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Objectives Investigations of emotion regulation, which includes both subjective affect and observable behaviors, could benefit from widespread adoption of multi-informant approaches. Currently, informants are infrequently used when studying adults, due to the complexity of interpreting differences among multiple reports. Method To identify factors that predict disagreement between informants, this study evaluated self-reported and partner-reported emotion regulation abilities for each member of 81 adult couples. Ratings of each partner’s perceived stress, symptoms of psychopathology, couple satisfaction, and intimate partner victimization were collected as potential sources of discordance. Results Intrapersonal characteristics appeared to contribute most to diverging reports: women and men experiencing higher stress (and marginally their psychopathology) reported worse emotion regulation abilities in comparison to their partners’ ratings of their abilities, underscoring the value of having multiple reports. Additionally, women’s reports about their partners corresponded with their partners’ self-reports but men’s reports about their partners did not. Men with higher couple satisfaction reported better emotion regulation abilities compared to their partner’s reports. Conclusions More work is needed to understand multi-informant differences in adult reports of psychological functioning.
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1 23
Journal of Child and Family Studies
ISSN 1062-1024
J Child Fam Stud
DOI 10.1007/s10826-019-01401-z
When Couples Disagree: Predicting
Informant Differences in Adults’ Emotion
Regulation
Doris F.Pu, Christina M.Rodriguez &
Levi R.Baker
1 23
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Journal of Child and Family Studies
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01401-z
ORIGINAL PAPER
When Couples Disagree: Predicting Informant Differences in Adults
Emotion Regulation
Doris F. Pu1Christina M. Rodriguez 1Levi R. Baker2
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019
Abstract
Objectives Investigations of emotion regulation, which includes both subjective affect and observable behaviors, could
benet from widespread adoption of multi-informant approaches. Currently, informants are infrequently used when studying
adults, due to the complexity of interpreting differences among multiple reports.
Method To identify factors that predict disagreement between informants, this study evaluated self-reported and partner-
reported emotion regulation abilities for each member of 81 adult couples. Ratings of each partners perceived stress,
symptoms of psychopathology, couple satisfaction, and intimate partner victimization were collected as potential sources of
discordance.
Results Intrapersonal characteristics appeared to contribute most to diverging reports: women and men experiencing higher
stress (and marginally their psychopathology) reported worse emotion regulation abilities in comparison to their partners
ratings of their abilities, underscoring the value of having multiple reports. Additionally, womens reports about their
partners corresponded with their partnersself-reports but mens reports about their partners did not. Men with higher couple
satisfaction reported better emotion regulation abilities compared to their partners reports.
Conclusions More work is needed to understand multi-informant differences in adult reports of psychological functioning.
Keywords Multiple informants Emotion regulation Disagreement Report bias Couples
Emotion regulation is the process by which emotions are
identied, monitored, managed, and modied (Thompson
1994). As a construct, emotion regulation is complex,
incorporating both subjective experience and observable
behaviors (Hourigan et al. 2011). Emotion regulation has
been conceptualized as a general individual trait that is
stable across situations (Eldesouky et al. 2017) and as a
context-specic response tendency that is socially acquired
and mutable (John and Gross 2004). Emotion regulation
abilities are vital across the life-span for dealing with var-
ious emotional states, although normative age changes and
gender differences in strategy usage have been noted
(Zimmermann and Iwanski 2014). Effectively regulating
ones emotions contributes signicantly to emotional
experiences, social relationships, sense of well-being (Gross
and John 2003), and even physical health outcomes such as
cardiovascular risk (Trudel-Fitzgerald et al. 2017). In 2013
alone, over ten thousand studies were published on emotion
regulation (Gross 2015), and more will certainly come. In
light of the popularity of assessing emotion regulation in
recent literature, researchers must increase our under-
standing of the nature of this construct.
Because emotion regulation is thought to include some
observable behaviors that are noticeable to other people,
researchers studying this construct could benet from
adopting a multi-informant approach. The typical multi-
informant approach involves asking multiple people, or
informants, about a target individual; generally, informants
are relatives, peers, or teachers who know the target well
(Kaurin et al. 2016). When couples are involved, a multi-
informant approach could involve individuals rating them-
selves and their partners on a given variable, resulting in
four parallel sets of data when both members of the couple
dyad serve as respondents (Busby and Gardner 2008).
