Book

Relationship Maintenance: Theory, Process, and Context

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Abstract

Relationship maintenance encompasses a wide range of activities that partners use to preserve their relationships. Despite the importance of these efforts, considerably more empirical focus has been devoted to starting (i.e. initiation) and ending (i.e. dissolution) relationships than on maintaining them. In this volume, internationally renowned scholars from a variety of disciplines describe diverse sets of relationship maintenance efforts in order to show why some relationships endure, whereas others falter. By focusing on 'what to do' rather than 'what not to do' in relationships, this book paints a more comprehensive picture of the forms, functions, and contexts of relationship maintenance. It is essential reading for scholars and students in psychology, communication, human development and family science, sociology, and couple/marriage and family therapy.

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Article
Relationship maintenance processes include a wide range of activities and cognitions that romantic partners engage in to sustain or enhance their relationships. In this article, we review literature from the past two decades (2002–2021). We focus on key definitional and conceptual issues in the study of relational maintenance. Guided by a lens of intersectionality, we then perform a theoretically‐driven review of the empirical articles published over the last 20 years paying careful attention to the nature of the samples, methods, and privileged research questions. We conclude by offering a reflection on the current state of this literature and provide suggestions for future research.
Article
The purpose of this study was to explore communal strength (i.e., partner-specific communal orientation) and partner-specific exchange orientation, as well as equity, as predictors of relational maintenance. A sample of 309 heterosexual couples completed self-reports. Given the dyadic interdependence, the actor–partner independence model was used. Dyadic analyses were undertaken using structural equation modeling conducted in AMOS. Results indicated that underbenefitedness was a predictor of maintenance behaviors, but overbenefitedness was not. Communal strength was also associated with engagement in maintenance behaviors. Importantly, communal strength moderated the association between underbenefitedness and maintenance such that underbenefitedness did not result in decreases in self-reported maintenance behaviors for those with greater communal strength to the same extent as it did for those with lower communal strength. Exchange orientation also moderated the association between underbenefitedness and maintenance behaviors such that a decline in maintenance behaviors was not as pronounced for those with lower exchange orientations as those with higher exchange orientations. Findings suggest the important role relational orientations may play in enacting our relationships.
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Demands for change in a relationship, particularly when met by behavioral withdrawal, foreshadow declines in relationship satisfaction. Yet demands can give partners opportunities to voice concerns, and withdrawal can serve to de-escalate conflict, stabilizing satisfaction instead (e.g., Overall, Fletcher, Simpson, & Sibley, 2009). We aim to reconcile these competing possibilities by arguing that withdrawal in response to requests for change will be detrimental among couples who possess the social, educational, and economic capital needed to address these requests, whereas withdrawal in response to partner demands will be constructive among couples with fewer resources for making the requested changes. Study 1 (N = 515 couples; 18-month follow-up) replicates the harmful effects of observed demand/withdraw communication on changes in wives’ satisfaction among relatively affluent couples, while documenting benefits of demand/withdraw communication among relatively disadvantaged couples. Using 4 waves of observational data, Study 2 (N = 431 couples; 9-, 18- and 27-month follow-ups) shows that socioeconomic risk moderates the covariation between the demand/withdraw pattern and wives’ relationship satisfaction, with higher levels of withdrawal again proving to be beneficial when socioeconomic risk is high. In both studies, behavioral withdrawal by men appears to be maladaptive when couples have resources and capacities to enact desired changes, but may be adaptive when those resources and capacities are lacking. Efforts to change couple communication without appreciating the larger social and economic contexts of those behaviors may be counterproductive.
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Romantic partners often have differing levels of sexual interest. In these situations, lower desire partners may engage in sex for avoidance goals (e.g., to avoid disappointing their partner), which are associated with negative relational outcomes. An alternative strategy to sustain relationship quality may be to decline a partner’s sexual advances in positive ways. In two experimental studies and a dyadic daily experience study with a longitudinal follow-up, we examined the relationship outcomes of positive rejection compared to avoidance-motivated sex. Across studies, when people engaged in positive rejection, both they and their partner did not experience lower levels of relationship satisfaction compared to when they had sex for avoidance goals, although this was not true for sexual satisfaction. Chronic pursuit of sex for avoidance goals did, however, have detrimental consequences over time, whereas positive rejection helped sustain relationship satisfaction. Results suggest positive rejection behaviors may be a viable alternative to avoidance-motivated sex.
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Rural communities experience considerable disparities in mental health. Research about this topic is limited, however, especially in the family therapy field. What is known comes primarily from work in other disciplines, which points to three primary barriers that prevent rural communities from accessing high quality mental health care: availability, accessibility, and acceptability of services. A search for papers published over the past 20 years in family journals yielded only 18 articles. A review of these articles in presented here, alongside a call for family clinicians and researchers to advance further contributions. Specific directions for such research are discussed, including telehealth technology, collaboration with existing structures and institutions in rural communities, and the need for more precise definitions and measures of rurality. Family clinicians and researchers are uniquely positioned to conceptualize systemic challenges that rural communities face, and would be advised to join other disciplines in developing innovative methods to address them.
