Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Generalizability of Gottman and Colleagues' Affective Process Models of Couples' Relationship Outcomes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Generalizability of Gottman and Colleagues' Affective Process Models of Couples' Relationship Outcomes

Article excerpt

The generalizability of the affective process models of J. M. Gottman et al. (1998) was examined using a community-based sample of 85 married or cohabiting couples with at-risk backgrounds. Predictive associations between affective processes assessed at about age 21 years and relationship status and satisfaction assessed approximately 2.5 years later were examined. The major findings of Gottman et al. failed to replicate. In particular, men's rejection of their partners' influence, the lack of men's de-escalation of partners' negative affect, and women's negative start-up were not predictive of relationship status. Further, differences in affective processes were found when comparing discussion sessions of the men's versus the women's chosen topics. The findings suggested that the validity and utility of the affective process models need further investigation.

Key Words: affect, couples interaction, generalizability, process models, relationship satisfaction, relationship stability.

Affective features of couples' interactions are now recognized as a key component in couples' communication, predicting relationship quality and stability; positive affects are associated with stronger relationship adjustment, whereas negative affects are associated with poorer relationship adjustment or deterioration (e.g., Smith, Vivian, & O'Leary, 1990; Waldinger, Schulz, Hauser, Alien, & Crowell, 2004). Research on such risk factors has drawn a great deal of attention, particularly from clinicians, because identification of factors that put couples at risk for low levels of satisfaction, separation, or divorce has critical implications for intervention (Heyman & Slep, 2001). The work of Gottman and colleagues has been highly influential in this area (Bradbury & Fincham, 1987; Smith et al., 1990). Unlike many studies that rely on men's and women's selfreports, Gottman's innovative work involved observations of couples' interactions. Further, his work highlighted the importance of dynamic affective processes in such dyads and allowed for close examination of potential mechanisms of relationship maladjustment. The study by Gottman, Coan, Carrere, and Swanson (1998) predicting marital satisfaction and stability (i.e., relationship status) from affect expressed during observed newly wed couples' interactions (referred to in this article as the Newlywed Study) generated much attention, as well as substantial controversy among researchers and practitioners (e.g., DeKay, Greeno, & Houck, 2002; Hafen & Crane, 2003; Heyman & Slep; Stanley, Bradbury, & Markman, 2000).

Gottman et al. (1998) examined a number of affective marital processes, hypothesizing that certain negative affects and sequences of those affects were more destructive than others; they also examined the role of positive affect. They argued that anger may be productive and is less corrosive than affects such as belligerence and defensiveness. They posited that whereas negative reciprocity is indicative of affective dysregulation, and as such is dysfunctional, escalation of negative affect is a type of power move that indicates rejection of the partner's influence and is particularly deleterious to the future relationship. Following Patterson ( 1982) and on the basis of their own prior findings, Gottman et al. also hypothesized that the initiation of conflict was a critical issue and that marriages would be more successful if women (who usually were found to initiate conflict in observed laboratory discussions) would soften their start-up by not escalating from neutral to negative during the discussion. Affective patterns expected to predict more positive relationship outcomes included an interaction style whereby one partner de-escalated the conflict by expressing neutral affect following the partner's expression of either high- or lowintensity negative affect. Gottman et al. also posited that positive affect might be predictive of the couple remaining intact and of relationship satisfaction and that the total frequency of positive affect and the ratio of positive to negative affect were indicative of general goodwill toward the partner during the conflict discussion. …

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