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Can we talk researcher talks about the role of communication in happy marriages

See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Cross-sectionally, relatively satisfied couples engaged in more positive, less negative, and more effective communication. Longitudinally, reliable communication-to-satisfaction and satisfaction-to-communication associations were identified, yet neither pathway was particularly robust.

These findings raise important doubts about theories and interventions that prioritize couple communication skills as the key predictor of relationship satisfaction, while raising new questions about other factors that might predict communication and satisfaction and that strengthen or moderate their association.

  • Examining partner effects can provide a test of the robustness of the within-sex effects, and also allows for the possibility that within-spouse and cross-spouse effects will take different forms;
  • This idea is consistent with longstanding evidence from the social psychological literature that attitudes guide behavior e;
  • This idea is consistent with longstanding evidence from the social psychological literature that attitudes guide behavior e.

If changes in communication are truly the mechanism by which satisfaction changes, however, longitudinal data on communication behaviors are needed to show that communication consistently predicts changes in satisfaction over time.

Moreover, in the absence of such data, cause and effect cannot be disentangled: In the current study we addressed this gap by using four waves of observed communication and self-reported satisfaction data from a sample of newlywed couples to examine whether communication predicts changes in satisfaction and whether satisfaction predicts changes in communication.

Brief Review of Research: Evidence for the notion that poor communication predicts couple outcomes is mixed.

Consistent with the aforementioned pattern, low levels of positive affect and high levels of negative skills predict steeper declines in marital satisfaction over time Johnson et al. However, other studies are inconsistent with this general pattern, revealing counterintuitive associations between negative communication and changes in satisfaction.

Considering Bidirectional Linkages These findings pose a critical challenge for behavioral theories: One possibility is that communication and satisfaction are correlated concurrently not because communication predicts satisfaction but because satisfaction predicts communication. This idea is consistent with longstanding evidence from the social psychological literature that attitudes guide behavior e.

As such, communication may be a consequence of marital satisfaction rather than a cause. Support for this competing theoretical perspective would have important applied implications. In particular, this focus on decreasing negative communication and increasing positive communication forms the core agenda in large-scale, federally sponsored tests of leading couple education programs e. This focus is appropriate if poor communication is the root of marital distress.

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If poor communication is a symptom or correlate of distress, however, prevention programs targeting communication may prove less useful than programs targeting more proximal mechanisms generating distress.

Thus, clarifying the relationship between communication and marital satisfaction may advance understanding of their association and inform intervention. Understanding the antecedent-consequent associations involving communication and satisfaction therefore requires multiwave assessments of both variables. Yet few studies to date have assessed communication at multiple time points, limiting our ability to directly test these questions.

Brief Review of Research: Communication and Marital Satisfaction

Implementing a multiwave design also allows for new questions about whether the communication-to-satisfaction and satisfaction-to-communication effects have differential temporal sequencing, such that marital satisfaction initially predicts communication early in marriage whereas communication predicts marital satisfaction as time passes.

Prior research on the association between communication and satisfaction is also limited by its focus on middle-class Caucasian couples, which narrows the range of experiences captured and limits the generalizability of findings.

Studying samples that are culturally and economically diverse is especially important in light of the interventions described earlier, as recent federal initiatives have sought to develop and deliver communication-based interventions to ethnically diverse low-income couples Hsueh et al. The theoretical assumption underlying these models—that better communication yields stronger and more fulfilling relationships—has yet to be tested in these populations, however.

  • Both will need to work diligently to keep interactions positive;
  • Communication includes more than words and grammar;
  • The means, standard deviations, and intraclass correlation coefficients ICCs for each of the behavioral scales are presented in Table 1;
  • If the person chooses to connect by verbal means, the form might be a question, a simple statement of perceived fact, an explicit invitation, or a fragment of a thought or feeling.

The Current Study In this study we used four waves of data from a sample of low-income, ethnically diverse newlywed couples studied over the first 3 years of marriage to examine the direction of the relationship s between marital satisfaction and observed communication.

The early years of marriage are an ideal time to study these associations because they are a period of significant risk and change for many couples e. The antecedent-consequent models yield two sets of basic predictions: Bidirectional associations between satisfaction and communication may also be present, indicating that communication and satisfaction mutually reinforce one another.

In addition, simultaneously examining communication-to-satisfaction and satisfaction-to-communication allowed us to compare the relative magnitude of the pathways, providing new information about which is a stronger predictor. We considered two factors that may affect these general patterns. First, we examined whether the relationship between communication and marital satisfaction varies depending on what type of communication is being considered.

We can distinguish between several different types of communication behavior, including positive communication warmth, endearmentnegative communication hostility, contemptand effective communication assertiveness, generating solutions ; each of these may operate differently.

Can we talk?

Kim, Capaldi, and Crosby 2007 found that positive emotion was more important than negative emotion in predicting subsequent marital satisfaction, consistent with the view that positivity serves a predictive role in promoting intimacy and enhancing relationship functioning. It is also possible that low levels of effective communication may serve to undermine the relationship, whereas positivity may only be the result of positive feelings about the relationship.

Accordingly, we considered separate models for positivity, negativity, and effectiveness to allow for the possibility that the pattern of results may vary across communication type.

Within the marital literature there has been a great deal of interest in partner effects in domains such as personality e. Examining partner effects can provide a test of the robustness of the within-sex effects, and also allows for the possibility that within-spouse and cross-spouse effects will take different forms. This study examined these possibilities. Method Sampling The sampling procedure was designed to yield participants who were first-married newlywed couples in which partners were of the same ethnicity, living in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Recently married couples were identified through names and addresses on marriage license applications in 2009 and 2010.

These couples were telephoned and screened to ensure that they had married, that neither partner had been previously married, and that both spouses identified as Hispanic, African American, or Caucasian. Of those who responded and agreed to be screened for eligibility, 824 couples were screened as eligible, and 658 of those couples agreed to participate in the study, with 431 couples actually completing the study.

The response rate to the initial screening compares favorably to other studies of newlywed couples recruited from marriage licenses e. Participants For the 431 couples who completed the study, at the time of initial assessment, marriages averaged 4.

All African American and Caucasian couples spoke English during their interactions. Procedure Couples were visited in their homes by two trained interviewers who described the IRB-approved study and obtained written informed consent from each participant. After completing this and other self-report measures individually, partners were reunited for three 8-minute videotaped discussions.

For the first interaction, which was designed to assess problem-solving behaviors, partners were asked to identify a topic of disagreement in their relationship and then to devote 8 minutes to working toward a mutually satisfying resolution of that topic. After a short break, a third discussion was held that was identical to the second discussion, with the roles reversed.

These procedures were repeated three more times at approximately 9-month intervals subsequent to the initial assessment i.

Coders—five of whom were native Spanish speakers—coded only in their native language. The scree plot suggested three factors i.

Adding a fourth factor accounted for only an additional 3. The means, standard deviations, and intraclass correlation coefficients ICCs for each of the behavioral scales are presented in Table 1.