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Optimism: An Enduring Resource for Romantic Relationships

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This study extends research on the adaptive aspects of dispositional optimism to romantic relationships. We hypothesized that optimism would be positively linked to cooperative problem solving in romantic relationships, given previous research indicating that optimists are likely to use approach coping strategies. Results indicated that optimism was linked to satisfying and happy romantic relationships, and a substantial portion of this association was mediated by reports of cooperative problem solving. Moreover, optimism predicted relative increases in relationship satisfaction over a 2-year interval. All told, these results suggest that optimism may serve as an enduring resource for romantic unions.
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Optimism: An Enduring Resource for Romantic Relationships
Kimberly K. Assad and M. Brent Donnellan
Michigan State University
Rand D. Conger
University of California, Davis
This study extends research on the adaptive aspects of dispositional optimism to romantic relationships.
We hypothesized that optimism would be positively linked to cooperative problem solving in romantic
relationships, given previous research indicating that optimists are likely to use approach coping
strategies. Results indicated that optimism was linked to satisfying and happy romantic relationships, and
a substantial portion of this association was mediated by reports of cooperative problem solving.
Moreover, optimism predicted relative increases in relationship satisfaction over a 2-year interval. All
told, these results suggest that optimism may serve as an enduring resource for romantic unions.
Keywords: optimism, romantic relationships, personality, relationship satisfaction, dyadic data analyses
Individuals differ in terms of their general expectations for the
future—ranging from individuals who expect the best to those who
expect the worst. This individual difference is captured by mea-
sures of dispositional optimism, and it appears to have conse-
quences for both physical health and psychological well-being
(e.g., Brissette, Scheier, & Carver, 2002; Carver & Scheier, 2002;
Kivima¨ki, Vahtera, Elovainio, Helenius, Singh-Manouc, & Pentti,
2005; Peterson & Steen, 2002; Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 2001;
Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, & Fahey, 1998). The positive out-
comes associated with optimism are perhaps due to the fact that
optimists use more adaptive coping behaviors than pessimists (e.g.,
Brissette et al., 2002; Scheier & Carver, 1988; Scheier, Weintraub,
& Carver, 1986; Segerstrom et al., 1998; see Solberg Nes &
Segerstrom, 2006 for a meta-analytic review). The goal of this
article is to extend work on dispositional optimism to some of the
behaviors that promote healthy, happy, and satisfying romantic
relationships using two-waves of prospective, multi-informant data
from the Family Transitions Project (FTP), an on-going study of
sociological and psychological aspects of the transition to young
adulthood (Conger & Conger, 2002).
LINKING OPTIMISM TO ROMANTIC
RELATIONSHIPS
A number of studies have shown that individual differences are
associated with the functioning of romantic relationships (e.g.,
Bradbury & Fincham, 1988; Caughlin, Huston, & Houts, 2000;
Donnellan, Larsen-Rife, & Conger, 2005; Karney & Bradbury,
1995; Robins, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2000). For instance, Karney and
Bradbury (1995) suggested that certain personality dispositions
such as emotional instability create “enduring vulnerabilities” (p.
23) that affect how couples adapt to stressful experiences. We
propose that just as some personality characteristics may prove to
be liabilities for relationships, other dispositions may serve as
“enduring resources“ for relationships because they help facilitate
problem solving, promote closeness, strengthen commitment and
fidelity, or otherwise bolster close relationships. The hypothesis
for the current analysis is that dispositional optimism serves as one
such enduring resource for romantic relationships (see Bryant &
Conger, 2002). Consistent with this suggestion, Srivastava,
McGonigal, Richards, Butler, and Gross (2006) recently reported
that optimism was positively associated with relationship satisfac-
tion.
Optimism should facilitate relationships in several ways. Per-
haps most important, optimism is linked with the successful pur-
suit of goals (Carver & Scheier, 2002; Scheier & Carver, 1988),
and one goal shared by a majority of people is to attain a happy
romantic union. For example, approximately 90% of the partici-
pants in the FTP (Conger & Conger, 2002) rated the goal of having
a good marriage as extremely or very important to themselves
during their senior year of high school. Likewise, over 90% of
adults in a representative sample of residents in California, Florida,
New York, and Texas agreed that a satisfying marriage was one of
the most important things in life (Karney & Bradbury, 2005).
Finally, Roberts and Robins (2000) found that having a satisfying
marriage or relationship was the highest rated goal in a sample of
Kimberly K. Assad and M. Brent Donnellan, Department of Psychol-
ogy, Michigan State University; Rand D. Conger, Department of Human
and Community Development, University of California, Davis.
This research is currently supported by grants from the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development (HD047573), the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (HD051746), and the National Institute of Mental
Health (MH051361). Support for earlier years of the study also came from
multiple sources, including the National Institute of Mental Health
(MH00567, MH19734, MH43270, MH59355, MH62989, and MH48165),
the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA05347), the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development (HD027724), the Bureau of Ma-
ternal and Child Health (MCJ-109572), and the MacArthur Foundation
Research Network on Successful Adolescent Development Among Youth
in High-Risk Settings.
Kimberly K. Assad and M. Brent Donnellan contributed equally to this
article. We thank Joan Poulsen and Kimdy Le for helpful comments on
previous versions of the article. Debby Kashy and Dave Kenny provided
valuable modeling tips and suggestions; however, we take full responsi-
bility for all analytic choices. We also thank Jennifer Piccard, who col-
lected the data described in Footnote 1 as part of her honors thesis at
Michigan State University under the supervision of M. Brent Donnellan.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to M. Brent
Donnellan, Department of Psychology, Psychology Building, Michigan
State University, East Lansing, MI 48823. E-mail: donnel59@msu.edu
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association
2007, Vol. 93, No. 2, 285–297 0022-3514/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.93.2.285
285
college students. Thus, because optimism is linked to the attain-
ment of important goals, we predicted that optimism would be
generally associated with happier and more satisfying romantic
relationships, given that this seems to be such a ubiquitous life
goal.
What mechanisms might account for the hypothesized relation
between optimism and successful romantic unions? According to
the behavioral self-regulation model proposed by Carver and
Scheier (e.g., Scheier & Carver, 1988; Scheier et al., 2001), opti-
mism helps sustain goal attainment behaviors in the face of diffi-
culties or obstacles. In this model, optimism is simply a general-
ized positive expectancy that facilitates the pursuit of goals in the
face of adversity. In contrast, individuals who have generalized
negative expectancy are more likely to disengage (either in behav-
ioral or psychological terms) in the face of difficulties. Simply put,
“optimism leads to continued efforts to attain the goal, whereas
pessimism leads to giving up” (Peterson, 2000, p. 47). Most
marriages and committed romantic relationships experience peri-
ods of conflict, disenchantment, or contextual challenges; there-
fore, it is likely that the tendency of optimists to persevere in the
face of such difficulties would promote a satisfying romantic
union.
One particular mechanism linking optimism to relationships
might involve problem solving. Specifically, we hypothesized that
optimists would work to manage the negative emotions that stem
from relationship discord and strive to reduce the areas of dis-
agreement in their relationships. Put differently, we expected that
optimism would be positively correlated with cooperative problem
solving in romantic relationships. By cooperative problem solving,
we mean concerted attempts to work with romantic partners to
resolve problems and disagreements without attacking, belittling,
or blaming partners for the existence of difficulties in the relation-
ship. Such a strategy for coping with relationship conflicts should
promote the union, given that problem solving of this sort is an
important correlate of relationship satisfaction and stability (e.g.,
Christensen, 1988; Fitzpatrick, 1988; Heavey, Larson, Zumtobel,
& Christensen, 1996; Stanley, Markman, & Whitton, 2002). For
example, Heavey et al. (1996) found that observer reports of
constructive problem solving were strongly correlated with self-
reports of marital adjustment (i.e. rs .50). In addition, cooper-
ative problem-solving efforts of this sort have been shown to
attenuate the negative impact of economic stressors on romantic
relationships (Conger, Reuter, & Elder, 1999).