*Christina M. Rodriguez
cmrpsych@uab.edu
1Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at
Birmingham, 1720 2nd Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA
2University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC,
USA
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1234567890();,:
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Although using parent informants to collect data on
children and adolescents is considered the gold standard
(Renk 2005), using partner informants is far less common
when assessing adults, with the exception of adults whose
self-reports are deemed questionable due to psychosis,
cognitive limitations, substance use/abuse, forensic or legal
issues, or serious mental illness (Achenbach et al. 2005).
Self and partner ratings are most often gathered in studies of
intimate couples to examine concordance or divergence in
partnersbehaviors or opinions, such as for alcohol and
tobacco use (Machado et al. 2017), physical health status
(Wolinsky et al. 2016), or sexual dysfunction and dis-
satisfaction (Gungor et al. 2015). Personality traits have also
been widely evaluated using multiple informant reports
(Costa et al. 2018). However, relying exclusively on adults
self-reports remains the dominant method of assessment in
personality research and clinical assessment (van der Ende
et al. 2012; Vazire 2006). Additionally, it remains unclear
whether constructs that involve internal experiences, such
as emotion regulation, can be adequately assessed via
observer ratings.
Yet, researchers and clinicians alike recognize the lim-
itations inherent to asking individuals to disclose about
themselves. In the case of youth, many assume that chil-
drens self-reports are compromised because they may be
developmentally unable or unwilling to provide accurate
and meaningful data about themselves (Brener et al. 2003;
Measelle et al. 2005). Similarly, adults are subject to self-
report biases that may result from selective recall, social
desirability, or instrument choice (Möricke et al. 2016), or
simply from limited cognitive capacities for attention and
short-term memory (Avolio et al. 1991). Using an infor-
mant, such as a romantic partner, overcomes this single-
source bias. Informants can also capture behaviors that
occur in different situations or settings (Dirks et al. 2012),
which increases predictive ability (De Los Reyes et al.
2015) and clinical utility (Dirks et al. 2012). Lastly, using
multiple informants is advantageous at a practical level, as it
is more time-efcient, user-friendly, and cost-effective than
other methods such as structured interviews or direct
behavioral observations (Möricke et al. 2016). Given the
many factors that could bias individualsself-reports, and
the potential for multi-informant approaches to broaden the
available data on an individual, it is worth contemplating
why multiple informants are not used more often when
assessing adults.
Oneobstacletousingamulti-informant approach to
studyemotionregulationamong adults is the strong
likelihood of disagreement between self and informant
reports,whichiscommon(Achenbach2006)andcom-
plicates theoretical and statistical interpretation of their
reports (Kraemer et al. 2003). One must decide whose
report will be relied upon in the event of disagreements,
and in which situations (Rodriguez et al. 2016). Indivi-
dualsreports may differ in their predictive power (Loeber
et al. 1990), complicating decision-making in clinical
practice settings (De Los Reyes et al. 2013). Although
clinical decisions for children rely more on parent-
provided information than childrens self-report, best
practiceshave yet to be established for adults (De Los
Reyes et al. 2015). Nonetheless, differences between adult
reports are still meaningful in that they convey differences
in informantsperspectives. Thus, in spite of potential
complexities, the wealth of material gained from using
multiple reporters makes this methodological approach
worth exploring.
To address this complexity of interpretation, researchers
need to consider and test why self and partner reports about
constructs such as emotion regulation might diverge (Costa
et al. 2018). Low informant agreement may result in part
from the differing abilities of individuals to perceive a target
behavior (Loeber et al. 1990). In the case of emotion reg-
ulation, ones thoughts or internal emotional states are not
visible to others; even some mood regulation behaviors may
not be readily observed by others (Hourigan et al. 2011).
Furthermore, sociocultural factors such as traditional gender
norms may also inuence how women and men perceive
and report about behaviors and attitudes, such as sexual
activity and satisfaction (Gungor et al. 2015); this may also
apply to the gender-stereotyped domain of emotional
expression and regulation (Zimmermann and Iwanski
2014). Additionally, studies that have examined intimate
partners nd that couples exhibit signs of bias, wherein one
member assumes similarity to their partner, particularly for
constructs that pertain to their relationship (Kenny and
Acitelli 2001). Thus, couples may be motivated to perceive
their partners in a certain light due to the intimate nature of
their relationship.
