Decision-Making Power, Autonomy, and Communication in Remarried Spouses Compared with First-Married Spouses

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Decision-Making Power, Autonomy, and Communication in Remarried Spouses Compared With First-Married Spouses*

The current study evaluated differences between remarried and first-married individuals in communication and standards for autonomy and decision-making power using self-report data from 111 remarried and Ill matched first-married spouses. Remarried spouses endorsed more autonomous standards in childrearing and finances. Also, remarried women endorsed greater autonomy regarding friendships and family. These standards for greater autonomy were not related to marital distress. No differences were found in standards for marital decision-making power. Remarried spouses did not report more avoidance in communication about marital problems, and avoidance of problem discussion was related to marital distress for both groups.

Key Words: autonomy, communication, decision-making power, remarriage.

Almost half of all marriages in the United States involve at least one previously married partner (Wilson & Clarke, 1992). Although a large body of literature has examined the dynamics of remarried families, usually with stepchildren, relatively little empirical work has examined the maritally relevant cognitions and behaviors of remarried spouses. From a cognitive-behavioral model of marriage, an examination of maritally relevant cognitions and behaviors is key to understanding marital functioning (Baucom & Epstein, 1990). Clinical experience, theory, and existing empirical studies indicate that the cognitions and behaviors of remarried individuals can change from an earlier marriage (e.g., Byrd & Smith, 1988; Prado & Markman, 1999; Roberts & Price, 1985). Such cognitive or behavioral change might occur as a function of experience in a previous marriage, followed by divorce, singlehood, and remarriage. Alternatively, these changes might occur because of the unique challenges and circumstances of remarriage or natural developmental changes as the individual ages. Regardless of the specific etiologies of such changes, individuals in remarriages might have changed their marital cognitions and behaviors from their first marriages.

Given these reported changes from first marriage to remarriage, a possible inference is that remarried individuals, as a group, differ in key ways from those in a first marriage; however, this inference rarely has been empirically tested. An awareness of possible differences is helpful for basic understanding of remarried persons and for clinical intervention with remarried individuals and their marriages. It is problematic to use first-marriage families as the norm when evaluating stepfamilies (e.g., Anderson & White, 1986; Fine & Schwebel, 1991; Pink & Wampler, 1985); similarly, it may be maladaptive to use norms developed from persons in their first marriages to evaluate a remarried individual's maritally related cognitions and behavior. Because most remarriage literature focuses on the remarried family rather than remarried individuals, there is a need for basic information about these individuals to further our understanding of how their cognitions and behaviors compare with persons in a first marriage.

Research examining cognitions and behavior in marriage has established that one important type of cognition related to marital quality is an individual's standards for how marital relationships and partners should be (Baucom, Epstein, Rankin, & Burnett, 1996). Individuals typically have standards for relationship autonomy and power-two dimensions important in individual and marital functioning (Epstein & Baucom, 2001). Marital adjustment also is related to communication behaviors such as spousal tendencies to approach or avoid discussion of relationship conflicts (Christensen & Sullaway, 1984). In the current study, we compare individuals who are remarried with those in their first marriages, investigating their standards for how marriage should be in the domains of autonomy and decision-making power and their reported communication patterns. …