The proposal that optimism would be associated with problem
solving in relationships is broadly consistent with the findings of a
recent meta-analysis that concluded that optimism is generally
associated with coping strategies that aim to “eliminate, reduce, or
manage stressors or their emotional consequences in some way“
(Solberg Nes & Segerstrom, 2006, p. 248; see e.g., Carver &
Scheier, 2002; Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Chang &
D’Zurilla, 1996; Maddi & Hightower, 1999; Scheier, Carver, &
Bridges, 1994; Scheier et al., 2001; Segerstrom et al., 1998). These
authors label such strategies as “approach” coping strategies, and
this tendency of optimists to favor approach forms of coping is
consistent with our hypothesis that optimism facilitates coopera-
tive problem solving. To be sure, our conceptualization of coop-
erative problem solving seems like a relationship-specific form of
approach coping.
Finally, whereas we were primarily concerned with the idea that
dispositional optimism affects romantic relationships, it is also
plausible that experiences in romantic relationships may affect
optimism. This proposition followed from theoretical work by
Huston (2000) that suggests that experiences in intimate unions
may influence the psychological make-up of individuals just as
characteristics of the individual may affect characteristics of inti-
mate unions. Likewise, recent theorizing in personality develop-
ment (e.g., Caspi, 1998; Neyer & Asendorpf, 2001) suggests that
social relationships are tied to the development of personal char-
acteristics. Indeed, although dispositional optimism is a relatively
stable individual difference construct, stability coefficients for
optimism do not approach unity (e.g., Scheier et al., 1994). This
raises the possibility that life events may influence optimism
(Atienza, Stephens, & Townsend, 2004; Segerstrom, in press) and
that, as Peterson (2000) suggested, “stress and trauma of all sorts
take their toll on optimism” (p. 51). Thus, we considered the
possibility that involvement in a distressed and dissatisfying rela-
tionship may have a deleterious impact on optimism, whereas
involvement in a satisfying and happy union may promote opti-
mism.
THE PRESENT STUDY
In sum, the previously reviewed conceptual and empirical work
supports our hypothesis that optimism should be linked to satis-
fying romantic relationships, and we proposed that a substantial
portion of this link should be mediated by problem solving. More-
over, there are also theoretical and conceptual reasons for expect-
ing that satisfying romantic relationships may affect optimism.
Accordingly, we pursue answers to three questions in this article:
(a) Does optimism predict the quality of romantic relationships?
(b) Is the link between optimism and relationship quality mediated
by cooperative problem solving? (c) Are optimism and the quali-
ties of romantic relationships reciprocally interrelated over time?
We addressed these questions using prospective, longitudinal data
from the FTP (e.g., Conger & Conger, 2002). In addition to these
substantive goals, we also evaluated the psychometric adequacy of
a questionnaire-based measure of cooperative problem solving.
There are two features of this investigation that are worth
highlighting. First, we used longitudinal data to examine the links
between optimism and romantic relationships. Thus, we could
explicitly examine how optimism and relationship quality are
interrelated over time and use temporal ordering to help constrain
the inferences drawn from these analyses. Second, we used a
multi-informant design (self-report and partner report) to evaluate
our hypotheses. This measurement strategy helped us in addressing
the criticism that shared method variance inflates the association
between individual characteristics and relationship variables when
a single reporter is used for all measures in a study (e.g., Gottman,
1998). To be sure, there is always a possibility that method
variance or “glop” (e.g., Bank, Dishion, Skinner, & Patterson,
1990) is a reasonable alternative explanation for observed corre-
lations between self-reports of dispositions and self-reports of
relationship variables. Fortunately, the use of multiple informant
data is the simplest and most frequently recommended way of
dealing with this concern (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee & Podsa-
koff, 2003).
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ASSAD, DONNELLAN, AND CONGER
METHOD
Sample
The participants in this investigation were drawn from a larger
sample designed to study the transition from adolescence to early
adulthood, the Family Transitions Project (FTP). A broad over-
view of the FTP is provided by Conger and Conger (2002). The
FTP started in 1994 (Wave 1) and followed a community sample
of more than 500 focal participants who previously participated in
the Iowa Youth and Families Project and the Iowa Single Parent
Project. The ethnic/racial background was predominately Euro-
pean American and largely reflected the underlying demographics
of rural Iowa. Data analyzed in this report came from those
individuals who participated in Waves 8 and 10 of the FTP with
their romantic partners. Waves 8 and 10 were the first time that the
measure of optimism was administered to this sample. We refer to
these waves by the primary year of data collection (2001 and 2003,
respectively).
Because there were so few participants involved in same-sex
unions (1 in 2001 and 2 in 2003), we restricted analyses to
heterosexual romantic relationships. All told, we had complete
cross-sectional data from 351 couples in 2001 (67.5% were mar-
ried, 20.0% were cohabiting full-time, and 12.5% were not cohab-
iting on a full-time basis) and complete cross-sectional data from
337 couples in 2003 (80.0% were married, 14.0% were cohabiting
full-time, and 6.0% were not cohabiting on a full-time basis). In
2001, the average age of women in these couples was 24.84 years
(SD 1.64) based on the response to the question: “What was
your age in years at your last birthday?” and the average age of
men was 26.53 years (SD 2.88). In 2003, the average age of
women in these couples was 26.78 years (SD 1.65), and the
average age of men was 28.64 years (SD 3.33). There were 293
couples with complete optimism and relationship data at both the
2001 and 2003 waves of the FTP, and 274 of those couples
involved with the same relationship partners in both waves
(93.5%). We used this subsample of 274 couples for longitudinal
analyses.
Procedure
Couples were visited in their homes by trained research staff
where they separately completed a series of questionnaires and
interviews about their relationship and personal lives. All individ-
uals were paid approximately $10 per hour of participation. Cou-
ples also participated in a 25-minute videotaped discussion task
during which the dyad discussed the history and status of their
relationship, the enjoyable events that they shared together, areas
of agreement and disagreement in their relationship, and their
plans for their future. These observational data had been coded for
the 2001 assessment only and were available for 331 couples.
The videotaped interactions were rated by trained observers
using the Iowa Family Interaction Rating Scales (Melby & Conger,
2001). All observers received 200 hr of training (20 hr per week
for 10 weeks) and passed extensive reliability tests before coding
taped interactions. Once coders were reliable, they attended at least
two “maintenance” training sessions each week to ensure contin-
ued reliability. To assess interobserver reliability, a second ob-
server independently rated approximately 25% of all videotapes at
each wave. These independent ratings were used to generate in-
traclass correlations that served as an index of the reliability of the
coding scheme. A complete description of all rating and task
procedures along with scale definitions is available from Rand D.
Conger.
Measures
Optimism
Participants completed the Life Orientation Test (LOT; Scheier
& Carver, 1985) using a 5-point scale (1 strongly agree,5
strongly disagree). Sample items included “In uncertain times, I
usually expect the best” and “I am optimistic about my future.” We
did not use the entire LOT because Scheier et al. (1994) argued
that a few items are problematic in that they do not directly refer
to the expectation of positive outcomes. This fact motivated the
revision of the LOT (the LOT–R; see also Carver & Scheier,
2002). Fortunately, five of the six LOT–R items were drawn from
the original LOT item pool, and these five items were used to
assess optimism in these analyses. This measure was scored so that
higher scores reflected greater optimism (women: M 3.62, SD
.60 in 2001; M 3.64, SD .59 in 2003; men: M 3.61, SD
.58 in 2001; M 3.58, SD .54 in 2003). The correlation
between our 5-item version of the LOT–R and the original LOT
was at or above .95 for all comparisons (e.g., women in 2001 and
men in 2003). The internal consistency was acceptable at both
waves ( for women .80 in 2001 and .79 in 2003; for men
.73 in 2001 and .70 in 2003), and reports of optimism demon-
strated substantial retest coefficients over the 2-year interval (r
.69 for women and r .63 for men).
Cooperative Problem Solving
Questionnaires
Self-reports. Participants were asked to rate how often they
engaged in seven behaviors when they and their partners had a
problem to solve using a 7-point scale (1 always,7 never).