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Since 2000, U.S. federal and state governments have devoted almost $1 billion to marriage and relationship education (MRE) programs that teach the skills and attitudes associated with satisfying, long-term marriages. While advocates argue that MRE is an effective way to counter the negative social outcomes resulting from marital decline, critics contend that it is an ideological policy focused on reinstating the moral primacy of heterosexually married families. Drawing on two ethnographies we argue that this debate misses a key feature of MRE. These interventions simultaneously trace structural issues to individualistic tendencies and assume that social problems related to marriage demand individual-level solutions. We consider how this dilemma played out in social spaces where marriage and relationship education policy was discussed and implemented and how MRE advocates navigated this tension, specifically by articulating, codifying, and teaching new individualized norms for marital behavior. This qualitative case study illustrates a common tension in the framing of social problems in the U.S.: Structural issues are translated into individual deficiencies even when the problem is identified as individualism, thereby limiting the scope of perceived solutions.
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The overall objective of this study was to pilot the Marriage Checkup (MC), a brief intervention for enhancing marital resiliency tailored to a military population, for use by internal behavioral health consultants (IBHCs) working in an integrated primary care clinic. The MC was revised to fit into the fast-paced environment of primary care (e.g., streamlined to fit within three 30-min appointments), and military-relevant material was added to the content. IBHCs working in primary care were then trained to offer the intervention. Thirty participants were enrolled in the study and completed a relationship checkup and one-month follow-up questionnaires. Analysis of post-test and one-month follow-up data showed statistically significant improvements in participants’ marital health compared to pre-treatment. The MC intervention appeared to be well received by both couples and IBHCs.
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As we consider what both family scientists and practitioners can learn from each other, we discuss important advances in relationship and marriage education (RME). We note best practices for research and review recent evaluative findings from randomized controlled trial studies that have important implications for RME. An almost singular RME focus on teaching communication and conflict resolution skills may not be as valuable as it was believed to be. We discuss recent shifts in RME, share results from recent research, and advocate for a balanced approach that incorporates both skill-based and principles-based approaches. Important insights can be gained from disciplines outside of family and relationship science, and we encourage both family scientists and practitioners to broaden the scope of models of healthy relationship functioning. Finally, we offer some direction for future progress and issue a call for more integrative and rigorous efforts in both the science of discovery and practice.
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Most unattached older persons who would like an intimate partnership do not want to remarry or be in a marriage-like relationship. A growing trend is to live apart together (LAT) in an ongoing intimate relationship that does not include a common home. We address the debate about whether LAT constitutes a new form of intimate relationship in a critical assessment of research on LAT relationships that applies ambivalence and concepts from the life course perspective. We conclude that among older but not younger adults, LAT relationships are generally a stable alternative to living with a partner, negotiated in the context of current social institutions and arrangements. We propose research questions that address later life living apart together as an innovative alternative intimate relationship. We encourage comparative work on the unique challenges of later life living apart together, their implications for other family ties, and their connection to social and cultural arrangements.
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Despite their disadvantaged generalizability relative to probability samples, nonprobability convenience samples are the standard within developmental science, and likely will remain so because probability samples are cost-prohibitive and most available probability samples are ill-suited to examine developmental questions. In lieu of focusing on how to eliminate or sharply reduce reliance on convenience samples within developmental science, here we propose how to augment their advantages when it comes to understanding population effects as well as subpopulation differences. Although all convenience samples have less clear generalizability than probability samples, we argue that homogeneous convenience samples have clearer generalizability relative to conventional convenience samples. Therefore, when researchers are limited to convenience samples, they should consider homogeneous convenience samples as a positive alternative to conventional (or heterogeneous) convenience samples. We discuss future directions as well as potential obstacles to expanding the use of homogeneous convenience samples in developmental science.
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How does repeated or chronic childhood adversity shape social and cognitive abilities? According to the prevailing deficit model, children from high-stress backgrounds are at risk for impairments in learning and behavior, and the intervention goal is to prevent, reduce, or repair the damage. Missing from this deficit approach is an attempt to leverage the unique strengths and abilities that develop in response to high-stress environments. Evolutionary-developmental models emphasize the coherent, functional changes that occur in response to stress over the life course. Research in birds, rodents, and humans suggests that developmental exposures to stress can improve forms of attention, perception, learning, memory, and problem solving that are ecologically relevant in harsh-unpredictable environments (as per the specialization hypothesis). Many of these skills and abilities, moreover, are primarily manifest in currently stressful contexts where they would provide the greatest fitness-relevant advantages (as per the sensitization hypothesis). This perspective supports an alternative adaptation-based approach to resilience that converges on a central question: "What are the attention, learning, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making strategies that are enhanced through exposures to childhood adversity?" At an applied level, this approach focuses on how we can work with, rather than against, these strengths to promote success in education, employment, and civic life.
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Social and personality psychologists are often interested in the extent to which similarity, agreement, or matching matters. The current article describes response surface analysis (RSA), an approach designed to answer questions about how (mis)matching predictors relate to outcomes while avoiding many of the statistical limitations of alternative, often-used approaches. We explain how RSA provides compressive and often more valid answers to questions about (mis)matching predictors than traditional approaches provide, outline steps on how to use RSA (including modifiable syntax), and demonstrate how to interpret RSA output with an example. To bolster our argument that RSA overcomes many limitations of traditional approaches (i.e., incomplete or misleading inferences), we compare results from four popular approaches (i.e., difference scores, residuals, moderated regression, and the truth and bias model) to those obtained from RSA. We discuss specific applications of RSA to social and personality psychology research.
