daily hassles and relationship satisfaction for both partners with intrady-
adic stress mediating the association. In other words, for both partners, the stress that each of them
experienced from daily hassles was related to experiencing more intradyadic stress, which in turn
was associated with lower relationship satisfaction. Additionally, each partner’s intradyadic stress
had not only direct but also indirect eﬀects on their own relationship satisfaction through increases
in their symptoms of depression. For men, increased symptoms of depression also mediated the
daily hassles stress—relationship satisfaction negative association. In addition to these actor
eﬀects, partner eﬀects were found for both extra- and intradyadic stress for women. Their daily
hassles stress was related directly with increases in the male intradyadic stress and indirectly with
decreases in the male relationship satisfaction (through both partners’ intradyadic stress), whereas
the female intradyadic stress was positively related to the male relationship satisfaction.
This set of ﬁndings suggests that stress from daily hassles does have an eﬀect on intradyadic
stress and on relationship satisfaction. Nonetheless, the gender diﬀerences found in partner eﬀects
may be suggesting that women’s stress from both sources, external and internal to the relationship
pose more risks for the couple’s sense of satisfaction with their relationship. One possible explana-
tion for this gender diﬀerence is that women tend to communicate about their stress to their part-
ners more openly and explicitly than men do (Neﬀ& Karney, 2005), and therefore, their stress
levels may increase the stress stemming from the couple’s problems not only for them but also for
their male partners (Taylor, 2011; Taylor et al., 2000). Similarly, women may communicate their
stress from relationship problems more frequently and openly than men do, which may contribute
to more relationship dissatisfaction in men as well. Another possibility is that men may respond
more negatively and less supportively to their partner’s stress than women do, which may contrib-
ute to conﬂict in the relationship. A study by Neﬀand Karney (2005) using observational and
diary data from 169 couples revealed that on more stressful days women tended to provide more
support, whereas men, even though they provided support, also increased the negative behaviors
toward their partners such as criticizing, blaming the partner or providing inconsiderate advice.
Men’s negative behaviors in response to their partner’s stress may increase conﬂict and lead to
intradyadic stress and relationship dissatisfaction.
Interestingly, for both men and women, their external stress from daily hassles was related
directly to increased anxiety and deterioration of physical well-being but neither of these two
changes at the individual level related to changes in either intradyadic stress or relationship satis-
faction. When all results are considered together, it seems that, in terms of direct eﬀects, for both
partners extradyadic stress is associated with anxiety and physical well-being, whereas intradyadic
stress with depression and relationship satisfaction. These results might be suggesting diﬀerent
individual and relational eﬀects of stress depending on whether the stress originates within or
outside the dyad. Even though further studies should examine this possibility, in the meantime our
results indicate that it might be important to discriminate between intra- and extradyadic stress
and between depressive and anxiety symptoms when studying stress processes in couples.
In sum, results in the present study replicated the ﬁnding from two previous studies that extra-
dyadic stress from daily hassles has an indirect actor eﬀect on relationship satisfaction through
increased intradyadic stress. Unlike previous studies, it was found that (a) the female extra- and in-
tradyadic stress has a negative partner eﬀect on relationship satisfaction, (b) the mediating role of
10 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
intradyadic stress was present above and beyond the negative eﬀects of daily hassles stress on
psychological and physical well-being and (c) symptoms of depression mediated the negative
association between daily hassles stress and relationship satisfaction for men as well as the associa-
tion between intradyadic stress and relationship satisfaction for both partners.
Despite the direction of relationships proposed by STM, the cross-sectional nature of the data
used in this study prevents us from drawing any deﬁnite conclusions about causal direction. Our
results can only be viewed as consistent and therefore, supportive, of the STM propositions but
they cannot rule out the possibility that other models may also ﬁt the data acceptably.
This study has also relied on self-report instruments, which may have introduced a social
desirability bias in the data. Besides, reliance on self-report measures may have inﬂated relations
among stress, individual physical and psychological well-being, and relationship satisfaction. It is
also important to caution about the generalizability of the present ﬁndings as they may be related
to the use of a convenience sample and the relatively high level of individual psychological and
physical health and relationship satisfaction of the couples that participated in this study.
Implications for the STM Model
There are some important implications for STM that can be derived from the present study’s
ﬁndings. First, STM is not speciﬁc regarding potential gender diﬀerences and similar eﬀects of
stress on couple’s functioning are assumed. Our ﬁndings suggest that a more gender-speciﬁc for-
mulation is necessary in a revision of STM. Second, STM proposes that eﬀects of extradyadic
stress on relationship satisfaction are mediated by deterioration in psychological functioning with-
out formulating any speciﬁc manifestation of psychological problems (e.g., depression or anxiety
symptoms). Nonetheless, our ﬁndings suggest that the model could be advanced by incorporating
more speciﬁc formulations about the facets of psychological well-being that may be involved in the
ways that stress aﬀects individuals and their romantic relationships. Third, even though physical
well-being was not found to mediate the daily hassles stress-relationship satisfaction link in this
study, its potential mediating role should be reexamined in future studies. It is possible that more
severe physical symptoms related to serious medical conditions or physical problems might play
such a role. Unlike the minor physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, backaches) measured in this
study, more critical physical conditions can aﬀect sensitive domains of the couple such as sexuality,
mobility, etc., and therefore, they may aﬀect partners’ relationship satisfaction (Bouras, Vanger, &
Implications for Marriage and Family Therapists
Findings from the present study also advance our understanding about stress processes in the
context of couples’ relationships by providing more information about the way in which stress
from daily hassles may aﬀect partners individually and in their relationships. If stress from daily
hassles is likely to directly increase anxiety, deteriorate physical health and, raise intradyadic stress
(e.g., arguments) but indirectly decrease partners’ relationship satisfaction; then, couples’ thera-
pists should routinely assess not only for the presence of major external stressors but also for part-
ners’ stress levels associated with daily hassles, their eﬀect on individual and relationship
functioning, and partners’ individual and dyadic coping skills to handle such stress. Even though
couple therapists in general will gather information about the couple’s context and will ask about
coping strategies in the presence of major external stressors (e.g., death, moving, medical diagno-
sis), very rarely do they assess the impact of daily hassles on partners’ individual emotional and
physical health and their relationship. Nonetheless, our ﬁndings indicate that assessing for the
presence of daily hassles and their individual and relational eﬀects is necessary and that those
eﬀects should never be underestimated. Furthermore, the STM model and the ﬁndings from the
present study are reminders for clinicians of the interdependence between partners’ stress pro-
cesses. The present study also suggests that special attention should be given to partner eﬀects
when it is the woman that reports experiencing either stress from daily hassles or intradyadic stress
as it has eﬀects not only on her relationship satisfaction but also on her partner’s.
JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 11
The assessment for the presence and eﬀects of extradyadic stress from daily hassles and
intradyadic stress can be conducted by asking partners directly about their level of stress
and its eﬀects on themselves, their partners, and their couple’s relationship or by having
partners complete self-report instruments such as the one used in this study. Given that our
ﬁndings suggest that anxiety symptoms are not associated with intradyadic stress but with
stress from daily hassles and depression symptoms are, the presence of anxiety and/or
depression symptoms in either partner might guide the clinician’s assessment. This assessment
can easily be incorporated at the beginning of any MFT treatment model and will enhance
the clinician’s understanding of the couple’s context of interaction and of contributing factors
to symptoms of anxiety and lower physical well-being. Moreover, reducing daily hassles or
coping with them eﬀectively so that they do not spill into the couple’s relationship or deteri-
orate partners’ individual well-being may become the goal of therapy.
In cases where reducing daily hassles and/or improving individual and dyadic coping skills to
deal with such hassles become the goals of treatment, interventions to reach those goals will be
shaped largely by the MFT model used by the couple therapist. Addressing the way in which each
of the available MFT models may conceptualize and address stress and coping processes is beyond
the scope of this article. Nonetheless, as an illustration, in cognitive behavioral couples’ therapy
(CBCT; Epstein & Baucom, 2002), communication skills training can be used to improve partners’
ability to communicate about their daily hassles stress to each other and enhance understanding of
each other’s stress experience. In CBCT, the therapist may discuss with each partner eﬀective and
ineﬀective ways of handling stress from daily hassles individually and the impact of those strategies
on the other partner and their relationship. In addition, CBCT can help partners improve their
dyadic coping skills by focusing on the ways that each partner provides practical (e.g., suggesting
solutions) and/or emotional (e.g., empathic understanding) support to help the other partner cope
and the conjoint coping strategies (e.g., relaxing together, discussing solutions for reducing daily
hassles) that the couple relies on to face stress from daily hassles together.
Considering the associations of daily hassles stress with individual and relational functioning,
couple therapy interventions aimed at improving coping with daily hassles stress may have a bene-
ﬁcial eﬀect not only on partners’ relationship but also on their individual psychological health. In
fact, a recent review of research on the treatment of couple distress published in the Journal of
Marital and Family Therapy (Lebow, Chambers, Christensen, & Johnson, 2012) included a recent
randomized clinical trial (Bodenmann et al., 2008) that had found that coping-oriented couple
therapy, a CBCT-based approach with special emphasis on coping skills, was as eﬀective as inter-
personal psychotherapy and individual cognitive behavioral therapy in reducing symptoms of
depression and increasing relationship satisfaction and had the lowest relapse rates of depression
compared to the other two treatments.
In addition to informing therapy, our ﬁndings may contribute to the development of preven-
tive and intervention eﬀorts at a programmatic level. Programs should be directed at sensitizing
couples to the harmful eﬀects of extradyadic stress from daily hassles on the individual and the
couple’s relationship. A thorough description of preventive and intervention eﬀorts to improve
individual and dyadic coping strategies is beyond the scope of the present article, but examples of
such interventions can be found in the couples coping enhancement training (CCET; Bodenmann
& Shantinath, 2004) designed to help couples cope with stress.
Implications for Research
Future studies should test the full STM model with longitudinal data to provide support for
the direction of causal relationships proposed by STM. These studies should continue collecting
data from both partners and apply an APIM approach so that actor and partner eﬀects can be
analyzed and controlled for and gender diﬀerences can be examined. Future studies should also
diﬀerentiate between extra- and intradyadic stress as they may have diﬀerent eﬀects on the individ-
ual and the couple’s relationship. To strengthen the external validity of the results from the present
study and of the STM, future studies should be conducted not only with community but also clini-
cal samples and should include other ethnic populations. Ideally, future studies should seek to
assess individual and relational outcomes through brief self-report questionnaires and through
physiological, observational, and diary measures.
12 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY
Findings from the present study contribute to our understanding about stress processes in the
context of couples’ relationships by identifying some of the mediating mechanisms through which
stress may aﬀect partners individually and in their relationship. Our ﬁndings lend further support
to the STM model and highlight the importance of examining the eﬀects of daily hassles stress not
only on each partner’s individual psychological and physical well-being but also on their relation-
ship as this source of extradyadic stress has the potential of increasing intradyadic stress and even-
tually relationship dissatisfaction. Our results can guide future research and clinical work.
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