The seven items are listed in the Appendix. This measure was
scored so that higher scores reflected more cooperative problem
solving behaviors (women: M 6.10, SD .74 in 2001; M
6.10, SD .67 in 2003; men: M 5.80, SD .79 in 2001; M
5.84, SD .76 in 2003). Self-reports had good internal consis-
tency ( for women .87 in 2001 and .84 in 2003, for men
.84 in 2001 and .85 in 2003) and were correlated within the dyad
(2001: r .40; 2003: r .38).
Reports for partners. Participants were also asked to rate how
often their partners engaged in the seven behaviors listed in the
Appendix when they and their partners had a problem to solve
using a 7-point scale (1 always,7 never) at both waves. This
measure was scored so that higher scores reflected more cooper-
ative problem solving behavior by the target of the rating (women
as targets: M 5.71, SD .92 in 2001; M 5.73, SD .92 in
2003; men as targets: M 6.02, SD .90 in 2001; M 5.99,
SD .87 in 2003). Reports of partners’ cooperative problem
solving had good internal consistency at each wave ( for women
as targets .89 in 2001 and .91 in 2003; for men as targets
.92 in 2001 and .89 in 2003) and were correlated within the dyad
(r .42 and r .48 in 2001 and 2003, respectively). We primarily
287
OPTIMISM AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
used these informant reports to help validate self-reports of coop-
erative problem solving as described in the Results section.
Observer Reports
Trained observers rated the videotaped interactions in 2001 and
rated each member of the dyad on specific behaviors using a
9-point scale (1 the behavior is not at all characteristic of the
individual,9 the behavior is very characteristic of the individ-
ual). Eight ratings were used to measure negative relationship
interactions: angry coercion, antisocial behavior, hostility, com-
munication (reverse scored), listener responsiveness (reverse
scored), prosocial behavior (reverse scored), warmth (reverse
scored), and positive assertiveness (reverse scored). These eight
ratings were averaged together so that higher scores reflected
higher levels of hostility and lower levels of warmth (women: M
4.20, SD 1.37; men: M 4.12, SD 1.37). The eight items
made an internally consistent scale for women (␣⫽.91) and men
(␣⫽.90). The average interobserver agreement across all eight
rating scales was .72 (median agreement .75). Observer reports
of high hostile/low warmth interactions were strongly correlated
within the dyad (r .71). We primarily used this variable to
establish a link between optimism and observable aspects of cou-
ple interaction in 2001.
Relationship Quality
Questionnaires
Participants completed a modified version of Norton’s Quality
of Marriage Index (Norton, 1983). This scale measures overall
evaluations of the relationship and is consistent with recommen-
dations by Fincham and Bradbury (1987) to assess global or
summary evaluations of the relationship. Participants indicated
how much they agreed with five statements about the relationship
using a 5-point scale (1 strongly agree,5 strongly disagree).
Sample items include “We have a good relationship” and “My
relationship with my partner is very stable.” Items were coded so
that higher scores reflected a more positive evaluation of the
relationship. One item that assessed overall happiness with the
relationship was rated on a 6-point scale (0 extremely unhappy,
5 extremely happy). The five agree/disagree items and the
happiness rating were standardized and then summed to create an
index of relationship quality. This six-item scale had very good
internal consistency ( for women .95 at both waves; for
men .92 in 2001 and .94 in 2003). Moreover, responses were
substantially correlated within the dyad (r .50 in 2001 and r
.49 in 2003).
Observer Reports
Trained observers rated the overall quality of the relationship on
the basis of their viewing of the taped 2001 interactions using a 9
point scale (1 low,9 high; M 5.42, SD 1.82). Interob-
server reliability for this measure was .80. This rating was corre-
lated with reports of relationship quality from both women and
men in 2001 (r .39 and r .43, respectively). We used this
variable to establish a link between optimism and a “third-party”
perspective on relationship quality in 2001.
RESULTS
Initial Comments
For all analyses, we used the conventional criterion ( p .05)
for judging coefficients as statistically significant. All discussed
coefficients met this criterion unless otherwise noted. Data from
couples presented special analytic challenges because of the lack
of independence between partner reports (e.g., Kashy & Snyder,
1995; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). To address this issue, we
used the Actor–Partner Interdependence Model (APIM; e.g.,
Kashy & Kenny, 2000, pp. 461–466; Kenny et al., 2006; Olsen &
Kenny, 2006) and extensions of this modeling approach for the
majority of our analyses.
An example of an APIM linking optimism to relationship qual-
ity is depicted in Figure 1. One advantage of the APIM is that it
separately estimates actor and partner effects for dyadic data. Actor
effects measure the influence of an individual’s predictor variable
on that individual’s relationship variable (paths labeled A in Figure
1), whereas partner effects capture the influence of the individual’s
predictor variable on her or his partner’s relationship variable
(paths labeled P in Figure 1). For example, when examining the
association between optimism and relationship quality, actor ef-
fects capture the effect of an individual’s own level of optimism on
her or his own satisfaction with the relationship, whereas partner
effects capture the effects of the individual’s level of optimism on
Optimism
Optimism
Relationship
Quality
Relationship
Quality
Men
r
r
A
A
P
P
Women
Figure 1. Actor–partner interdependence model. Actor effects (paths labeled A) measure the influence of an
individual’s predictor variable on that individual’s relationship variable, whereas partner effects (paths labeled
P) capture the influence of the individual’s predictor variable on her or his partner’s relationship variable.
288
ASSAD, DONNELLAN, AND CONGER
the partner’s satisfaction with the relationship. In analytic situa-
tions in which each dyad member provides self-reports of predictor
and criterion variables, partner effects are more methodologically
stringent because these effects are not subject to shared method
variance biases. That is, the same informant is not providing
information on both predictor and criterion variables.
We used a structural equation modeling (SEM) program to
estimate these models (see Olsen & Kenny, 2006). Prior to esti-
mating the APIMs, we tested whether dyad members were distin-
guishable by gender using the omnibus SEM test for distinguish-
ability (see Kenny et al., 2006, pp. 129 –131). In this case, the
omnibus test simultaneously evaluates gender differences in mean
levels, variances, and covariances. The most significant potential
gender differences for our purposes would involve differences in
interpersonal covariances (e.g., a difference between women and
men in how strongly optimism was associated with the partner’s
relationship satisfaction) and differences in intrapersonal covari-
ances (e.g., a difference between women and men in how strongly
optimism was associated with self-reports of relationship satisfac-
tion). Such gender differences would indicate that gender moder-
ated the associations that were the primary focus of our investi-
gation. However, we found little evidence that gender acted as
such a moderator.
When we found no evidence that couple members could be
distinguished by gender, we used the specification for the APIM
for interchangeable dyads in SEM as identified by Olsen and
Kenny (2006, p. 130). To better understand the specification of the
APIM for interchangeable dyads, consider again the model de-
picted in Figure 1. In cases where dyad members are interchange-
able by gender, it essentially means that assignment to the category
of men and women is arbitrary (see Kenny et al., 2006, for a full
discussion of distinguishability). Given that this distinction is
apparently arbitrary, the actor effects are constrained to the same
value for men and women and likewise the partner effects are
constrained to the same value. That is, for the example in Figure 1,
the estimate of the effect of women’s optimism on her relationship
satisfaction was constrained to the same value as the effect of
men’s optimism on his relationship satisfaction. Likewise, we
constrained the partner effects for women and men to the same
value. That is, in the example in Figure 1, the estimate of the effect
of women’s optimism on men’s relationship satisfaction was con-
strained to the same value as the effect of men’s optimism on
women’s relationship satisfaction. Moreover, means, intercepts,
and variances were constrained to the same values across gender.
In addition to imposing these constraints, it is necessary to correct
model fit indices as Olsen and Kenny (2006) detail in their article.
In the few cases in which couples were distinguishable by gender,
we estimated the APIMs using equality constraints on the actor
and partner effects, and when warranted, equality constraints on
the variances. These specifications and their rationale are thor-
oughly described in the text.