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Understanding how people use communication technologies (CTs) in close relationships requires examining interdependencies in or patterns of CT use in those relationships. We combined channel complementarity theory and media multiplexity theory to investigate first-year college students’ (N = 155) use of CTs (video chat, phone calls, and text messaging) in close, long-distance friendships over a 3- to 10-day period. Overall, CTs were used complementarily. However, complementary use of phone calls and text messaging was higher in closer friendships. In contrast, phone calls and video chat were complementary at low but not high levels of closeness. These findings suggest utility in combining channel complementarity theory and media multiplexity theory to understand the “web” of CTs used in daily communication in long-distance friendships and point to similarities in and differences between CTs that might affect complementarity.
Article
Research suggests gratitude benefits close relationships. However, relationships involve 2 people, and the interpersonal implications of mismatches in gratitude remain unclear. Is it sufficient for 1 partner to be high in gratitude, or does low gratitude in at least 1 partner act as a "weak link" that disrupts both partners' relational well-being? We asked both members of 120 newlywed couples to report their tendencies to feel and express gratitude for their partner every year for 2 years and their marital satisfaction every 4 months for 3 years. Initial levels of own and partner gratitude interacted to predict initial levels of marital satisfaction and changes in marital satisfaction over time. Although own and partner gratitude were associated with higher levels of initial marital satisfaction when both spouses were high in gratitude, own and partner gratitude were unassociated with initial satisfaction if either spouse was low in gratitude. Further, gratitude was associated with more stable marital satisfaction when both partners were high in gratitude, partner gratitude was unassociated with changes in satisfaction when own gratitude was low and own gratitude was associated with steeper declines in satisfaction when partner gratitude was low. In fact, although initial gratitude was positively associated with marital satisfaction 3 years later if both spouses were high in gratitude, own initial gratitude was negatively associated with later satisfaction when partner gratitude was relatively low. These findings suggest low gratitude in one partner acts as a weak link that is sufficient to disrupt both partners' relationship satisfaction.
Article
Employing the communicative interdependence perspective (CIP), the current study examined the interconnection and transition between technologically mediated communication (TMC) and face-to-face (FtF) communication in long-distance dating relationships (LDDRs). College students in LDDRs (N = 200) completed an online survey. Results showed that segmentation to TMC was negatively associated with relational closeness and relationship satisfaction. Difficulty transitioning between TMC and FtF communication was negatively associated with relationship satisfaction. Further, LDDR partners’ FtF communication frequency moderated the associations between segmentation to TMC and the two relational markers. Findings’ implications for relational maintenance in LDDRs and CIP are discussed.
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Parenting stress can negatively impact mothers and the family unit. Previous research has identified spousal supportiveness as a critical resource in helping reduce maternal parenting stress, whereas other research demonstrates that parenting stress may reduce supportive behaviors over time. However, it is unclear whether the association between spousal supportiveness and maternal parenting stress is robust over an extended period of children’s development, or whether economic hardship impacts change in both constructs. Using 4 waves of data from 612 mothers in the Fragile Family and Child Wellbeing study, we explored whether maternal parenting stress was associated with change in spousal supportiveness and whether spousal supportiveness simultaneously was associated with change in maternal parenting stress. We examined these bidirectional associations while accounting for economic hardship. We found parenting stress and perceptions of spousal supportiveness changed at varying rates throughout the 8 years of the study. We also found that when the focal child was 1 year old, perceptions of spousal supportiveness were associated with increases in mothers’ parenting stress, whereas when the child was 3 and 5 years old, perceptions of spousal supportiveness were associated with a faster decrease in mothers’ parenting stress. Maternal parenting stress was not associated with perceptions of spousal supportiveness over time. We also found that mothers with greater economic hardship showed a slower decline in perceptions of spousal supportiveness compared with the decline in perceptions of spousal supportiveness observed without economic hardship in the model. We conclude by providing both developmental and practical implications for helping mothers.
Article
Objective To examine the role of on–off relationship cycling in psychological distress for individuals in same‐ and different‐sex relationships. Background Relationship processes have a robust effect on individual well‐being, and dissolution is associated with psychological distress that is normative and typically short‐lived. A prolonged history of terminating a relationship and then reconciling (i.e., on–off cycling), however, may facilitate more pervasive symptomology. Moreover, researchers have indicated that instability is similar for individuals in same‐ and different‐sex relationships, but cycling in same‐sex relationships has yet to be studied despite existing disparities for sexual minorities. Method Data from 545 individuals in same‐sex (n = 279) and different‐sex (n = 266) relationships were used to assess the association between on–off cycling and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Results The occurrence of cycling was similar across relationship types, but a greater frequency emerged in male–male relationships compared with female–female and different‐sex relationships. Regardless of relationship type, we found a positive association between relationship cycling and distress while controlling for known correlates of mental health. Conclusion Patterns of breakup and renewal were linked to increased symptoms of psychological distress, indicating the accumulation of relationship transitions can create added turmoil for individuals. Implications Due to the potential distress associated with this relational pattern, practitioners should assess for on–off instability. We also provide suggestions for encouraging individuals in distressed on–off relationships to make informed decisions about stabilizing or safely terminating their partnerships.