Differences in opinion also appear to relate to indivi-
dualsunique perspectives and differences in their percep-
tions and goals (De Los Reyes and Kazdin 2005; Dirks et al.
2012), as well as informantsown traits (De Los Reyes et al.
2008). Characteristics such as perceived stress and psy-
chopathology may be particularly impactful, as depression
is thought to distort the depressed individuals perceptions,
as proposed by the depression-distortion hypothesis (De
Los Reyes and Kazdin 2005; Richters and Pellegrini 1989).
Alternatively, depressed individuals are hypothesized to
reect upon themselves more accurately than non-depressed
individuals, who are thought to exhibit a self-afrmation
bias (Moore et al. 2016)a phenomenon termed the
depressive realism hypothesis. Perceptual differences due to
the presence or absence of depressive symptoms may
therefore widen the gap between self- and informant-reports
about ones own or ones partners abilities to regulate
negative emotions.
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In addition to intrapersonal traits, qualities of the rela-
tionship between informants and the target individual may
affect informantsreports, which is particularly relevant in
intimate partner relationships (cf. Keeny and Acitelli 2001).
For instance, relationship qualities such as satisfaction may
shape informantsperceptions of and reports about the
individual due to leniency bias or halo effects, in which
ones ratings about an individuals specic attributes are
based on ones general judgment of that individual (Hoyt
2000). Romantically-involved couples in particular may be
susceptible to sentiment override, the global affection or
disaffection for ones partner or relationship that creates a
perceptual lter (Weiss 1980). Whereas high relationship
satisfaction may contribute to a positive sentiment that
biases informants to rate their partner more positively on
specic dimensions, a detrimental relationship factor such
as experiencing domestic violence victimization might
negatively affect informantsratings of their partner. Thus,
global impressions based on broad relationship factors may
impair accurate ratings of ones partner on specic dimen-
sions. Given that women, but not men, appear to be inu-
enced by their global marital sentiments when evaluating
partnersaffective expressions (Hawkins et al. 2002), gen-
der differences in sentiment override should be examined.
By examining these qualities in relation to informant
reports, researchers can learn about intrapersonal and
interpersonal factors that may affect individualsratings of
themselves and their partners, which may ultimately help
professionals decide whose report to rely on, and when, in
research and clinical settings.
The present study aimed to investigate factors that con-
tribute to differences between self-reported and partner-
reported emotion regulation among adult heterosexual
couples. Each member of the couple reported on their own
and their partners emotion regulation abilities. Each part-
ners personal characteristics, as well as qualities about the
couple relationship, were hypothesized to contribute to
differences in adult couplesopinions of their emotion
regulation abilities. Specically, the current study examined
the inuence of perceived stress, endorsement of symptoms
of psychopathology, relationship satisfaction, and intimate
partner victimization on individualsreports of their own
and their partners emotion regulation abilities. A number of
hypotheses were proposed. First, with regard to intra-
personal qualities, higher perceived personal stress and
more symptoms of psychopathology were expected to be
associated with greater discordance between self-reported
and partner-reported emotion regulation abilities. Second,
with regard to couple-related characteristics, higher intimate
partner victimization and lower relationship satisfaction
were expected to be associated with greater discordance
between self-reported and partner-reported emotion reg-
ulation abilities. Third, concerning the direction of
discordance, self-reports of higher perceived personal stress,
greater symptoms of psychopathology, higher intimate
partner victimization, and lower relationship satisfaction
were expected to be associated with lower self-reports of
emotion regulation abilities relative to partnersreports of
those abilities. Fourth, given the strong gendered norms in
emotional expression and emotion regulation strategies
(Zimmermann and Iwanski 2014), gender differences in
these associations were explored.
Method
Participants
The sample included 81 male-female dyads recruited for a
parenting study of couples raising preschoolers in the
Southeast, U.S. Womens mean age was 33.85 years (SD =
5.20) and mens mean age was 35.99 years (SD =7.35).
Participants self-identied as primarily Caucasian (women,
76.5%; men, 80.2%), followed by African-American
(women, 19.8%; men 18.5%) or Asian (1.2% of both
women and men); in addition, some respondents also
identied as Hispanic/Latino (women, 6.2%; men, 1.2%).