Preliminary Results
Self–Other Agreement, Longitudinal Stability, and
Evidence for the Criterion-Related Validity of the
Cooperative Problem-Solving Measure
Given that a questionnaire-based measure of cooperative prob-
lem solving was ultimately used to test the vast majority of our
hypotheses regarding the processes linking optimism to relation-
ship quality, we thoroughly examined the properties of this mea-
sure in a set of preliminary analyses. There was moderate to strong
self– other agreement on cooperative problem solving which can
be taken as evidence of convergent validity (r .48 for women
and r .42 for men in 2001, r .46 for women and men in 2003).
Put differently, self-reports of cooperative problem solving were
associated with reports of that individual’s cooperative problem
solving by her or his romantic partner. In terms of retest coeffi-
cients, self-reports of cooperative problem solving were very sta-
ble over the 2-year interval for the longitudinal sample (r .62 for
women and r .70 for men), and likewise partner reports of the
focal individual’s cooperative problem solving were very stable
over that 2-year interval (r .62 for women and r .60 for men).
Thus, the behaviors assessed by this measure appeared to be
relatively enduring in those couples that remained intact over a
2-year interval.
In addition to evidence for self–other agreement and overtime
consistency, we tested the criterion-related validity of the cooper-
ative problem-solving measure. As noted earlier, we expected that
cooperative problem solving would be positively associated with
relationship quality. In support of this expectation, we found that
self-reports of cooperative problem solving were correlated with
observer ratings of relationship quality (r .35 for women and
r .42 for men). On the basis of this promising initial result, we
used an APIM to link questionnaire reports of cooperative problem
solving to questionnaire reports of relationship quality in cross-
sectional analyses. For the 2001 analysis, dyad members were in
fact distinguishable by gender, omnibus test:
2
(6, N 351)
56.065, p .05. An inspection of means indicated that women
reported higher levels of cooperative problem solving than men,
d 0.39; t(350) 6.70, p .05. However, there was no evidence
of distinguishability once we relaxed the equality constraint in the
means for problem solving, omnibus test:
2
(5, N 351) 5.616,
p .35. Thus, there was no indication that gender moderated the
association between problem solving and relationship quality;
there was only evidence that men and women reported mean-level
differences in cooperative problem solving. Given this result, we
placed all of the necessary constraints on the APIM for inter-
changeable dyads except for means and intercepts. In this model,
both actor and partner effects for cooperative problem solving
predicting relationship quality were statistically significant. The
unstandardized actor effect was .62 (␤⫽.54), and the unstand-
ardized partner effect was .19 (␤⫽.17), which accounted for 40%
of the variability in reports of relationship quality. In other words,
controlling for the interdependencies in these variables, self-
reports of relationship quality increased .62 points for every
1-point increase in self-reports of cooperative problem solving,
whereas partner-reports of relationship quality increased .19 points
for every 1-point increase in self-reports of cooperative problem
solving. Thus, there was evidence for the criterion-related validity
of our cooperative problem-solving measure.
A similar pattern emerged when we tested the cross-sectional
model in 2003. Once again, there was evidence of distinguishabil-
ity, omnibus test:
2
(6, N 337) 50.536, p .05; there was
evidence that women reported higher scores than men on problem
solving, d 0.38, t(336) 6.070. Relaxing the constraint on
means substantially improved fit, omnibus test:
2
(5, N 337)
9.979, p .08; however, there were also indications of a slight
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OPTIMISM AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
gender difference in variances for problem solving (SD 0.67 for
women and SD 0.76 for men) given that an omnibus test of
distinguishability without means was rejectable,
2
(4, N 337)
9.979, p .041, whereas the test allowing variances to be freely
estimated was not rejectable,
2
(2, N 337) 2.335, p .31.
Given these concerns, we freely estimated variances for men and
women in the APIM, but nonetheless both actor and partner effects
were statistically significant. The unstandarized actor effect was
.62 (s .46 and .54 for women and men, respectively) and the
unstandarized partner effect was .21 (␤⫽.16 and .18 for women
and men, respectively). In sum, the actual parameter estimates
from the 2003 model were quite close to the 2001 model and
collectively indicated that problem solving was associated with
both self- and partner reports of relationship quality.
Finally, we examined whether cooperative problem solving in
2001 could predict relationship quality in 2003 in couples that
stayed together over this interval. There was evidence of distin-
guishability in this set of analyses,
2
(12, N 274) 66.866, p
.001. This was not surprising given our previous results. A test for
distinguishability without means was also rejectable,
2
(9, N
274) 19.944, p .05; however, freeing the variances yielded a
nonrejectable test statistic,
2
(6, N 274) 10.444, p .11. On
the basis of these results, we freely estimated variances when
testing the APIM that included cooperative problem solving in
2001 as a covariate. In this model, both actor and partner effects
for cooperative problem solving were statistically significant. The
unstandardized actor effect for cooperative problem solving pre-
dicting quality in 2003 controlling for quality in 2001 was .25
(s .19 and .23 for women and men, respectively), whereas the
unstandardized partner effect was .20 (s .17 and .16 for women
and men, respectively). Thus, there was evidence that cooperative
problem solving predicted relative increases in relationship qual-
ity. Collectively, all of our preliminary analyses indicated that our
problem-solving measure showed an appreciable degree of self-
other agreement, over-time consistency, and criterion-related va-
lidity.
1
Cross-Sectional Actor–Partner Interdependence Models
(APIMs) Linking Optimism to Relationships
Prior to estimating a series of APIM analyses linking optimism
with relationship variables, we examined how optimism correlated
with observer reports of relationship quality and negative interac-
tions in videotapes of the couples in 2001. Consistent with our
underlying hypothesis, optimism was associated with observer
reports of relationship quality (r .22 for women and r .26 for
men) and with observer reports of negative interactions (r ⫽⫺.26
for women and r ⫽⫺.20 for men). These particular correlations
were not confounded by shared method biases and provided sup-
port for our hypothesis linking dispositional optimism to romantic
relationships. Given these promising and reassuring results, we
proceeded with our analyses.
Optimism and Relationship Quality
We first examined the effects of optimism on relationship qual-
ity using the 2001 cross-sectional data. There was no evidence that
couples could be distinguished by gender,
2
(6, N 351) 3.607,
p .73, so we specified the APIM for interchangeable dyads. The
intraclass correlation for optimism was .20, and the correlation
between the residuals for relationship quality was .38. Actor and
partner effects of optimism accounted for 14% of the variance in
individual reports of relationship quality. The unstandardized actor
effect was .47 (␤⫽.32), and the unstandarized partner effect was
.22 (␤⫽.15). Thus, these results indicated that more optimistic
individuals were more satisfied with their relationships than were
less optimistic individuals (i.e., there was an actor effect for
optimism), and likewise, reports of relationship quality were
higher when individuals were in a romantic union with a more
optimistic partner as opposed to less optimistic partner (i.e., there
was a partner effect for optimism).
We found that the 2001 cross-sectional results were closely
replicated using the 2003 cross-sectional data, test of distinguish-
ability:
2
(6, N 337) 4.276, p .64. Actor and partner effects
of optimism in 2003 accounted for 8% of the variance in individual
reports relationship quality in 2003. The unstandardized actor
effect was .39 (␤⫽.25), and the unstandarized partner effect was
.14 (␤⫽.09). All and all, the cross-sectional actor and partner
effects for optimism appeared to be robust and provided support
for the contention that optimism was associated with romantic
relationships.
Optimism and Cooperative Problem Solving
We next examined the effects of optimism on self-reports of
cooperative problem solving using the 2001 cross-sectional data.