Article
A common reason why people in ongoing romantic relationships report engaging in sex with their partner—in addition to pursuing their own pleasure—is to meet their partner’s sexual needs. While meeting a partner’s needs with responsiveness and care is crucial in romantic relationships, it is important, especially in the domain of sexuality, that people do not neglect their own needs when meeting the needs of their partner. In a 21-day daily experience study of both members of 122 romantic couples recruited from the community, we tested whether being responsive to a partner’s sexual needs (i.e., high sexual communal strength) and focusing on a partner’s needs while neglecting one’s own needs (i.e., high unmitigated sexual communion) were associated with both partners’ daily sexual and relationship satisfaction. We also tested attention to positive partner-focused and negative self-focused cues during the sexual experience as novel mechanisms of these effects. The results generally showed that on days when people (or their romantic partner) reported higher sexual communal strength, they reported greater attention to positive partner-focused sexual cues and, in turn, both partners experienced greater daily sexual and relationship satisfaction. In contrast, on days when people reported higher unmitigated sexual communion, they reported greater attention to negative self-focused sexual cues and, in turn, experienced lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, although these effects did not extend to their romantic partner. Implications of the results for promoting higher quality sexual experiences and relationships are discussed.
Article
The authors investigated whether mind-set influences the accuracy of relationship predictions. Because people are more biased in their information processing when thinking about implementing an important goal, relationship predictions made in an implemental mind-set were expected to be less accurate than those made in a more impartial deliberative mind-set. In Study 1, open-ended thoughts of students about to leave for university were coded for mind-set. In Study 2, mind-set about a major life goal was assessed using a self-report measure. In Study 3, mind-set was experimentally manipulated. Overall, mind-set interacted with forecasts to predict relationship survival. Forecasts were more accurate in a deliberative mind-set than in an implemental mind-set. This effect was more pronounced for long-term than for short-term relationship survival. Finally, deliberatives were not pessimistic; implementals were unduly optimistic.
Article
A daily diary study examined how chronic perceptions of a partner's regard affect how intimates interpret and respond to daily relationship stresses. Spouses each completed a diary for 21 days. Multilevel analyses revealed that people who felt less positively regarded read more into stressful events than did people who felt highly regarded, feeling more hurt on days after acute threats, such as those posed by a moody or ill-behaved partner. Intimates who felt less valued responded to feeling hurt by behaving badly toward their partner on subsequent days. In contrast, intimates who felt more valued responded to feeling hurt by drawing closer to their partner. Ironically, chronically activated needs for belongingness might lead people who are trying to find acceptance to undermine their marriage.
Article
On the basis of the proposition that love promotes commitment, the authors predicted that love would motivate approach, have a distinct signal, and correlate with commitment-enhancing processes when relationships are threatened. The authors studied romantic partners and adolescent opposite-sex friends during interactions that elicited love and threatened the bond. As expected, the experience of love correlated with approach-related states (desire, sympathy). Providing evidence for a nonverbal display of love, four affiliation cues (head nods, Duchenne smiles, gesticulation, forward leans) correlated with self-reports and partner estimates of love. Finally, the experience and display of love correlated with commitment-enhancing processes (e.g.. constructive conflict resolution, perceived trust) when the relationship was threatened. Discussion focused on love, positive emotion, and relationships.
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Romantic couples (N = 194) participated in an investigation of caregiving processes in adulthood. In Phase 1, couple members completed questionnaires designed to identify attachment style differences in caregiving behavior and to explore the underlying (personal and relationship) mechanisms that lead people with different attachment styles to be effective or ineffective caregivers. Results revealed that social support knowledge, prosocial orientation, interdependence, trust, and egoistic motivation mediated the link between attachment style and caregiving. In Phase 2, responsive caregiving was assessed behaviorally by exposing one member of the couple to a stressful laboratory situation and experimentally manipulating his or her need for support. Results revealed that attachment style and mediating mechanisms identified in Phase 1 also predicted observable support behavior in a specific episode in which a partner had a clear need for support.
Article
This research examined the association between relationship satisfaction and later breakup status, focusing on the temporal changes in satisfaction ratings of individuals in newly formed dating relationships. Growth curve analytic techniques were used in 2 longitudinal studies to create 4 predictors: each participant's initial level of satisfaction, linear trend in satisfaction over time, degree of fluctuation in satisfaction over time, and mean level of satisfaction. Consistent with hypotheses, individuals who exhibited greater fluctuation in their repeated satisfaction ratings were more likely to be in relationships that eventually ended, even after controlling for overall level of satisfaction. Individuals with fluctuating levels of satisfaction also reported relatively lower commitment. The results are discussed in terms of conditions that promote versus undermine relationship stability.
Article
The hypothesis that attachment insecurity would be associated with remaining in an unhappy marriage was tested. One hundred seventy-two newly married couples participated in a 4-year longitudinal study with multiple assessment points. Hierarchical linear models revealed that compared with spouses in happy marriages and divorced spouses, spouses who were in stable but unhappy marriages showed the highest levels of insecurity initially and over time. Spouses in stable, unhappy marriages also had lower levels of marital satisfaction than divorced spouses and showed relatively high levels of depressive symptoms initially and over time. Results suggest that spouses at risk for stable, unhappy marriages can be identified early and may benefit from interventions that increase the security of spouses' attachment to each other.