Couples had been in a relationship for 10.40 years (SD =
4.65) on average. For both parents, median educational
level was a 4-year college degree. Parents were raising an
average of two children on a median annual family income
of $65,000. A sensitivity power analysis using APIM Power
(Ackerman and Kenny 2016) conducted after data were
collected revealed that the nal sample size should have
provided adequate power (>.80) to detect small-to-medium-
sized effects (r=.21).
Procedure
Couples were recruited for a larger parenting study, the
Couples Parenting Preschoolers Study,with yers dis-
tributed at relevant locations in the local community,
including day care centers, and through newspaper adver-
tisements. To be eligible to participate in the larger study,
couples had to be married and/or cohabitating parents of a
36-year-old child. Couples interested in participating
phoned the lab to schedule a 90-min in-home session. All
measures were presented electronically on individual laptop
computers and each member of the couple completed their
assessments in separate, private rooms. Participantsindi-
vidual item responses were automatically entered into a
database with a randomly assigned family identication
number to assure parents anonymity in their responding.
Each member reported on their own emotion regulation
abilities rst, followed by four unrelated measures, before
reporting on their partners emotion regulation abilities.
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Each member of the couple received $30 for study parti-
cipation. All procedures in the larger study were approved
by the university institutional review board.
Measures
Emotion regulation
The Negative Mood Regulation Scale (NMRS; Catanzaro
and Mearns 1990) consists of 30 items measuring how
participants believe they manage negative emotions. The
NMRS presents 30 items in which respondents indicate
how well they believe they regulate their distress using
mood regulation strategies. Items are scored on a 5-point
Likert scale, from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly
agree. Items are then summed and oriented so that higher
total scores suggest better regulation of negative emo-
tions. The NMRS demonstrates internal consistency, sta-
bility, and concurrent and predictive validity with
negative affect (Catanzaro and Mearns 1990)andevi-
dences convergent validity with other emotion regulation
measures (Bardeen et al. 2016). In the current study, good
internal consistency was observed for both members of
the couple (womensα=.89; mensα=.88).
A second informant version of the NMRS (Rodriguez
et al. 2016), which presents the NMRS with modied lan-
guage in the items and instructions, was also administered
to each member of the couple. Before each of the 30 items,
each participant was instructed to report on how well they
believe their partner can regulate their distress using mood
regulation strategies; thus, instructions and all items in this
version parallel those on the self-report version using the
same 5-point scale. Higher scores on this Partner NMRS
suggest perception of better emotion regulation ability in
their partner. A similar adaptation for parents to report on
their emerging adult childs emotion regulation ability
(Rodriguez et al. 2016) also demonstrated internal con-
sistency for the emerging adults (α=.90) and their mothers
(α=.88) and fathers (α=.89). The current study also
observed strong reliability for this Partner NMRS version
for both women (α=.94) and men (α=.92).
Intrapersonal functioning
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; Cohen et al. 1983) was
administered to assess participantssense that their lives
have been overwhelming, uncontrollable, or unpredictable
in the past month. Ten items are presented using a 5-point
Likert scale from (1) never to (5) very often. Total scores
are averaged across items, with higher scores indicating
greater perceived stress. The current sample demonstrated
acceptable internal reliability for both women (α=.84) and
men (α=.83).
The Revised Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90-R;
Derogatis 1994) is a measure of a range of mental health
symptoms: somatization, obsessive-compulsive, inter-
personal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, phobic
anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism. Respondents
indicated on a 5-point Likert scale how frequently they have
been bothered by 90 symptoms in the past week, from (0)
not at all to (4) extremely. General symptom distress is the
total sum across symptoms, with higher scores indicative of
greater distress. The SCL-90-R demonstrated strong internal
consistency in this study for both women (α=.93) and men
(α=.92).
Relationship functioning
The Couple Satisfaction Index (CSI; Funk and Rogge
2007) presents items measuring overall relationship
satisfaction; in the current study, 16 items were rated on a
6-point scale, with higher scores indicative of greater
satisfaction. The CSI can discriminate between distressed
and non-distressed relationships. Scores on the CSI are
related to alternative measures of dyadic adjustment and
marital satisfaction (Funk and Rogge 2007). Internal
consistency was high in the current sample for both
women (α=.98) and men (α=.97).
