Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Perfectionism, Coping, and Quality of Intimate Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Perfectionism, Coping, and Quality of Intimate Relationships

Article excerpt

The present study examined the associations among perfectionism, marital coping, and marital functioning in a community sample of 76 couples. A theoretical model was tested in which maladaptive coping mediates the relationship between trait perfectionism and poorer marital functioning. As predicted, one of the interpersonal dimensions of perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, was associated with maladaptive marital coping and poorer marital adjustment for both the self and the partner, even after controlling for depression and neuroticism. Finally, the use of negative coping strategies mediated the relationship between socially prescribed perfectionism and poorer marital functioning for both the self and the partner. Overall, this study highlights the importance of spouse-specific forms of perfectionism in marital adjustment.

Key Words: marital coping, marital functioning, perfectionism.

The societal costs of marital discord are high. A growing body of work suggests that marital distress and dissolution can have a profoundly negative effect on both the psychological and physical well-being of spouses and of families more generally (e.g., Beach, Sandeen, & O'Leary, 1992; Burman & Margolin, 1992; Grych & Fincham, 1990). Not surprisingly, much research in the area of intimate relationships has been conducted in an effort to identify factors predictive of marital maladjustment or distress. For example, a considerable body of work has examined how the enduring vulnerabilities that individuals bring to marriage, such as personality traits, may contribute to marital adjustment or distress. Studies using both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs have found that personality is related to marital adjustment (e.g., Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Within this literature, the relationship between neuroticism and marital distress is the most robust (e.g., Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Bouchard, Lussier, & Sabourin, 1999; Kurdek, 1993). Given the strength of neuroticism as a predictor of marital adjustment, there have been calls in the literature to examine the influence of other potentially relevant personality traits and to evaluate their predictive ability relative to neuroticism (Karney & Bradbury).

The purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between perfectionism and marital functioning. Despite theoretical and empirical work suggesting that trait perfectionism is related to behaviors that are likely to affect the quality of intimate relationships (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b), little research has directly examined this association. This article addresses this issue.

Several researchers have noted the need for studies that go beyond establishing personality-- marital adjustment links to explore how these personality traits may influence the types of behaviors that are exchanged between partners and, in turn, marital functioning (e.g., Bradbury & Fincham, 1988; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). This article does this by testing a new theoretical model (Hewitt & Flett, 2002) in which perfectionism is linked to the types of marital coping efforts and therefore to the marital functioning of both partners. In particular, this article examines a model in which coping mediates the relation between perfectionism and marital maladjustment.


Over the past decade, there has been a marked increase in research on perfectionism. A significant theoretical advance has been the conceptualization of perfectionism as a multidimensional construct, comprising both intrapersonal and interpersonal trait dimensions (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991b). Hewitt and Flett (1991b) have described three dimensions of trait perfectionism: Self-oriented perfectionism is an intrapersonal dimension in which the individual requires the self to be perfect, whereas other-oriented perfectionism is an interpersonal dimension that requires others to be perfect. …

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