As we had previously discovered, there was a gender difference in
mean levels of problem solving that created a situation in which
the omnibus test for distinguishability was rejected,
2
(6, N
337) 47.169, p .05; nonetheless, when mean levels for
problem solving in 2001 were allowed to vary by gender, the test
for distinguishability could not be rejected,
2
(5, N 337)
2.927, p .71. Thus, there was little compelling evidence that
gender moderated the associations between optimism and problem
solving. Given this result, we estimated the APIM for interchange-
able dyads with the exception that we allowed for a mean-level
gender difference in problem solving. Actor and partner effects of
optimism in 2001 accounted for 11% of the variance in coopera-
tive problem solving in 2001. The unstandardized actor effect was
.39 (␤⫽.30), and the unstandarized partner effect was .13 (␤⫽
.10). The correlation between the residuals for cooperative prob-
lem solving was .32. The significant actor effect indicated that
more optimistic individuals self-reported higher levels of cooper-
ative problem solving than did less optimistic individuals, whereas
the significant partner effect indicated that individuals reported
being more cooperative problem solvers when they were involved
1
We obtained additional convergent validity information on the
problem-solving measure in a separate questionnaire study of 220 college
students (82% women) who were involved in romantic relationships. We
found that our cooperative problem-solving measure was strongly corre-
lated (r .54) with the Constructive Communication subscale of the
Communication Patterns Questionnaire (Heavey et al., 1996). However,
we favor our measure because the Communication Patterns Questionnaire
asks individuals to report on the behavior of the couple, whereas our
measure explicitly inquires about the behavior of each of the individuals
within the dyad and thus offers more modeling flexibility.
290
ASSAD, DONNELLAN, AND CONGER
in relationships with a more optimistic partner as opposed to a less
optimistic romantic partner.
We then tested the cross-sectional model in 2003 data. Given the
gender differences in problem solving in 2003, we specified the
APIM for distinguishable dyads. The actor effect for women was
.39 (␤⫽.28), and the actor effect for men was .35 (␤⫽.31). The
partner effect for women’s optimism predicting men’s cooperative
problem solving was .06 ( p .37; ␤⫽.05), and likewise the
partner effect for men’s optimism predicting women’s cooperative
problem solving was .05 ( p .43; ␤⫽.04). Thus, evidence for
partner effects of optimism for statistically predicting cooperative
problem solving was not particularly robust. However, actor ef-
fects of optimism on cooperative problem solving were robust.
To supplement these analyses, we used partner-reports of coop-
erative problem solving in place of self-reports to estimate cross-
sectional models linking optimism to cooperative problem solving.
That is, we used an “informant” report of cooperative problem
solving from a romantic partner instead of a self-report of coop-
erative problem solving. This strategy provided us with a way to
gauge how method biases influence actor effects in our models.
Put differently, any actor effect in these analyses would be uncon-
taminated by shared method bias because the individual was
reporting on her or his optimism, whereas the partner was provid-
ing a report of that individual’s own problem-solving behaviors
within the relationship. As with self-reports of problem solving in
2001, we had to allow for a mean-level difference between men
and women for informant reports of problem solving when testing
for distinguishability,
2
(5, N 351) 1.360, p .93; nonethe
-
less, there was once again no evidence that gender moderated the
associations between optimism and informant reports of coopera-
tive problem solving. The unstandardized actor effect was .21
(␤⫽.13), and the unstandarized partner effect was .44 (␤⫽.28),
which collectively accounted for 11% of the variability in each
informant report of problem solving. We replicated these results
using the 2003 cross-sectional data, test for distinguishability
(allowing for mean gender difference in problem solving):
2
(5,
N 337) 5.737, p .33. The unstandardized actor effect was
.20 (␤⫽.13), and the unstandarized partner effect was .39 (␤⫽
.25), which accounted for 9% of the variability in each informant
reports of problem solving.
In both cross-sectional analyses, partner effects appeared to be
larger than actor effects, which made sense given that the shared-
method bias was present in the partner effect. That is, the participant
reporting on the cooperative problem solving behavior of her or his
partner was also providing a self-report of optimism. Nonetheless,
actor effects of optimism were still evident in these analyses. Thus, no
matter which source of data was used to measure cooperative problem
solving, more optimistic individuals were more likely to engage in
cooperative problem solving than less optimistic individuals. Given
that actor effects were present in these methodologically stringent
analyses, we were comfortable using self-reports of cooperative prob-
lem solving for all subsequent analyses. This way the shared method
biases would be present in all actor effects, a situation that is typical
of most APIM analyses.
Full Process Models
The last models tested our full hypothesized process model
linking optimism to relationship quality via self-reports of coop-
erative problem solving. Given our previous results, we knew that
there was a gender difference in the means for cooperative prob-
lem solving in 2001. Thus, to simplify the correction to the chi
square model index when using SEM to estimate models for
interchangeable dyads, we freely estimated means when determin-
ing the correction factor (D. A. Kenny, personal communication,
February 9, 2007). The results for the full process model in 2001
are reported in Figure 2. The unstandardized actor and partner
effects for optimism predicting relationship quality were substan-
tially reduced in this model (unstandardized actor effect: .23;
unstandardized partner effect: .08, p .08) when compared with
Relationship
Quality
Relationship
Quality
Men
Women
C: .57
C: .57
Problem
Solving
Problem
Solving
Optimism
Optimism
A: .39
A: .39
B: .13
B: .13
D: .17
D: .17
.20
Actor effect: (E) .23; Partner effect: (F) .08 (p = .08)
Actor effect: (E) .23; Partner effect: (F) .08 (
p = .08)
Figure 2. Cross-sectional model linking optimism, cooperative problem solving, and relationship quality. R
2
for Problem Solving .11; R
2
for Relationship Quality .42. Covariances between residuals for Problem
Solving and Relationship Quality are not displayed to enhance figure clarity (r .32 and r .17, respectively).
Paths with the same letter were constrained to the same value. All paths were statistically significant unless
otherwise noted. Unstandardized path coefficients are reported. Standardized path coefficients (s) are as
follows: A .30, B .10, C .50, D .15, E .15, F .06.
291
OPTIMISM AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
the parameters in the model that examined the unmediated impact
of optimism on relationship quality (unstandardized actor effect:
.47; unstandardized partner effect: .22). In other words, controlling
for cooperative problem solving reduced the size of the relation
between optimism and relationship quality, a pattern consistent
with our prediction that cooperative problem solving mediated the
association between optimism and relationship quality. Moreover,
the total indirect actor effect (optimism to self-reports of problem
solving to self-reports of relationship quality plus optimism to
partner-reports of problem solving to self-reports of relationship qual-
ity) from optimism to relationship quality (.24) was statistically sig-
nificant when we evaluated it with the 95% confidence interval
(.18 –.31) using bias-corrected bootstrapping with 1,000 draws. Like-
wise, the total indirect partner effect from optimism to relationship
quality (.14) was statistically significant (95% CI .08 –.22).
We then formally tested whether the actor and partner effects of
optimism predicting relationship quality were fully mediated by
self-reports of cooperative problem solving using the logic of
comparing nested models in path analysis (e.g., Holmbeck, 1997,
p. 602; Preacher & Hayes, 2004, Footnote 2). In this context,
complete mediation is established by comparison of the fit of a
“full” model that includes the direct effects of optimism predicting
relationship quality (both actor and partner paths) with the fit of a
“reduced” model in which these paths are fixed to zero. Put
another way, a model that specified that only some of the associ-
ation between optimism and relationship quality was transmitted
by cooperative problem solving (the full model) was compared
with a model that specified that all of the association between
optimism and relationship quality was transmitted by cooperative
problem solving (the reduced model). If application of the Olsen
and Kenny (2006) corrections for model fit resulted in a statisti-
cally nonsignificant difference in chi-square model fit between the
full and reduced models, then there was no evidence against the
hypothesis of complete mediation. In essence, such a result would
indicate that the simpler “reduced” model with fewer parameters
accounted for these data as well as for the more complicated “full”
model. In such a case, there should be a stronger preference for the
simpler model. However, setting the direct actor and partner ef-
fects of optimism to zero significantly worsened model fit com-
pared with the model in Figure 2, ⌬␹
2
(2, N 351) 26.537, p
.001, leading us to reject the hypothesis of full mediation. Thus, we
only obtained evidence that cooperative problem solving partially
mediated the impact of optimism on relationship quality for the
2001 cross-sectional analyses.
2
The results of the 2003 cross-sectional model were similar to the
2001 results with few exceptions. The direct actor effect of opti-
mism on relationship quality was reduced from its “zero-order”
effect (unstandarized actor effect: .17, ␤⫽.11), and the partner
effect was reduced to statistical nonsignificance (unstandarized
partner effect: .04, p .45, ␤⫽.02). As we previously noted,
there was no evidence in 2003 of a partner effect of optimism on
cooperative problem solving (unstandarized partner effect: .06,
p .23, ␤⫽.05). The total indirect actor effect from optimism to
relationship quality (.22) was statistically significant when we
evaluated it with the 95% confidence interval (.16 –.29) using
bootstrapping procedures as was the total indirect partner effect
from optimism to relationship quality (.11; 95% CI .04 –.18).