The Revised Conict Tactics Scale Short Form (CTS-
2S; Straus and Douglas 2004) is an abbreviated version of
the Revised Conict Tactics Scales (Straus et al. 1996), a
frequently used measure of intimate partner violence. The
CTS-2S provides a weighted frequency count of how the
couple addresses a wide range of conict strategies
including negotiation, psychological aggression, physical
assault, sexual coercion, and injury. Half of the items
involve perpetration with parallel items addressing vic-
timization. For the present study, the eight items invol-
ving victimization with either psychological or physical
aggression were selected, with higher scores indicative of
greater frequency of psychological and/or physical vic-
timization. The test authors provide evidence of con-
current validity as well as concordance with the longer
version.
Data Analyses
To address the primary research question regarding the
factors that predict differences between self-reported and
partner-reported emotion regulation, the following two-
level model that nested individuals within couples using
HLM 7.01 was estimated following the recommendations of
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Kenny et al. (2006):
Yij Emotion Regulation DiscrepancyðÞ¼
β0ij þβ1ij Perceived StressðÞþβ2ij Mental Health SymptomsðÞ
þβ3ij VictimizationðÞþβ4ij Relationship SatisfactionðÞ
þβ5ij PartnersPerceived StressðÞ
þβ6ij PartnersMental Health SymptomsðÞ
þβ7ij PartnersVictimizationðÞ
þβ8ij PartnersRelationship SatisfactionðÞþrij
ð1Þ
In this model, emotion regulation discrepancy scores were
simultaneously regressed onto participantsself-reported
perceived stress scores, mental health symptoms scores,
victimization scores, and relationship satisfaction scores, as
well as their partners self-reported perceived stress scores,
mental health symptoms scores, victimization scores, and
relationship satisfaction scores in the rst level of the
model. The non-independence of couplesdata was
controlled in the second level of the model with a randomly
varying intercept.
Given that traditional difference scoresin which in
which each persons score is subtracted from their partners
scorehave long been associated with measurement error
and can lead to erroneous conclusions (Cronbach and Furby
1970; Grifn et al. 1999), the current study did not adopt
that approach. Instead, emotion regulation discrepancy
scores were created from a separate analysis that regressed
participantsself-reported emotion regulation ability scores
onto partnersreports of participantsemotion regulation
ability scores. The unstandardized residuals from this ana-
lysis served as the index of the discrepancy between self-
reported and partner-reported emotion regulation, and this
approach is not subject to the same erroneous conclusions
that plague traditional difference score approaches (see
Castro-Schilo and Grimm 2018; Laird and De Los Reyes
2013; Laird and Weems 2011). Such discrepancy scores
may be interpreted in a manner similar to traditional
difference scores, however. Specically, higher discrepancy
values indicate that participantsreports of their own
emotion regulation abilities were greater than their partners
reports of participantsabilities; lower values indicate that
partnersreports of participantsemotion regulation abil-
ities were greater than participantsown reports of their
abilities. Signicant positive associations would indicate
that a given predictor is associated with greater self-
reported emotion regulation abilities, whereas signicant
negative associations would indicate that the predictor is
associated with greater partner-reported emotion regulation
abilities.