Article
Interpersonal misunderstanding is often rooted in noise, or discrepancies between intended and actual outcomes for an interaction partner due to unintended errors (e.g., not being able to respond to an E-mail because of a local network breakdown). How can one effectively cope with noise in social dilemmas, situations in which self-interest and collective interests are conflicting? Consistent with hypotheses, the present research revealed that incidents of noise exert a detrimental effect on level of cooperation when a partner follows strict reciprocity (i.e., tit for tat) but that this effect can be overcome if a partner behaves somewhat more cooperatively than the actor did in the previous interaction (i.e., tit for tat plus 1). Also, when noise was present, tit for tat plus 1 elicited greater levels of cooperation than did tit for tat, thereby underscoring the benefits of adding generosity to reciprocity in coping with noise in social dilemmas. The Discussion outlines implications of the present work for theories focusing on self-presentation and attribution, communication, and trust and prorelationship behavior.
Article
Twenty-nine married couples engaged in 2 videotaped discussions: 1 in which the husband requested a change in the wife and 1 in which the wife requested a change in the husband. Conflict behavior was assessed by self-report and observer ratings. Neither conflict structure (who requested the change) nor gender was associated with the positivity or negativity of spouses' behavior. During discussions of husbands' issues, wives and husbands did not differ in demand/withdraw behavior, whereas when discussing wives' issues, wives were more demanding and husbands were more withdrawing. Husband-demand/wife-withdraw interaction predicted an increase in wives' satisfaction 1 year later, whereas wife-demand/husband-withdraw interaction predicted a decline in wives' satisfaction 1 year later. These results replicate and extend those of our earlier study (Christensen & Heavey, 1990).
Article
Although forgiveness can have numerous benefits, it can also have a notable cost—forgiveness can allow transgressors to continue behaving in ways that can be hurtful (McNulty, 2010, 2011). Accordingly, two studies tested the prediction that the implications of forgiveness for whether the partner transgresses or fails to behave benevolently depend on whether forgivers regulate partners away from future transgressions and toward benevolent behaviors. Study 1 was an experimental study of emerging adult couples in which participants were (a) asked to report their partners’ tendencies to engage in partner-regulation behaviors, (b) led to believe their partners were either forgiving or unforgiving, and (c) given the opportunity to transgress against their partners. Study 2 was a longitudinal study of newlywed couples in which participants were (a) asked to report their tendencies to forgive their partners, (b) observed during problem-solving discussions, and then (c) asked to report their satisfaction with their partners’ considerateness every 6 months for 4 years. Both studies provided evidence that direct oppositional partner-regulation behaviors moderate the implications of forgiveness for partner behavior. Among intimates who demanded more change, forgiveness was associated with the partner transgressing less (Study 1) and compromising more (Study 2), as well as participants being more satisfied with their partners’ considerateness over time (Study 2); among intimates who demanded less change, forgiveness was associated with these outcomes in the opposite direction. These findings suggest that supplementing forgiveness with partner-regulation behaviors can help nondistressed couples avoid the undesirable outcomes and maximize desirable outcomes associated with forgiveness.
Article
Approximately 4% of individuals in North America participate in consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships, wherein all partners have agreed to additional sexual and/or emotional partnerships. The CNM relationships are stigmatized and viewed as less stable and satisfying than monogamous relationships, a perception that persists despite research evidence. In our study, we assess the legitimacy of this negative perception by using a self-determination theory (SDT) framework to explore how sexual motivation impacts relational and sexual satisfaction among CNM and monogamous participants in romantic relationships. A total of 348 CNM (n = 142) and monogamous participants (n = 206) were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk. (2016). www.mturk.com) to complete a cross-sectional survey. Participants reported on their sexual motivations during their most recent sexual event, their level of sexual need fulfillment, and measures of sexual and relational satisfaction with their current (primary) partner. The CNM and monogamous participants reported similar reasons for engaging in sex, though CNM participants were significantly more likely to have sex for personal intrinsic motives. No differences in mean levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction were found between CNM and monogamous individuals. Participants who engaged in sex for more self-determined reasons reported increased relational and sexual satisfaction. This relationship was mediated by sexual need fulfillment; participants who reported more self-determined motives reported higher levels of need fulfillment and, in turn, greater relationship and sexual satisfaction. This study indicates that CNM and monogamous individuals report similar levels of satisfaction within their relationship(s) and that the mechanisms that affect relational and sexual satisfaction are similar for both CNM and monogamous individuals. Our research extends theoretical understandings of motivation within romantic relationships and suggests that SDT is a useful framework for considering the impact of sexual motivation on relational outcomes.
Article
Most first-time mothers experience a decline in both their sexual and relationship satisfaction from prepregnancy, which has negative consequences for the couple and their family. Prior studies have begun to identify risk and protective factors (e.g., empathy) for postpartum sexual and relationship satisfaction. Causal attributions for postpartum sexual concerns may be important because a specific cause can be difficult to pinpoint given the wide range of postpartum sexual problems among first-time parents. In the current study, 120 first-time mothers (3–12 months postpartum) completed validated measures assessing attributions for postpartum sexual concerns, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction. Attributions were measured on four dimensions: internal/external (i.e., is the sexual concern due to the self or the situation), stable/unstable (i.e., will the cause of the concern occur again in the future), global/specific (i.e., will the cause of the concern affect other situations), and partner responsibility (i.e., is the partner the cause). When new mothers reported more stable and partner attributions for postpartum sexual concerns, they were less sexually satisfied, and when they attributed greater responsibility for sexual concerns to their partners, they were less satisfied with their overall relationship. These associations remained significant after controlling for potential challenges that may also impact sexual and relationship satisfaction during this period (i.e., breastfeeding, sexual frequency, depressive symptoms, fatigue, sexual functioning). As postpartum sexual concerns are common, attributions for these changes may be a valuable target for interventions aimed at strengthening the intimate relationships of women making the transition to parenthood.