Finally, there was no evidence of complete mediation when com-
paring nested models, ⌬␹
2
(2, N 337) 10.988, p .01. All
told, the results that we obtained using the 2003 cross-sectional
data supported our process model: A fair portion of the association
between optimism and relationship quality was attributable to the
cooperative problem-solving pathway.
Longitudinal Analyses Linking Optimism and Romantic
Relationships
After a thorough series of cross-sectional analyses, we con-
ducted longitudinal analyses based on 274 couples with repeated
measures data. Prior to these analyses, however, we compared
individuals in couples that dissolved after 2001 to individuals in
couples that did not dissolve on optimism, cooperative problem
solving, and relationship quality. To facilitate interpretation, we
calculated a Cohen’s d such that positive values indicated that
individuals in intact couples scored higher than individuals in
couples that dissolved. There were statistically significant differ-
ences for women’s reports of optimism (d .28; d .10 for men),
women’s reports of cooperative problem (d .30; d .09 for
men), women’s reports of partner cooperative problem solving
(d .40; d .10 for men), and women’s and men’s reports of
relationship quality (d .53 and d .31, respectively). Thus,
there was the suggestion that reports of optimism and relationship
variables by women were more predictive of relationship dissolu-
tion than men’s reports of these variables.
Optimism and Relationship Quality
In a model in which optimism in 2001 was used to predict
relationship quality in 2003, there was no evidence of distinguish-
ability,
2
(6, N 274) 3.435, p .75. The unstandardized actor
effect was .35 (␤⫽.23), and the unstandardized partner effect was
.17 (␤⫽.11), which collectively accounted for 7% of the vari-
ability in reports of relationship quality in 2003. Thus, there was
evidence that optimism in 2001 forecast relationship quality in
2003 in couples that stayed together.
We then estimated a model that included reports of relationship
quality in 2001 as covariates and found no evidence of distinguish-
ability,
2
(12, N 274) 16.032, p .19. The unstandardized
actor effect for optimism predicting quality in 2003 when we
controlled for quality in 2001 was .20 (␤⫽.13); however, the
unstandardized partner effect of .09 (␤⫽.06) was not statistically
significant ( p .14). In terms of the prospective effects of
relationship quality, the unstandardized actor effect of .47 (␤⫽
.43) was statistically significant, whereas the .02 (␤⫽.02) partner
effect for future relationship quality was not statistically signifi-
cant ( p .59). Collectively, these effects accounted for 25% of
the variance in relationship quality in 2003. In sum, we found that
the actor effect for optimism on future reports of relationship
quality persisted even after we controlled for concurrent reports of
relationship quality. However, we found little evidence for pro-
spective partner effects for either relationship quality or optimism.
2
Although we used self-reports of cooperative problem solving for these
analyses, the substantive interpretations were similar when we used
partner-reports of cooperative problem solving.
292
ASSAD, DONNELLAN, AND CONGER
Optimism and Problem Solving
In a model in which optimism in 2001 was used to predict
cooperative problem solving in 2003, there was no evidence of
distinguishability once we omitted means from the model,
2
(4,
N 274) 6.396, p .17. (Recall that we had already identified
a mean level gender difference for cooperative problem solving.)
The unstandardized actor effect was .30 (␤⫽.24), and this
coefficient was statistically significant, whereas the .04 unstand-
ardized partner effect (␤⫽.03) was not statistically significant
( p .45). Together, these effects accounted for 6% of the variance
in cooperative problem solving in 2003. All told, optimism in 2001
was associated with problem solving in 2003.
We then estimated a model using reports of cooperative problem
solving in 2001 as covariates. There was no evidence of distin-
guishability once we omitted means from the model,
2
(9, N
274) 10.460. Collectively, optimism and problem solving in
2001 accounted for 45% of the variance in cooperative problem
solving in 2003. The unstandardized actor effect for optimism
predicting cooperative problem solving in 2003 when we con-
trolled for quality in 2001 was .10 (␤⫽.08), and this coefficient
was statistically significant. However, the unstandardized partner
effect of .02 (␤⫽⫺.01) was not statistically significant ( p
.67). Thus, there was evidence that optimism in 2001 had prospec-
tive actor effects on cooperative problem solving in 2003 but no
evidence for prospective partner effects. Furthermore, there were
statistically significant prospective actor and partner effects for
cooperative problem solving in 2001 predicting cooperative prob-
lem solving in 2003. The unstandardized actor effect was .60 (␤⫽
.61), and the unstandarized partner effect was .08 (␤⫽.08). Thus,
there was stability in cooperative problem solving as well as
indications that involvement with a partner who was relatively
high in cooperative problem was associated with relative increases
in self-reports of cooperative problem solving.
Full Process Models
The last set of analyses tested our hypothesized process model
for optimism with longitudinal data. This model was similar to the
one depicted in Figure 2 except that we used optimism in 2001 to
predict cooperative problem solving in 2003 and relationship qual-
ity in 2003. As with the cross-sectional models, we freely esti-
mated the means when estimating the correction factor for the chi
square model fit adjustment when using SEM with interchangeable
dyads. Aside from mean differences, there was no evidence of
distinguishability,
2
(9, N 274) 11.912, p .22.
The direct actor effect of optimism on relationship quality was
reduced from its “zero-order” effect (unstandarized actor effect:
.17, ␤⫽.11), and the partner effect was reduced to statistical
nonsignificance (unstandarized partner effect: .10, p .09, ␤⫽
.06). Thus, there was evidence that much of the effect of optimism
on future relationship quality was mediated by cooperative prob-
lem solving because these values were reduced from their unme-
diated direct effects (.35 and .17, respectively). The total indirect
actor effect from optimism in 2001 to relationship quality in 2003
(.18) was statistically significant when we evaluated it with the
95% confidence interval (.12–.26) using bootstrapping procedures
as was the total indirect partner effect from optimism to relation-
ship quality (.07; 95% CI .01–.15). Even so, there was no
evidence of complete mediation when comparing nested models,
⌬␹
2
(2, N 274) 11.828, p .01. An examination of the APIM
in which cooperative problem solving in 2001 was measured
yielded substantially similar results (complete details available
upon request).
Examination of Personality–Relationship Transactions
Finally, we used a modified form of the cross-lagged model to
examine the possibility of personality–relationship transactions
following analytic suggestions by Neyer and Asendorpf (2001). To
simplify the modeling, we used the couple average of relationship
quality in 2001 and 2003.
3
There was no evidence of distinguish
-
ability,
2
(10, N 274) 8.809, p .55, so we constrained
coefficients for men and women to the same values. The model is
depicted in Figure 3, and it fit after application of the Olsen and
Kenny (2006) corrections for interchangeable dyads,
2
(1, N
274) 2.127, p .15. The effect of optimism on the couple
average of relationship quality in 2003 (after we controlled for the
couple average of relationship quality in 2003) was .14 (␤⫽.10).
This was similar to the effect of optimism on future relationship
quality after we controlled for current levels of relationship quality
that was previously described. The more novel parameter in this
model was the effect of relationship quality on future optimism
after we controlled for prior levels of optimism. This coefficient
was .02 (␤⫽.03), and it was not statistically significant ( p .40);
thus, there was no evidence that involvement in a satisfying
relationship was linked with relative changes in optimism. Esti-
mating a model with constrained “partner” paths from women’s
optimism in 2001 to men’s optimism in 2003 (and vice versa)
yielded a just-identified model after we applied the Olsen and
Kenny (2006) corrections (i.e., the model had 0 degrees of free-
dom); nonetheless, this parameter was not statistically significant
(unstandarized effect .05, p .59, ␤⫽.02). Thus, results from
these analyses did not support our speculation that involvement in
a satisfying relationship facilitated optimism or even that involve-
ment with a more optimistic partner facilitated optimism.