Results
Preliminary Analyses
Descriptive statistics and correlations among all variables
appear in Table 1. Mean discrepancies between participants
self-reports and partnersreports of their emotion regulation
abilities were 10.99 for women (SD =19.26) and 6.86 for
men (SD =19.04). No mean gender differences across any
measures were observed (all p> .05). Note that both women
and men viewed their own negative emotion regulation
abilities as stronger than how their emotion regulation
abilities were perceived by their partners (women, t(80) =
3.76, p< .001; men, t(80) =4.73, p< .001). Also note in
Table 1, mens self-reported better emotion regulation was
associated with lower perceived stress, fewer symptoms of
psychopathology, less intimate partner victimization, and
greater relationship satisfaction; womens self-reported
better emotion regulation abilities were also associated
with lower perceived stress and psychopathology but were
not signicantly related to their IPV victimization or couple
satisfaction. Also shown in Table 1, womens self-reported
emotion regulation abilities about themselves were only
Table 1 Means, standard deviations, and correlations among measures
Women
M(SD)
Men
M(SD)
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
1. PSS 2.34 (.51) 2.26 (.51) .43*** .21 .36*** .61*** .18*
2. SCL-90-R 24.78 (20.37) 22.77 (24.14) .58*** .51*** .58*** .56*** .23*
3. CTS-2S 5.75 (8.71) 5.26 (7.24) .36*** .18 .71*** .29** .32**
4. CSI 79.37 (17.06) 80.69 (14.41) .42*** .24* .47*** .49*** .50***
5. Self NMRS 115.41 (13.56) 113.26 (12.75) .44*** .29** .17 .07 .38***
6. Partner NMRS 106.24 (19.59) 104.43 (16.85) .22* .13 .24 .44*** .21
Womens scores below the diagonal; Mens scores above the diagonal
1Perceived Stress Scale, 2Revised Symptom Checklist, 3Conict Tactics Scale-2 Short Form,4Couple Satisfaction Index, 5Negative Mood
Regulation Scale on self emotion regulation abilities, 6Negative Mood Regulation Scale on their partners emotion regulation abilities
*p.05; **p.01; ***p.001
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marginally related to their reports of their partners emotion
regulation abilities (r=.21), but mens self-reported emo-
tion regulation about themselves were signicantly related
to their reports of their partners emotion regulation abilities
(r=.38). Not depicted in the table, womens reports of their
partners emotion regulation abilities were signicantly
related to mens self-reported emotion regulation (r=.37,
p< .001), reecting cross-informant concordance, but
mens reports of their partners emotion regulation abilities
were only marginally related to womens self-reported
emotion regulation (r=.21, p=.057).
Predictor Analyses
Results from the primary analyses are presented in Table 2.
As indicated, greater discordance between participantsself-
reports and their partnersreports of their emotion regula-
tion abilities was signicantly associated with participants
own perceived personal stress and marginally related to
their own mental health symptoms, in support of the rst
hypothesis. An additional supplemental analysis indicated
that participantspersonal stress remained signicant, B=
11.02, SE =2.17, t(69) =5.08, p< .001, r=.52, even
when controlling for participantsage and minority status
and couplesrelationship duration and combined household
income. However, participantspersonal mental health
symptoms were no longer marginally signicant when those
additional variables were included, B=0.10, SE =0.06,
t(69) =1.56, p=.123, r=.18. With regard to the second
hypothesis, couple-related variables were not signicantly
associated with discordance between self-reported and
partner-reported emotion regulation abilities. With regard to
the direction of effects proposed in the third hypothesis,
when participants reported higher perceived personal stress,
they rated their own emotion regulation abilities as sig-
nicantly lower in comparison to their partnersratings of
their abilities. Additionally, when participants reported
more mental health symptoms, they rated their own emotion
regulation abilities as marginally lower in comparison to
their partnersratings of their abilities.
Gender Analyses
Finally, for the fourth research question, further supple-
mental analyses indicated that gender did not moderate the
association between either stress, B=1.82, SE =4.09,
t(66) =0.45, p=.657, r=.05, or mental health symp-
toms, B=0.09, SE =0.11, t(66) =0.83, p=.411, r=.10,
and the difference between self- and partner-reports of
emotion regulation abilities. Similarly, gender did not
moderate any of the null effects with one notable exception
relationship satisfaction, B=0.41, SE =0.16, t(66) =
2.68, p=.009, r=.31. Specically, men who reported
being more satised with their relationship also rated their
own emotion regulation abilities as better, in comparison to
their partnersreports of their abilities, B=0.33, SE =0.13,
t(66) =2.52, p=.014, r=.30. This association was not
observed among women, B=0.09, SE =0.10, t(66) =
0.89, p=.377, r=.11.
Discussion
In order to consider the value of utilizing couplesassess-
ment of their partner, the current investigation evaluated
factors that may inuence adult couplesreports of each
others emotion regulation abilitiesnamely, whether each
partners personal qualities, as well as characteristics about
their relationship, predict discordance between informants.
Results partially supported the hypotheses, demonstrating
that disagreement between partnersreports was largely
attributable to personal characteristics, such as self-reported
stress, and to a lesser extent, endorsement of mental health
symptoms. Although gender differences were observed for
couple satisfaction, disagreement between partnersreports
did not appear to be attributable to other qualities pertaining
to the informantsrelationship, such as intimate partner
victimization.