Article
For the past two decades, policymakers have invested heavily in promoting the quality and stability of intimate relationships in low-income communities. To date, these efforts have emphasized relationship-skills education, but large-scale evaluations of these programs indicate that they have produced negligible benefits. Current policies are limited by their unfounded assumption that low-income couples have needs similar to more affluent couples. In contrast, recent research finds that financially disadvantaged environments confront low-income couples with unique challenges in maintaining intimacy. Rather than skills training, these couples need policies that address the real circumstances that affect their day-to-day well-being. Preliminary evidence from military families and antipoverty programs suggests that providing couples with financial security may have indirect positive effects on their relationships. New policies that promote financial well-being may be more effective at supporting low-income couples than interventions targeting relationships directly.
Article
Background Vulvodynia is an idiopathic vulvovaginal pain condition that has significant sexual and relational consequences. Most women with vulvodynia continue to have intercourse, possibly because of a desire to approach positive outcomes (e.g., intimacy) and avoid negative outcomes (e.g., partner disappointment). Purpose This study examined daily associations between approach and avoidance sexual goals and women’s pain during intercourse and couples’ sexual and relational well-being, as well as the mediating role of sexual cues. Methods Over 8 weeks, on sexual activity days (M = 8.77), women with vulvodynia (N = 101) and their partners reported their sexual goals, attention to sexual cues, sexual function, and relationship satisfaction, and women reported pain during intercourse. Results On days when women and partners held higher approach goals, they attended more to positive sexual cues, and in turn, felt more relationally satisfied, whereas on days when they held higher avoidance sexual goals, partners were more focused on negative sexual cues, and in turn, partners reported lower relationship satisfaction. On days when women reported higher approach goals, they reported less pain, and both they and their partners attended more to positive sexual cues, and in turn, both had higher sexual function, whereas on days when women reported higher avoidance goals, both they and their partners attended more to negative sexual cues, and in turn, women reported greater pain, and both partners reported poorer sexual function. Conclusions Interventions should target cognitive-affective processes during sexual activity as one pathway by which sexual goals impact pain and adjustment.
Article
Objective: To review brief couple interventions (BCIs), with a focus on contributions to theory, development, and implications for practice. Background: For decades, scholars have observed the individual and societal costs of relationship instability. Due to these costs, state and federal agencies have invested millions of dollars in relationship and marriage education programs with the hope of promoting the positive effects associated with healthy relationships. However, the plausibility of many of these interventions has been challenged, suggesting a need for renewed focus on different approaches to promote relationship quality and stability throughout the life course. Method: We searched numerous databases to review brief interventions used in multiple disciplines. This review resulted in 12 studies ranging from samples of young adults to established couples. Results: We found several interventions using distinct delivery methods and theoretical frameworks. These interventions targeted numerous individual and relational processes, such as self-esteem, distress related to conflict, and gratitude that promoted healthy relationship functioning. Conclusion: We provide evidence that brief interventions influence individual and relational processes by targeting factors relevant to couples across the life course. We ultimately find support for the utility of the vulnerability-stress-adaptation model when developing interventions for couples. Implications: On the basis of our review, we end with numerous practical suggestions for clinicians to adopt when developing programs to promote healthy relationships.
Article
In response to scholars who recommend additional research concerning the role of communication technologies in relational conflict, we employ the communicative interdependence perspective (Caughlin & Sharabi, 2013) to explore mode integration and segmentation during serial arguments. More specifically, we found that technologically-mediated communication (TMC) and face-to-face (FtF) communication are commonly integrated during serial arguments. Mode integration was especially likely when serial arguments were seen as serious, relationally threatening, and less resolvable. Yet, integration of TMC and FtF communication and integration of multiple TMC channels during serial arguments were negatively associated with relational closeness and satisfaction for dating partners. Segmentation to one mode was rare and was not associated with relational satisfaction or closeness. We discuss the implications of these findings for the communicative interdependence perspective and our understanding of serial arguments in relationships.
Article
The motivation to care for the welfare of others, or communal motivation, is a crucial component of satisfying interpersonal relationships and personal well-being. The current meta-analysis synthesized 100 studies (Ntotal = 26,645) on communal motivation to establish its associations with subjective personal well-being (e.g., life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect) and relationship well-being (e.g., relationship satisfaction, partner-oriented positive affect, and partner-oriented negative affect) for both the person providing communal care and their partner. Three types of communal motivation were examined, including general, partner-specific (for children, parents, romantic partners, and friends), and unmitigated (i.e., devoid of agency and self-oriented concern). Results revealed positive associations between all three forms of communal motivation and relationship well-being for the self (.11 ≤ rs ≤ .44) and relationship partners (.11 ≤ rs ≤ .15). However, only general and partner-specific communal motivation, and not unmitigated communal motivation, were linked with greater personal well-being for both the self (.12 ≤ rs ≤ .16) and relationship partners (.04 ≤ rs ≤ .09). These associations were generally consistent across gender, relationship length, publication status, and lab. Finally, relationship partners were similar in partner-specific (r = .26) and unmitigated (r = .15) communal motivation only. Findings from the current meta-analysis suggest that care for the welfare of others is linked to greater relationship well-being for both members of a relationship. However, communal care is only linked to personal well-being insofar as it is mitigated by a degree of self-oriented concern. We provide theoretical and power recommendations for future research.