One reason for these null effects might have been the relatively
high degree of rank-order stability of optimism over the 2-year
interval of our investigation (i.e., .65, ␤⫽.66). This level of
stability made it difficult to detect cross-lagged effects (e.g., Cole,
2006) even though it underscored the notion that dispositional
optimism is a relatively enduring individual difference. Indeed,
although person–relationship transactions are theoretically inter-
esting, there is not a great deal of empirical evidence for these sorts
of effects. For example, Neyer and Asendorpf (2001) noted that
“most relationship qualities had no effects on personality” (p.
1199) in their cross-lagged analyses with a young adult sample.
3
A model in which each partner’s reports of relationship quality served
as indicators of a latent relationship variable yielded substantively similar
results. Likewise, a model in which each partner’s reports of relationship
quality were included as separate variables yielded similar results. In
particular, optimism had a significant prospective actor effect on future
relationship quality, but it did not have a statistically significant partner
effect when we controlled for prior levels of quality. Thus, no matter how
we analyzed these data, we found little evidence that a satisfying relation-
ship facilitated the development of optimism. Complete details of these
models are available upon request.
293
OPTIMISM AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
DISCUSSION
Most of the previous research on the psychosocial correlates of
dispositional optimism is explicitly focused on health outcomes.
The goal of this study was to extend work on optimism to the
intimate interpersonal contexts of romantic relationships. We pro-
posed that dispositional optimism would be associated with ro-
mantic relationships because more optimistic individuals would be
more likely to engage in cooperative problem-solving behaviors in
response to the normal disagreements or difficulties that occur in
romantic unions compared with less optimistic individuals. In
addition to testing this hypothesis, we examined the psychometric
properties of a questionnaire measure of cooperative problem
solving and found support for its reliability and validity. We now
comment on several of the more prominent findings from this
investigation.
Optimism and Romantic Relationships
We found consistent evidence that dispositional optimism has
both actor and partner effects when statistically predicting rela-
tionship quality using techniques recommended by methodologists
who specialize in dyadic analyses (e.g., Kashy & Kenny, 2000;
Kenny et al., 2006). This finding replicates the recent report of
Srivastava et al. (2006) who also found that optimism had both
actor and partner effects when predicting relationship quality. In
fact, the point estimates from cross-sectional analyses were re-
markably consistent across the two studies (Srivastava et al. re-
ported a standardized actor effect of .27 and a standardized partner
effect of .18). These now replicable partner effects for optimism
are particularly noteworthy because these particular associations
are free of shared method biases. Accordingly, it appears that
optimists are more satisfied with their relationship and that, per-
haps more impressively, optimists have more satisfied romantic
partners than pessimists. Moreover, evidence for the positive in-
fluence of optimism on relationship quality was evident in longi-
tudinal analyses that included controls for previous levels of rela-
tionship quality (see e.g., Figure 3).
In addition to showing the expected association between opti-
mism and relationship quality, we evaluated in the present analyses
a process model linking optimism to satisfying romantic relation-
ships through cooperative problem solving. In particular, we found
that cooperative problem solving mediated a substantial amount of
the relation between optimism and relationship quality. Our pro-
cess model was informed by past research showing that optimism
is generally linked with approach forms of coping (e.g., Solberg
Nes & Segerstrom, 2006). That is, earlier research indicates that
more optimistic individuals approach and actively cope with their
problems compared with less optimistic individuals, and this gen-
eral tendency seems to apply to the ways that optimists handle the
problems that occur within the context of romantic relationships.
The basic take-home message of this article is that generally
expecting the best is good for relationships because optimism
facilitates cooperative problem solving skills within close relation-
ships.
In this respect, it is useful to compare our model linking opti-
mism to relationships to the model proposed by Srivastava et al.
(2006). Those authors hypothesized a slightly different, but not
necessarily competing, explanation for the association between
optimism and relationship satisfaction. In their model, optimism is
linked with perception of partner supportiveness, which is then
linked with several positive relationship processes including pos-
itive engagement during conflict (see their Figure 1). Positive
engagement is conceptually quite close to our notion of coopera-
tive problem solving so the broad strokes of the two models are
quite similar. That is, our results and theirs converge in providing
evidence that optimism is linked with the ways that individuals
approach conflicts in their relationships. The difference is that we
omit the perception of partner supportiveness “step” in our process
model. This difference is due to our preference for models that
emphasize the links between personality dispositions and actual
behaviors that could, in principle, be observed by others. This
preference is driven by methodological concerns over shared
method variance and by our broader interests in combining per-
sonality traits with the interactional approaches favored by behav-
Figure 3. Cross-lagged model linking optimism and relationship quality over time. R
2
for Optimism in 2003
.44; R
2
for Relationship Quality in 2003 .27. Coefficients with the same letter were constrained to the same
value. All paths were statistically significant unless otherwise noted. Unstandardized path coefficients are
reported. Standardized path coefficients (s) are as follows: A .24, B .66, C .03, D .10.
294
ASSAD, DONNELLAN, AND CONGER
ioral researchers and relationship therapists (see e.g., Donnellan et
al., 2005).
Indeed, these analyses provide further evidence for the general
proposition that individual characteristics influence relationships
through aspects of couple interaction (e.g., Caughlin et al., 2000;
Donnellan et al., 2005; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Thus, one
reason that relationship researchers should “care about” personal-
ity characteristics is that personality traits are associated with
dyadic functioning. An important goal of the next generation of
studies linking individual dispositions to relationships is the un-
packing of the specific mechanisms linking dispositions to rela-
tionships (Caughlin et al., 2000). Our analytic and measurement
strategies illustrate one way that researchers can approach the
study of the processes, whereby personality characteristics affect
romantic relationships, especially when there is a need to show that
associations are independent of the confounds of method biases.
Cooperative Problem Solving and Enduring Dynamics
This initial evaluation of our 7-item problem-solving measure
was very positive and suggests that this measure can be fruitfully
used in future research. Moreover, the examination of the cooper-
ative problem-solving measure yielded some very interesting in-
sights concerning the role of problem solving and the nature of
romantic relationships over time. Most notably, cooperative prob-
lem solving in 2001 was prospectively linked with relationship
quality in 2003, after we controlled for relationship quality in
2001. In addition, cooperative problem solving had prospective
actor and partner effects. These findings suggest that cooperative
problem solving forecasts relative changes in relationship quality
and attests to its importance for promoting satisfying and happy
romantic relationships (see Stanley et al., 2002). In short, it ap-
pears that cooperative problem solving represents an important
interactional process that is associated with summary evaluations
of the relationship.
We also observed that cooperative problem solving was a rel-
atively stable aspect of romantic relationships over a 2-year inter-
val. This result is broadly consistent with the enduring dynamics
model proposed by Huston and his colleagues (e.g., Huston,
Caughlin, Houts, Smith & George, 2001). This model holds that
the psychological infrastructure of the relationship is established
very early and that this dynamic then persists as a relatively
enduring aspect of the relationship. Furthermore, the enduring
dynamics perspective suggests that individual characteristics are
influential to the extent that they help shape the enduring interac-
tional style of the couple. Our results for optimism are entirely
compatible with this model. We argue that optimism is a poten-
tially important influence on relationships to the extent that it helps
establish and maintain the approach that the couple uses to solve
problems, a dynamic that seems to persist as a relatively stable
aspect of the romantic union.
Limitations and Concluding Remarks
Several limitations, caveats, and qualifications of our work
should be noted. First, these results are based on a primarily
European American sample from the Midwest region of the United
States and should be replicated on more diverse samples. Second,
we emphasize that our results do not directly indicate that opti-
mists actually solve relationship problems more effectively than
pessimists given that we did not use an objective measure of
effectiveness as a criterion variable. Rather, our results indicate
that optimists tend to use a set of problem-solving tactics and
strategies that facilitate relationship satisfaction, for example, by
listening to and considering a partner‘s ideas for solving a prob-
lem. Whether or not these strategies are truly effective in coping
with problems is an open question; we can, however, claim that
these tactics statistically predict relationship satisfaction. Third,
future research should examine the processes linking optimism and
relationships over both longer and shorter intervals with alternative
methodologies such as diary methods or experience-sampling
techniques. We strongly endorse the view that constructive repli-
cations are necessary for scientific progress and suggest that mul-
tiple techniques should be used to study how optimism is linked to
romantic relationships. Fourth, we did not use latent variables for
our analyses; rather we used manifest variables given that we did
not have multiple scales for most of our constructs. Fifth, we
examined optimism in isolation from other individual difference
constructs, and there is debate over whether this is the best ap-
proach for understanding how optimism is linked with real-world
outcomes. Nonetheless, all of these limitations should be tempered
by the fact that our results show impressive convergence with
Srivastava et al. (2006), which bolsters our confidence in the
robustness of the link between optimism and relationships.
