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Journal of Psychology in Africa
ISSN: 1433-0237 (Print) 1815-5626 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpia20
Effective interactions: Communication and high
levels of marital satisfaction
Kobus du Plooy & Ronél de Beer
To cite this article: Kobus du Plooy & Ronél de Beer (2018) Effective interactions: Communication
and high levels of marital satisfaction, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 28:2, 161-167, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2018.1435041
Published online: 14 May 2018.
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Journal of Psychology in Africa, 2018
Vol. 28, No. 2, 161–167, https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2018.1435041
© 2018 Africa Scholarship Development Enterprize
Journal of Psychology in Africa is co-published by NISC (Pty) Ltd and Informa UK Limited (trading as Taylor & Francis Group)
Of all the significant relationships in the lives of human-
beings, the marital relationship remains one of the most
prevalent and important to their well-being (Bloch, Haase,
& Levenson, 2014). This is partly explained by the fact
that an optimal marital relationship not only fulfils a
need for bonding. Additionally, a marital relationship
is characteristically an intimate, trusting relationship
where married couples love and care for each other,
and which creates a profound sense of connection and
belonging (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2014; Compton,
2005; Hindman, 2015). Marital satisfaction refers to “the
degree to which an individual’s needs, expectations, and
desires are being satisfied in their marriage – a subjective
condition which can only be described by the individual
spouse, an individual’s personal overall evaluation of his
or her marriage” (Erhabor & Ndlovu, 2013, p. 5 487).
Married couples, who share mutual high levels of marital
satisfaction, report lower levels of stress, are better able
to cope with adverse living conditions, and tend to have
higher levels of social support as compared to divorced
individuals (Canel, 2013; Shoko, 2011). Additionally,
marital satisfaction strongly correlates with physical
health and personal well-being; for example it has been
found that married South African women have a mortality
advantage over single, widowed, and divorced females
(Iafrate, Bertoni, & Donate, 2013; Shoko, 2011).
Effective marital communication skills positively
correlate with marital satisfaction and are considered to be
of great importance to happily married couples (Brown &
Brown, 2002; Carroll, Hill, Yorgason, Larson, & Sandberg,
2013; Eğeci & Gençöz, 2006; Vorster, 1981; Malouff,
Mundy, Galea & Bothma, 2015). A possible explanation
for this may be that factors such as love, commitment, and
trust are expressed to the other party by means of various
modes of communication (Stearns, 2014).
Alternatives to the heterosexual marital relationship
that are commonly found in societies also include (but are
not limited to) cohabitating heterosexual relationships,
same-sex relationships, same-sex marriages, and
polyamory (Light & Omori, 2013). The choice of which
of the aforementioned relationship options (or potential
others) individuals may choose to engage in with a life
partner, may be inuenced by a multitude of factors such
as their personal orientation towards marriage. Since so
many alternatives exist, it would be nearly impossible to
evaluate all of them for the purpose of a single study.
Marital dissatisfaction is a major cause for divorce
(Li & Fung, 2011). This is also true in the South African
context. According to the Annual Report of the Department
of Justice there was a 28% increase of divorces between
2012 and 2013, while the number of newly registered
marriages had declined during this period (Statistics
South Africa, 2012). Fincham, Stanley, and Beach (2007)
reported that too much research emphasis has been placed
on marital conict. There is need for a scoping review to
summarise the evidence on communication aspects that
are important for promoting marital satisfaction among
couples. As such, this rapid review aimed to summarise
preeminent research on aspects of communication which
relate to high levels of marital satisfaction. A rapid
systematic review aims to provide a summary of what
Effective interactions: Communication and high levels of marital satisfaction
Kobus du Plooy1,* and Ronél de Beer2
1Institute of Psychology & Well-being (IPW), School for Psychosocial Health, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus,
2Community Psychosocial Health (COMPRES), School for Psychosocial Health, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus,
*Corresponding author email: Kobus.email@example.com
Of all the significant relationships in the lives of human-beings, the marital relationship remains one of the most
central and important to their well-being. For this rapid review the authors accessed four online databases (PsycINFO,
PsychARTICLES, JSTOR Journals, and ScienceDirect) to examine the evidence on aspects of communication which
contribute to high levels of marital satisfaction and to synthesise these findings. The search yielded 103 unique articles,
of which 15 were ultimately included. Principal results found the following activities to relate to high marital satisfaction:
1) communication activities such as engaging in small talk and providing verbal and non-verbal messages of affection;
2) “positive” exchanges which include any interactions perceived by both parties as constructive; 3) effective conflict
management including the use of responses of recalibration and reaffirmation (R-R response), the use of we-pronouns, and
the Listener-Speaker technique; 4) possessing and implementing effective communication skills such as using “I” instead
of “you” messages; and 5) using “positive” communication skills such as clarification to elicit “positive” affect such as
feeling understood. The evidence suggests that mental health professionals working with married couples should seek to
promote quality dyadic communication as part of treatment interventions.