Article
Romantic partners often face situations in which their preferences, interests and goals are not well aligned—what is good for one partner is not good for the other. In these situations, people need to make a decision between pursuing their own self-interest and sacrificing for their partner or the relationship. In this work, we discuss antecedents and consequences of sacrifice in close relationships. Specifically, we address when people are more likely to sacrifice, what are the motivations driving a sacrifice, and what are the affective consequences of this behavior for the person who makes the sacrifice (i.e., the actor), for the person who receives the sacrifice (i.e., the recipient), and for the relationship. We conclude by discussing important directions for future research on the implications of sacrifice for the well-being of individuals and their relationships.
Article
Close relationships play a vital role in human health, but much remains to be learned about specific mechanisms of action and potential avenues for intervention. This article provides an evaluation of research on close relationships processes relevant to health, drawing on themes from major relationship science theories to present a broad conceptual framework for understanding the interpersonal processes and intrapersonal pathways linking relationships to health and disease outcomes. The analysis reveals that both social connection and social disconnection broadly shape biological responses and behaviors that are consequential for health. Furthermore, emerging work offers insights into the types of social dynamics that are most consequential for health, and the potential pathways through which they operate. Following from this analysis, the authors suggest several research priorities to facilitate the translation of discoveries from relationship science into relationship-based interventions and public health initiatives. These priorities include developing finer grained theoretical models to guide research, the systematic investigation of potential mediating pathways such as dyadic influences on health behavior and physiological coregulation, and taking into account individual differences and contextual factors such as attachment style, gender, socioeconomic status, and culture. In addition, a pressing need exists for laboratory and field research to determine which types of interventions are both practical and effective.
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A robust body of scientific evidence has indicated that being embedded in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected to the people in one's life is associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality as well as a range of disease morbidities. Despite mounting evidence that the magnitude of these associations is comparable to that of many leading health determinants (that receive significant public health resources), government agencies, health care providers and associations, and public or private health care funders have been slow to recognize human social relationships as either a health determinant or health risk marker in a manner that is comparable to that of other public health priorities. This article evaluates current evidence (on social relationships and health) according to criteria commonly used in determining public health priorities. The article discusses challenges for reducing risk in this area and outlines an agenda for integrating social relationships into current public health priorities.
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The predominant view in both the research literature and practice is that marital quality declines over time. Although the majority of research using variable-centered approaches such as latent growth curve modeling supports this view, contemporary research using person-centered group-based trajectory modeling techniques suggest a variety of trajectories of marital quality development, including stability, decline, and, occasionally, rebound following decline. The present review synthesizes this current body of research and summarizes the variety of trajectories found across 14 reports examining both positive and negative marital quality dimensions. The theories informing this body of research and the predictors of the various trajectories are also reviewed. We conclude with a discussion of methodological and practical implications of the findings to date and introduce the honeymoon-as-ceiling effect, a phrase we use to capture the consistent finding that marital quality rarely increases beyond its initial value.
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The present manuscript assessed the three-factor (social contact, response seeking, and relational assurances) Facebook Relational Maintenance Measure (FRMM) in relation to four relationship quality indicators—satisfaction, liking, closeness, and commitment—across two sets of data. The social contact factor was positively related to satisfaction, commitment, liking, and closeness in study 1 and satisfaction and commitment in study 2. The response-seeking factor was negatively correlated with satisfaction and liking in study 1 and satisfaction and commitment in study 2. Finally, the relational assurances factor was positively correlated with satisfaction, commitment, and closeness in study 1 but did not emerge as a significant predictor in study 2.
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Social relationships unfold face-to-face and across an increasingly diverse set of mobile, Internet-based media. Research on these mixed-media relationships (MMRs) offers a unifying focus for understanding of how media use reflects and drives social relationships. Impediments to research on mixed-media interaction include an over-reliance on research focused on a single medium, incomplete and conceptually problematic classifications of media, and limited theoretic approaches. An alternative approach to understand MMRs, grounded in the challenges of managing complex, recurring interpersonal demands, is proposed. These demands include social coordination, impression management, regulating closeness and distance, and managing arousal and anxiety. Implications of MMRs for mediatization and mass communication are briefly examined.
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The current study examined whether directly altering affective associations involving a relationship partner through evaluative conditioning can lead to changes in relationship satisfaction. Married couples (N = 144) were asked to view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of the partner, which, according to random assignment of couples to experimental group, were paired with either positive or neutral stimuli. Couples also completed measures of automatic partner attitudes and explicit marital satisfaction at baseline and once every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. Spouses who viewed their partners paired with positive stimuli demonstrated more-positive automatic partner attitudes than did control spouses, and these attitudes predicted increased self-reported marital satisfaction over time. These results provide novel evidence for a mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction, represent a step toward documenting how strong attitudes can evolve through passive exposure to information, and suggest novel avenues for relationship interventions.
