Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stress Crossover in Newlywed Marriage: A Longitudinal and Dyadic Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stress Crossover in Newlywed Marriage: A Longitudinal and Dyadic Perspective

Article excerpt

Studies of stress and marital quality often assess stress as an intrapersonal phenomenon, examining how spouses' stress may influence their own relationship well-being. Yet spouses' stress also may influence partners' relationship evaluations, a phenomenon referred to as stress crossover. This study examined stress crossover, and conditions that may facilitate crossover, in a sample of 169 newlywed couples over 3.5 years. A significant crossover effect emerged for husbands, which was moderated by couples' observed conflict resolution skills. For wives, a significant stress interaction emerged, such that the influence of husbands' stress on wives' marital satisfaction depended on wives' own stress levels. These findings highlight the importance of a dyadic approach when examining the role of stress in marriage.

Key Words: conflict, marital quality, relationship maintenance, stress.

Marriages do not occur in a vacuum but take place within environments that may constrain or facilitate marital development. When the environment of a couple contains numerous sources of strain, such as work stress or financial difficulties, marriages tend to suffer. Stressors external to the marriage have been associated, both crosssectionally and longitudinally, with lowered marital quality and greater marital instability (Bodenmann, 1997; Conger, Rueter, & Elder, 1999). Consequently, changes in marital quality over time cannot be fully understood without reference to the stressful events outside the relationship to which couples must adapt (Karney & Bradbury, 1995).

To date, most research examining stress and relationship maintenance has examined how individuals' functioning in marriage and other close relationships may be influenced by their own external stress. Yet one of the defining features of a marriage is interdependence, or the idea that one partner's experiences have the capacity to influence the outcomes of the other partner (cf. Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). A purely individualistic perspective on stress overlooks the likelihood that marital development ultimately depends on how stress experienced by one person affects not only the individual but also the partner (O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997).

The way spouses' stress may influence their partners' marital well-being remains unclear. The few stuthes that have taken a dyadic approach to stress highlight the importance of partners' responses to their spouses' stress for marital outcomes (see Larson & Almeida, 1999, for review). In general, positive responses (e.g., providing support, making allowances for a spouse's negative behavior) should work to contain the negative influence of stress on a marriage, whereas negative responses (e.g., engaging in negative reciprocity) are likely to exacerbate the transmission of stress between partners. Aside from these general predictions, however, little is known about the specific conditions in which partners may be more or less susceptible to their spouses' stress. Furthermore, discrepant findings have raised questions about whether husbands or wives are more heavily influenced by their partners' stress (e.g., Larson & Almeida). The goal of the current study was to clarify these issues by examining how and when stressors experienced by each spouse may be linked to the relationship evaluations of both spouses over 3.5 years of marriage.


Stress and the Individual: Spillover Effects

Spouses' stress frequently is associated with changes in their own relationship functioning, a phenomenon referred to as stress spillover (Böiger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Wethington, 1989). As external stress increases, spouses engage in more negative behaviors in the home (Bolger et al.) and report increasingly negative relationship evaluations (Tesser & Beach, 1998). Moreover, a 4-year marriage study revealed that when spouses experience higher levels of stress than normal, they not only report more specific problems in the marriage (e. …

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