Keywords: communication, marital satisfaction, marital therapy, rapid review
du Plooy & de Beer
is already known about a particular topic, but does so
within a shorter format (Grant & Booth, 2009) with the
aim of providing guidelines to practitioners in the eld
(Schünemann & Moja, 2015).
For the present review, we retrieved articles from the
following databases: PsycINFO, PsychARTICLES,
JSTOR Journals, and ScienceDirect. The search was
independently performed by both researchers and a North-
West University librarian, who was consulted to assist
in the process. According to Grant and Booth (2009)
the techniques which may be applied to shorten the
timescale in a rapid review include the utilisation of less
sophisticated and more restricted search strategies, as was
done in this case.
The following keywords were used in the search:
(communicat*) OR (interact*) OR (listen*) AND (marital
satisfaction) OR (marital well-being) OR (marital quality)
OR (marital happiness) AND marriage. NOT child* OR
adolescent. Keywords were also followed by an asterisk
(*), which allowed the search engine to include different
variations of the keyword, therefore ensuring that all
relevant data could be extracted. Boolean operators such
as AND, OR, and NOT were also used to help clarify the
Articles relating to communication and high levels of
marital satisfaction from peer reviewed journals extracted
met the following inclusion criteria: entries from 2005
until 2015; articles that focused on high marital satisfaction
and communication skills; participants aged 18 years and
older; full text peer reviewed articles; articles written in
English; articles which reported on primary empirical data;
only articles where quantitative measures were used to
research marital satisfaction and communication skills; and
only articles which included sample sizes of eight or more.
Articles published before 2005, published in
conference proceedings, and reviews which utilised
mixed-method approaches were excluded. In addition,
the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
guidelines (NICE, 2012) were utilised for study quality
control. Furthermore, the authors further applied a Cohan’s
Kappa rating for inter-researcher consensus agreement on
studies that were included for the analysis. Only studies
with a substantial coder agreement of at least 0.7 were
included (see also Viera & Garret, 2005). The search
initially yielded 103 articles, of which 15 were nally
included. Figure 1 presents the search strategy approach
and inclusion/exclusion criteria. Table 1 provides a
summary of the 15 included articles.
For the summary of findings, the authors utilised thematic
analysis for systematic literature reviews recommended
by Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, and Sutton
(2005). Accordingly, the following steps were followed:
prominent themes were first identified after which findings
of different studies were summarised under thematic
headings (Dixon-Woods et al., 2005).
Results and discussion
The following themes emerged from the included articles:
communication activities; positive exchanges; effective
interaction during conflict; essential communication
skills; and communication skills in relation to affect. These
themes and related studies are discussed below.
Four studies refer to both communication behaviour and
activities interchangeably, which relate to high marital
satisfaction (Dainton, 2015; Thompson-Hayes & Webb,
2008; Weger, 2005; Zarch, Marashi, & Raji, 2014).
Findings suggest married couples to utilise enacted
communication behaviour in order to assist them in
maintaining a positive interpersonal relationship. This
includes the following activities: having fun and being
playful; verbal and non-verbal expressions of affection;
spending time together; talking every day; encouraging
each other; displaying caring gestures; and avoiding
behaviour which may potentially irritate the other party
(Thompson-Hayes & Webb, 2008). Communication
activities such as small talk, giving support, and gaining
compliance were also reported to be related to relationship
satisfaction (Weger, 2005). The same results emerged in
another study which reported that spending more time
together also led to the opportunity to talk more regularly
(Zarch et al., 2014).