Participantshigher self-reported stress was associated
with lower self-reported emotion regulation abilities in
comparison to their abilities as rated by their partner, for
both women and men. A similar pattern was suggested by
the trends observed for personal reports of greater psycho-
pathology, which was considered simultaneously with per-
ceived stress, thereby reducing that effect. These ndings
suggest that experiencing stress or distress may skew ones
self-perceptions negatively, consistent with the depression-
Table 2 Effects of perceived stress, mental health symptoms, partner
victimization, and relationship satisfaction on the difference between
personal and partner-reported emotion regulation
BtEffect size
r
Personal PSS 10.57** 4.64 .48
Personal SCL-90R 0.111.72 .20
Personal CTS-2S 0.00 0.03 .00
Personal CSI 0.02 0.21 .02
PartnersPSS 3.02 1.17 .14
PartnersSCL-90R 0.06 1.22 .14
PartnersCTS-2S 0.08 0.63 .07
PartnersCSI 0.14 1.62 .19
PSS Perceived Stress Scale, SCL-90R Revised Symptom Checklist,
CTS-2S Conict Tactics Scale-2 Short Form, CSI Couple Satisfaction
Index
p< .10, *p< .05, **p< .01
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distortion hypothesis (De Los Reyes and Kazdin 2005;
Richters and Pellegrini 1989). Alternatively, these results
may indicate a generalized response bias, reecting a ten-
dency to self-report more negative experiences, rather than
actual negative self-perceptions.
In addition, results indicated that men, but not women,
who expressed higher couple satisfaction believed that their
own emotion regulation abilities were better in comparison
to how their emotion regulation abilities were perceived by
their partners. For men only, being satised with their
couple relationship was associated with more positive self-
perceptions of emotion regulation. These results are con-
sistent with prior research suggesting that men may have a
somewhat stronger positive self-serving bias than women
(Mezulis et al. 2004) and that mens, but not womens,
stronger emotion regulation abilities can buffer their per-
ceived stress to improve their subjective well-being
(Extremera and Rey 2015). Further, high relationship
satisfaction has previously been associated with low emo-
tional reactivity among men but not women (Peleg 2008).
Thus, men reporting higher satisfaction with their relation-
ship may perceive their own emotion regulation abilities to
be better due to their generalized positive internal emotional
experience. Perhaps future research studies that include
mens relationship satisfaction should include an evaluation
of their emotion regulation abilities.
This study contributes to the literature in considering
whether adults can serve as informants regarding their
partnersabilities to regulate their negative emotions.
Results indicated that womens ratings of their partners
corresponded more highly with their partnersself-reports
than did mens ratings of their partners. If higher corre-
spondence between partners reects greater accuracy on the
part of the informant, perhaps women are more experienced
in perceiving othersinternal states or emotion regulation
strategies due to gendered expectations about emotional
attunement or gender differences in emotion socialization
(Zimmermann and Iwanski 2014). Alternatively, mens
emotion regulation behaviors might be more observable to
their partners than womens choice of strategies, allowing
women to report about their partners more readily. Past
research indicates that women reported engaging in more
social support seeking and dysfunctional rumination
whereas men engaged more in passivity, avoidance, and
suppression (Zimmermann and Iwanski 2014). Replication
is needed to elucidate these gender differences. Future
studies could investigate why womens ratings of their
partners are more similar to their partnersself-reports than
are mens ratings of their partners, and whether this gender
difference also exists when couples report on other intra-
personal qualities. This could help inform future researchers
on whether women might be more accurate informants
about their partners in comparison to men.
Limitations
Several limitations are worth noting. First, this study con-
sidered negative mood regulation broadly and did not
consider regulation of positive emotions. This focus on
negative affect states may have inuenced participants
reporting tendencies. In addition, one limitation inherent to
the use of informants is that this data collection strategy still
uses only a single method (Holmbeck et al. 2002). Infor-
mants face many of the same reporting issues (i.e., biases
related to attention, memory, social desirability, etc.) that
are present when one person provides a self-report (Avolio
et al. 1991; Möricke et al. 2016). This problem is especially
true for the subjective, often retrospective data gathered
from questionnaires. Additionally, consensus does not
necessarily denote accuracy (McCrae and Costa 2013); two
raters might agree about a particular behavior if both
endorse a faulty stereotype, such as perceived gender dif-
ferences (Löckenhoff et al. 2014). Ideally, future studies
should consider using multiple informants to evaluate bias
(cf. Stern and West 2018) in conjunction with employing a
variety of methodologies for assessing emotion regulation.