In closing, we believe that researchers studying the links be-
tween individual differences and relationships should strive to
develop a balanced understanding of the personality characteristics
that serve as liabilities for relationships as well as those charac-
teristics that foster satisfying and stable relationships. In that spirit,
we sought to extend previous research on the adaptive conse-
quences of dispositional optimism to the interpersonal context of
romantic relationships. Our analyses based on multi-informant,
longitudinal data indicate that a major reason why dispositional
optimism is an apparently positive “enduring resource“ for rela-
tionships is because optimism is linked with more cooperative
problem solving.
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Appendix
Cooperative Problem-Solving Measure
Now think about what usually happens when you and your
partner have a problem to solve. Think about what you do. When
the two of you have a problem to solve, how often do you ....
1. Listen to your partner’s ideas about how to solve the
problem. (R)
2. Criticize your partner or his/her ideas for solving the
problem.
3. Show a real interest in helping to solve the problem. (R)
4. Refuse, even after discussion, to work out a solution to
the problem.
5. Blame your partner for the problem.
6. Consider your partner’s ideas for solving the problem.
(R)
7. Insist that your partner agree with your solution to the
problem.
Ratings Scale
1 always,2 almost always,3 fairly often,4 about half
the time,5 not too often,6 almost never,7 never. (R)
reverse-scored.
Received November 10, 2005
Revision received March 15, 2007
Accepted March 23, 2007
297
OPTIMISM AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
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... Increases in relationship optimism that occurred post-intervention might also explain subsequent increases in other variables at follow-up. Dispositional optimism has been associated with better social functioning, including enhanced social support-seeking (Nes & Segerstrom, 2006), lower social alienation (Scheier & Carver, 1985) and loneliness (Rius-Ottenheim et al., 2012), improved relationship evaluations (Helgeson, 1994;Murray & Holmes, 1997;Srivastava et al., 2006;Assad et al., 2007), and longer lasting friendships (Geers et al., 1998) and romantic relationships (Helgeson, 1994;Murray & Holmes, 1997). Higher optimism about one's relationships may influence how individuals attend to and interpret others' behaviours and intentions, and therefore influence their own responses, making them more constructive contributors to that relationship (Srivastava et al., 2006). ...
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... In contrast, positive personality traits and similar factors (e.g., optimism, subjective well-being, and conscientiousness) reduce CHD risk [85][86][87][88][89][90]. These positive psychosocial factors are associated with less conflict and more support in intimate relationships, and more positive close relationships may maintain and enhance emotional adjustment and resilience [77,[91][92][93][94]. Positive affect is associated with higher relationship quality, especially when shared between partners [95]. ...
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Purpose of Review Research and clinical services addressing psychosocial aspects of coronary heart disease (CHD) typically emphasize individuals, focusing less on the context of intimate relationships such as marriage and similar partnerships. This review describes current evidence regarding the role of intimate relationships in the development, course, and management of CHD. Recent Findings Having an intimate partner is associated with reduced risk of incident CHD and a better prognosis among patients, but strain (e.g., conflict) and disruption (i.e., separation, divorce) in these relationships are associated with increased risk and poor outcomes. These associations likely reflect mechanisms involving health behavior and the physiological effects of emotion and stress. Importantly, many other well-established psychosocial risk and protective factors (e.g., low SES, job stress, depression, and optimism) are strongly related to the quality of intimate relationships, and these associations likely contribute to the effects of those other psychosocial factors. For better or worse, intimate partners can also affect the outcome of efforts to alter health behaviors (physical activity, diet, smoking, and medication adherence) central in the prevention and management CHD. Intimate partners also influence—and are influenced by—stressful aspects of acute coronary crises and longer-term patient adjustment and management. Summary Evidence on each of these roles of intimate relationships in CHD is considerable, but direct demonstrations of the value of couple assessments and interventions are limited, although preliminary research is promising. Research needed to close this gap must also address issues of diversity, disparities, and inequity that have strong parallels in CHD and intimate relationships.
Conference Paper
This study showed that couples' newlywed marriages and changes in their union over the first 2 years foreshadow their long-term marital fate after 13 years. Consistent with the enduring dynamics model, differences in the intensity of newlyweds' romance as well as the extent to which they expressed negative feelings toward each other predicted (a) whether or nor they were happy 13 years later (among those who stayed married) and (b) how long their marriage lasted prior to separation (for those who divorced). The results provide little support for the idea that emergence of distress (e.g., increasing negativity) early in marriage leads to marital failure but instead show that disillusionment-as reflected in an abatement of love, a decline in overt affection, a lessening of the conviction that one's spouse is responsive, and an increase in ambivalence-distinguishes couples headed for divorce from those who establish ii stable marital bond.
Book
The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology studies the burgeoning field of positive psychology, which, in recent years, has transcended academia to capture the imagination of the general public. The book provides a roadmap for the psychology needed by the majority of the population-those who don't need treatment, but want to achieve the lives to which they aspire. The articles summarize all of the relevant literature in the field, and each is essentially defining a lifetime of research. The content's breadth and depth provide a cross-disciplinary look at positive psychology from diverse fields and all branches of psychology, including social, clinical, personality, counseling, school, and developmental psychology. Topics include not only happiness-which has been perhaps misrepresented in the popular media as the entirety of the field-but also hope, strengths, positive emotions, life longings, creativity, emotional creativity, courage, and more, plus guidelines for applying what has worked for people across time and cultures.
Article
Interest in the problem of method biases has a long history in the behavioral sciences. Despite this, a comprehensive summary of the potential sources of method biases and how to control for them does not exist. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine the extent to which method biases influence behavioral research results, identify potential sources of method biases, discuss the cognitive processes through which method biases influence responses to measures, evaluate the many different procedural and statistical techniques that can be used to control method biases, and provide recommendations for how to select appropriate procedural and statistical remedies for different types of research settings.
Chapter
Publisher Summary This chapter describes the model of behavioral self-regulation. The notion that behavior-specifying information is coded in memory along with many interpretative schemas provides one simple way for behavioral goals to become salient in a given situation. The Self-Consciousness Scale was designed to tap the same psychological state as was produced by self-awareness manipulations. Providing for the existence of behavioral goals and standards and their activation in a given situation constitutes the first step in a model of self-regulation. There are two prominent approaches for self-regulatory phenomena. They are the self-efficacy theory and attributional versions of helplessness theory. The chapter outlines some of the past studies that substantiate different aspects of these theories. Some portions of relatively recent work to which the theory had led are described in the chapter. In describing the model of behavioral self-regulation, the general utility of the control-theoretic ideas is described in the chapter.
Article
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Article
This article examines a fundamental problem in research using self-report measures of marriage: attempts have been made to measure and explain variance in marital quality without adequate understanding and specification of the construct of "marital quality." A specific consequence of this shortcoming is that marital quality is not readily distinguished from other relevant constructs (e.g., communication). This, in turn, results in measures that have a great deal of overlap in item content, thus preventing clear interpretation of the empirical relationship between the constructs. The inability to establish unambiguous empirical relationships among relevant constructs severely limits theory development in this research domain. One means of avoiding these problems is to treat marital quality solely as the global evaluation of one's marriage. The implications of this strategy are examined in regard to three issues that have received insufficient attention in marital research: (a) the association between empirical and conceptual dependence; (b) the interpretation of responses to self-report inventories; and (c) the consideration of the purpose for which marital quality is measured. The advantages of adopting this approach, and the conditions under which it is most appropriate to do so, are also outlined.