Article
Many new parents are concerned that they have different levels of interest in sex than their partner. Understanding the role of desire discrepancies in their sexual and relationship satisfaction could help promote adjustment. In community couples, larger desire discrepancies have been inconsistently linked to lower sexual and relationship satisfaction. However, these studies rarely accounted for both the degree and direction (e.g., which partner has higher desire) of the discrepancy. We surveyed 255 mixed-sex new parent couples to assess their sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction. Using polynomial regression with response surface analysis (RSA), we found that desire discrepancies between partners (i.e., when partners were more mismatched as opposed to matched on their levels of sexual desire) were associated with lower sexual (but not relationship) satisfaction for both partners. However, the direction of desire discrepancy mattered: Parents felt less satisfied when mothers were the higher-desire partner compared to when fathers were the higher-desire partner. In addition, when partners' level of sexual desire was in agreement, they were more sexually and relationally satisfied if both partners reported higher compared to lower desire. Results demonstrate the important role of both the magnitude and direction of desire discrepancies in new parent couples.
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Relationship maintenance encompasses a broad array of activities that partners may use to preserve their romantic partnerships. For this article, we systematically review the vast literature (N = 1,149 articles) on relationship maintenance in romantic relationships. We first identify the relevant constructs and propose a conceptual model to organize the literature. Then we turn our focus to the empirical research on the processes and social context of relationship maintenance. We conclude by highlighting the lingering questions in the study of relationship maintenance and offering recommendations for future research.
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The factors that allow people to be good support providers in relationships are not fully understood. We examined how support providers’ stressful experiences (financial strain and racial discrimination) differentially influence their supportiveness, using longitudinal data from two samples of African American couples. Among couples that provided observational data (N = 163 couples), providers who experienced high chronic financial strain behaved less supportively toward their partners, while those who experienced frequent racial discrimination behaved more supportively over a 2-year period. In a second sample of 213 couples over a 3-year period, support providers who experienced financial strain were perceived by their partners as slightly less supportive, while providers who experienced frequent racial discrimination were perceived by their partners as more supportive. Findings suggest that supportiveness in relationships may be differentially shaped by the specific stresses and strains that partners face.
Article
The goal of this research was to identify predictors of college students’ relationship dissolution and how a relationship education (RE) curriculum integrated into a college course (Relationship U [RU]) influenced students’ breakup (BU) and relationship formation decisions. Study 1 (n = 854) showed the strongest predictors of BU by the end of the semester were low relationship efficacy, dedication, satisfaction, and relationship length and greater emotional safety, distance, and extradyadic behavior. Study 2 (n = 7,957) examined the perceived influence of RU on students’ decisions to end and begin relationships through thematic analysis of open-ended questions asking participants to identify what (if any) aspect of the curriculum influenced their decisions. Participant responses highlighted specific RE components differentially salient to their decisions to end and begin romantic relationships. Implications for creating tailored and adaptive RE curricula with emerging adults are discussed.
Article
The I³ Model is a general-purpose metatheory. It posits that three orthogonal processes influence the likelihood and intensity of a given behavior, including aggressive behavior. Instigation encompasses immediate environmental stimuli (e.g., provocation) that normatively afford an aggressive response. Impellance encompasses situational or dispositional qualities (e.g., trait aggressiveness) that influence how strongly the instigator produces a proclivity to enact that response. Inhibition encompasses situational or dispositional qualities (e.g., alcohol intoxication) that influence how strongly the proclivity is overridden rather than manifesting in aggressive behavior. Extant evidence supports Perfect Storm Theory—a theoretical perspective derived from the I³ Model—which posits that aggression is especially likely, and especially intense, to the extent that instigation and impellance are strong and inhibition is weak.
Article
Although interpersonal communication is a defining feature of committed relationships, the quality of couple communication has not proven to be a straightforward cause of relationship quality. At the same time, emerging models argue that external circumstances likely combine with communication to generate changes in relationship quality. We integrate these 2 ideas by proposing that communication does exert effects on changes in relationship quality, but primarily when couples encounter challenging situations that require an adaptive response. In the present study we examine residential moves to different neighborhoods as one such adaptive challenge. We conducted a longitudinal study of 414 newlywed couples to examine whether observed communication moderates the effect of moving to higher- or lower-income neighborhoods on changes in relationship quality. Results indicate that communication exerts no main effects on relationship quality. Consistent with the proposed model, however, wives who displayed less positive, less effective, and more negative behaviors experienced greater decreases in relationship quality, but only when couples moved to substantially higher-income neighborhoods. Because communication may not affect relationship quality until couples encounter qualitatively new demands, strengthening relationships may pivot less on improving communication skills and more on ensuring that couples' circumstances do not overwhelm the skills that they already possess. (PsycINFO Database Record
Article
Contemporary perspectives on relationship commitment posit that intimates decide whether or not to maintain a relationship based on their commitment to that relationship, and that they base such commitment partially on their current satisfaction with that relationship. Nevertheless, given that ending a relationship requires knowing about both the current state of the relationship and the likely future state of the relationship, we propose that people base their commitment to a relationship more on their expected future satisfaction with the relationship than on their current satisfaction with that relationship. Six studies provided evidence for these ideas. Study 1 demonstrated that expected satisfaction is shaped by not only current satisfaction but also several unique indicators of the likelihood of future satisfaction, including anticipated life events, plans to improve the relationship, and individual differences. Then, using a combination of cross-sectional, experimental, and longitudinal methods, Studies 2 through 6 demonstrated that (a) expected satisfaction was a stronger predictor of relationship commitment, maintenance behaviors, and/or divorce than was current satisfaction and (b) expected satisfaction mediated the association between current satisfaction and these outcomes. These findings highlight not only the need to incorporate expected satisfaction into extent perspectives on commitment, but also the importance of expectations for decision-making processes more broadly. (PsycINFO Database Record