Four studies reported “positive” communication exchanges
between married couples to enhance marital satisfaction
(Cornelius & Alessi, 2007; Hanzal & Segrin, 2009;
Johnson, Cohan, Davila, Lawrence, Rogge, Karney, &
Bradbury, 1995; Verhofstadt, Buysse, Ickes, De Clercq,
& Peene, 2005). According to these studies “positive”
exchanges generally refer to any interactions between
Electronic databases searched
PsycINFO (n = 72)
PsycARTICLES (n = 18)
JSTOR Journals (n = 8)
ScienceDirect (n = 5)
Excluded n = 60
Titles screened for relevance
n = 103
Excluded n = 23
Abstracts screened for relevance
n = 43
Excluded n = 5
Full text screened for quality
n = 20
Final number of studies included
n = 15
Figure 1. Search flow chart
Communication and high marital satisfaction 163
Table 1. Data extraction from articles included in the study
Study, methodology & aim Sample characteristics and measurements Core findings
To examine the difference in trajectories
of women’s marital quality over the life
10 waves of data from the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979, born
between 1957 and 1964
N = 2 604.
Annual questionnaires between 1979 and
Results emphasise the fundamental
contribution of demographic and
socio-economic characteristics on
To examine the degree to which both
positive and negative maintenance
communication predict marital
N = 90 in interracial marriages, who were
recruited via SurveyMonkey’s audience
53 males and 36 females, one participant
failed to report sex. The average age of
participants was 44.9 years old.
One relational partner completed an
online survey. Norton’s Quality Marriage
Index was used to measure satisfaction,
maintenance and commitment. Stafford
and Canary’s six-item commitment scale
was used to measure commitment
Results indicated that 52% of variance
in satisfaction was predicted by four
Bloch et al., 2014.
To study the relationship between marital
satisfaction and emotion regulation.
82 middle aged, married couples, USA.
3 waves of data obtained from a set of
questionnaires and laboratory studies over
the course of a 13-year longitudinal study.
Wives benefited from down-regulating
negative emotions when in a conflict
situation, which points to the constructive
communication used by wives as a
Zarch, et al., 2014.
To examine various components of
emotional intelligence and its relationship
to marital satisfaction as observed in three
different economic classes.
159 Isfahanian couples.
Bar-on Emotional Intelligence (1997) and
Enrich Marital Satisfaction (1989).
Across all classes general mood was seen
to be the most effective factor for changing
To examine the extent to which the use of
various response strategies relates to levels
of marital quality and work-family life
154 couples in the United States aged 20
Two response strategies, namely:
the denial-distortion response and
significantly related to work-family life
Lavner & Bradbury, 2010.
To test three distinct hypotheses.
464 newlywed spouses (5 trajectory
groups were identified)
8 self-report of satisfaction, laboratory
sessions and interviews over 4 years.
Distinct patterns were identified regarding
To examine whether highly satisfied
couples also have high rates of
forgiveness, as reported by themselves.
Three couples that have married, divorced,
and remarried the same partner.
60-item Enright Forgiveness Inventory
(EFI) and the Spanier Dyadic Adjustment
Forgiveness was found to be a primary
factor in high marital satisfaction and
served as a differentiating factor for
Hanzal & Segrin, 2009.
To investigate the role of negative affect
and conflict styles on marital satisfaction
as found in newly wedded couples.
194 couples who have been married 1.61
years on average.
Positive and Negative Affect Scale
(PANAS); Conflict Resolution Styles
Inventory (CRSI); and the Marital Quality
This study emphasised the impact of
communication processes in marital
relationships on a dyadic level. Negative
affectivity was found to be related to one’s
own marital satisfaction.
Lawrence et al., 2008.
To study the interactive behaviour that
emerges at the start of relationships and
how these behaviours predict patterns of
101 couples aged 18 to 55.
Questionnaires including the Marital
Adjustment Test (MAT) and the
Relationship Domains Inventory (RDI), as
well as laboratory sessions.
Couple behaviours were related to initial
rates and levels of change in satisfaction,
emphasising the unique contributions
of various relational skills on the
development of the marital relationship.
Thompson-Hayes & Webb, 2008.