Using more objective measures, such as direct behavioral
observations, experience sampling methods, or analog
tasks, would be advantageous. Nonetheless, assessing
individualsthoughts, feelings, and sense of well-being is
still important to understand subjective experiences and
clarify what contributes to differences of opinion.
Other limitations relate to the current studys sample
characteristics. Participants were largely well-educated with
moderate income levels on average, with lower socio-
economic status backgrounds somewhat less well-
represented. Future studies could draw samples from dif-
ferent socioeconomic status and cultural backgrounds,
which could shed light on the relative effect of intrapersonal
versus relational inuences among various groups. Addi-
tionally, the sample did not include same-sex couples, a
population which could be examined in future research to
further untangle the role of partner gender. Likewise, the
current sample was recruited from the community; current
ndings may not generalize to couples experiencing chal-
lenges with clinical levels of psychopathology or docu-
mented domestic violence. Replication with clinical
populations could prove interesting to determine the degree
to which stress and mental health symptoms impact self-
reported emotion regulation abilities among individuals
with documented psychopathology, who might display
more observable emotion regulation strategies. Finally,
other intrapersonal or interpersonal characteristics that were
not included in the current study might also inuence
concordance between adult informants. Future research
might consider analyzing factors such as self-esteem or
relationship communication. Similarly, conducting
Journal of Child and Family Studies
Author's personal copy
longitudinal studies could provide insight into changes in
informant concordance over time, perhaps as predicted by
changes in relationship qualities or intrapersonal factors.
Overall, the aim of the study was to identify intra-
personal and/or interpersonal qualities that contribute to
differences between adultsself-reported and partner-
reported emotion regulation in an effort to consider whe-
ther partners can provide an alternative perspective for
research or clinical purposes. Perceived stress appears to be
most critical in explaining discordance in couplesreports.
To some, this nding might suggest that stress itself distorts
self-perceptions regarding emotion regulation abilities, or
that adultsperceptions of stress are conated with their
poor ability to cope with distress, such that adults may be
unable to provide accurate data about themselves when
distressed. However, others may interpret this to mean that
partners cannot be accurate reporters on othersemotion
regulation abilities due to the subjective nature of less
observable emotion regulation strategiesalthough this
latter concern does not hamper the assessment of childrens
emotion regulation abilities. Needless to say, no one has
direct access to another individuals subjectively experi-
enced emotions or internal sensations. Yet observersper-
ceptions and perspectives are still valuable by providing
alternative information that individuals perhaps cannot or
will not offer about themselves. Using multiple informants
to assess adult emotion regulation could prove more
effective if measures of emotion regulation purposefully
rely more heavily on concrete, observable behaviors and
less on internal cognitions or subjective feelings that are
difcult or even impossible for others to detect. In this
manner, researchers and clinicians will be able to formulate
a more comprehensive picture of adultsadaptive emotion
regulation abilities.
In addition, emotion regulation has clear implications for
personal coping and interpersonal relationships. Using cer-
tain coping strategies to regulate negative emotions may
open or close communication with others (Folkman and
Lazarus 1988), meaning that emotion regulation abilities
may not simply affect ones own well-being, but also the
quality of ones intimate relationships. Additionally,
agreement or disagreement between couplesperceptions of
each others emotion regulation abilities could possibly
serve as an indicator of the couples ability to communicate
effectively. Thus, improving adultsunderstanding about
their own emotion regulation abilities, as well as those of
their partners, could be useful in enriching the couple
relationship in a therapeutic context.
Acknowledgements The authors wish to thank the families who par-
ticipated in this study and Jame Sullivan who assisted with data
collection.
Author Contributions DP led the writing of the paper; CR designed
and oversaw the study and writing; LBR analyzed the data.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conict of
interest.
Ethical Approval All procedures performed in studies involving
human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of
the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964
Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical
standards. Ethical approval for this study was granted by the Uni-
versity of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all study
participants.
Publishers note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to
jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional afliations.
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