To investigate the agreement between the
conceptualisation of commitment theory
of marital commitment and marital dyads’
17 marital dyads, mean age 50 years old;
17 in-depth semi-structured interviews
Strong support was found for the
conceptualisation of communication
maintenance behaviour (the extent to
which marital dyads successfully employ
specific interaction activities to sustain,
repair and redefine their relationship).
du Plooy & de Beer
married couples which are perceived by both members to
be constructive and effective. Hanzal and Segrin (2009)
emphasise the importance and implications of partners
engaging in such “positive” exchanges, in order to enhance
Effective interactions during conflict
Six studies reported on the significance of effective
communication in reframing conflict situations (Bloch et
al., 2014; Cornelius & Alessi, 2007; Dainton 2015; Hanzal
& Segrin, 2009; Simmons, Gordon, & Chambless, 2005;
Yoshimura, 2013); including the responses of recalibration
and reaffirmation (R-R response), using we-pronouns,
and the Listener-Speaker technique (Cornelius & Alessi,
2007; Simmons et al., 2005; Yoshimura, 2013). Responses
of R-R refer to an attitude change which focuses on the
optimistic perspectives of the relevant tensions. The use
of the R-R response was significantly related to a lower
level of overall work-family conflict. Marital partners who
made use of the technique, whereby they framed conflict in
an optimistic perspective, found their marital relationship
to be attributed with pleasant affect (Yoshimura, 2013).
Findings suggest the use of we-focused pronouns to be
associated with marital satisfaction with effective problem-
solving (Simmons et al., 2005). Other communication
skills found to be related to high marital satisfaction during
conflict situations include active engagement, constructive
communication, communication skill, down-regulation of
negative emotions, and effective problem solving (Bloch
et al., 2014; Dainton, 2015; Hanzal & Segrin, 2009;
Yoshimura, 2013). Married couples found it easier to
manage tensions in their relationships when they were able
to actively engage with each other and gain some sense of
control over the stressor (Yoshimura, 2013).
Essential communication skills
Three studies reported couples with essential
communication skills to have high marital satisfaction
(Lawrence, Pederson, Bunde, Barry, Brock, Fazio, &
Dzankovic, 2008; Simmons et al., 2005; Verhofstadt et al.,
2005). These essential skills refer to a number of specific
communication skills. Firstly, the use of the “I” pronoun
was seen to have a particularly beneficial effect, since
the partners who utilised this pronoun reported higher
levels of marital satisfaction (Simmons et al., 2005).
Secondly, couples providing mutual validation (agreeing,
approving, accepting responsibility, and complying);
facilitation (assent and affectionate touch); emotional
support (expressing care, reassuring, consolidation, and
understanding); and instrumental support (suggesting
a specific plan, offering assistance, and constructive
feedback) were all reported to contribute to marital
Study, methodology & aim Sample characteristics and measurements Core findings
Cornelius & Alessi, 2007.
To experimentally investigate the Speaker-
Listener technique on marital satisfaction
and communication behaviour while
couples discuss a topic within or outside
Self-report measures: Marital Adjustment
Test (MAT); direct behaviour
observational data-interaction Coding
System, plus heart rate monitors to record
The Speaker-Listener technique was found
to reduce negativity but did not increase
positivity during marital interactions.
Johnson et al., 2005.
To examine the predictive power of
specific skills and affective expressions
on marital satisfaction as coded from
problem-solving interactions between
172 newlywed couples from Los Angeles.
Interactions were examined in relation
to 8-wave, 4-year trajectories of marital
A robust interaction was found between
negative skill and positive affect.
Verhofstadt, et al., 2005
To study the similarities and differences
that emerged in couples’ interaction
behaviour and interaction-based cognitions
in both conflict and support interactions.
53 Belgian couples.
Laboratory experiments (marital
interaction Coding System. IV); self-report
measures; Dyadic Adjustment Scale
(DAS) and online cognition by means of a
7-point rating scale.
Substantial similarities and differences
were found between conflict and support
To investigate the relationship between
self-verification and communication in
53 couples, USA.
Communication Patterns Questionnaire
(CPQ); Feelings of Understanding/
Misunderstanding Scale (FUMS); and
Quality Marriage Index (QMI).
Gender differences were observed by
the degree to which self-verification
influences marital satisfaction. When one
partner withdraws from conflict the other
partner feels less validated.
Simmons et al., 2005.
To determine whether the number of ‘self’
and ‘other’ pronouns used during problem-
solving discussions were indicative of
59 couples, where one spouse in each
couple had a psychiatric diagnosis.
The Kategoriensystem Fur
Partnerschaftliche Interaktion (KPI) was
used to code dyadic interactions.
Text analysis was carried out using the
LIWC computer system program, Dyadic
Adjustment Scale (DAS).
The use of rst-person singular pronouns
had a positive association with marital
Table 1. Data extraction from articles included in the study (cont.)
Communication and high marital satisfaction 165
satisfaction. Utilising these classes of behaviours in
support and conflict interactions were found to increase
the recipient’s level of marital satisfaction (Verhofstadt
et al., 2005). As indicated, validation can also be utilised
in conflict situations; therefore, this can also fall under
the theme of effective conflict interaction. Thirdly,
interactional skills as well as communication and conflict
management (as indicated at the time when partners got
married) predicted early marital satisfaction (Lawrence et
Communication skills in relation to affect
Two studies considered the importance of focusing on
skill and affect in the communication process in order to
improve marital satisfaction (Johnson et al., 2005; Lavner
& Bradbury, 2010). Specifically, the communication effect
on a partner depends on how it is said (skill and affect
codes) rather than the mere content of it (Johnson et al.,
2005). Affect codes of the “how” part of communication
may be “positive” (such as humour and interest) or
“destructive” (such as anger and sadness). Skills codes
can be “positive” (such as clarification and agreement)
and “destructive” (such as devaluations and disagreements
during problem-solving interactions) (Johnson et al.,
Previous research found “positive” and “negative”
affect codes and “positive” and “negative” skills codes to
predict rates and levels of change in marital satisfaction
(Johnson et al., 2005). These “positive” skills and affect
codes include the expression of affection, interest/
enthusiasm, and humour. “Positive” skills and affects may
eradicate the “otherwise detrimental effects observed when
high levels of negative skills and low levels of positive
skills are delivered with little positive affect” (Johnson et
al., 2005, p. 25).
These ndings are consistent with those of related
studies done in South Africa that also found related
communication skills, such as collaborative conict
management and positive communication relations, to be
strong predictors of high marital satisfaction (Erhabor &
Ndlovu, 2013; Greeff & De Bruyne, 2000). However, these
studies did not meet the inclusion criteria of the present
rapid review and were therefore not included.
Implications for practice
The findings from this rapid review highlighted the
important role of the “how” rather than the “what” of
communication and constructive interactions during
conflict situations in promoting high levels of marital
satisfaction. This information may be used by professionals
when treating couples to promote their marital satisfaction
by emphasising effective communication with an emphasis
on the “how” as part of treatment interventions.
The ndings indicate the importance of communication
activities such as frequent talking, spending time together,
and supporting each other to promote high levels of marital
satisfaction. One explanation for this may be that married
couples’ cognitive appraisal of the time spent together in
joint activities is seen as an investment that a partner is
making in the marriage. This investment is then likely
to be seen as a form of conrmation, which will result
in an experience of higher subjective levels of marital
satisfaction (Johnson & Anderson, 2013). Furthermore,
effective communication exchanges result in so-called
“positive sentiment override.” Weiss (1980) originally
coined the term which states that if couples have an overall
content and salient relationship, they may be inclined to
overlook detrimental elements when confronted with
a conict interaction. In such instances, so to speak, the
advantages of remaining in the relationship outweigh the
The ndings also highlight the importance of
“positive” interactions during conflict situations.
Specically, displaying “positive” interactions in conict
situations related to high levels of marital satisfaction,
most likely through mutual attribution of greater
“positive” affect to their relationship (Yoshimura, 2013).
The balance theory (Gottman, 1993, as cited in Doohan,
2013) further proposes that couples can enjoy satisfying
marriages, permitting that their “positive” to “negative”
exchange ratio of communication is 5:1 during conict
situations. Moreover, the expression of accurate empathy
can be associated with “positive” problem solving in
conict situations, as empathic partners are better able
to understand the viewpoint of their partners and are
consequently able to address conict in a more effective,
pro-social manner (Perrone-McGovern, Oliveira-Silva,
Simon-Dack, Lefdahl-Davis, Adams, McConnell, &
Gonçalves, 2014). Thus, communication skills and affect
appear to have a two-way inuence on each other so that
the degree of an individual’s mental health is directly
related to the quality of their interpersonal relationships
Limitations of the study
The findings from this rapid review are limited by the
underrepresentation of studies from the African continent
in which the predominant cultures are strongly paternalistic
and familial. Second, the research sampled studies on
heterosexual partners and therefore findings may be
different with alternative marital types. Nonetheless, we
hope that the findings of this study provide a baseline
summary to benchmark future related studies.
Communication skills play an integral role in married
couples’ levels of marital satisfaction. From this rapid
review, it is clear that effective communication in marital
relationships plays a crucial role in promoting high
levels of marital satisfaction. In addition to effective
communication, other factors such as the quality of time
spent together, optimal problem solving, and conflict
management skills also promote high levels of marital
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