Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

An Empirical Typology of Drinking Partnerships and Their Relationship to Marital Functioning and Drinking Consequences

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

An Empirical Typology of Drinking Partnerships and Their Relationship to Marital Functioning and Drinking Consequences

Article excerpt

Using cluster analysis, we identified a natural typology of drinking partnerships in early marriage. We found an interpretable five-cl(ster solution that evidenced significant and meaningful relationships with both marital functioning and drinking con.sequences. Cluster profiles were derived from hasbands and wives drinking frequencies, typical quantities. the percentage of couple's total drinking done in each other's presence, and the percentage of couples drinking done in the home. Clusters characterized by high levels of consumption were not uniformly associated with lower marital quality. Moreover, significant relationships between the drinking partnerships and both marital functioning and alcohol consequences held after statistically controlling for husbands and wives monthly alcohol volumes. The multidimensional notion of a drinking partnership may be useful in future efforts to understand the irnplications of alcohol use for marriage and family life.

Key Words: alcohol, cluster analysis, drinking partnerships, drinking patterns, marital quality.

Alcohol is commonly mixed with marriage. According to a recent national survey, 73% of martied men and 63% of married women drink alcohol (Hilton, 1991). Thus, for a majority of couples, drinking has the potential to both affect and be af*ected by marital events. Although research is beginning to examine alcohol use and its implications for family life, much of this burgeoning literature has concentrated on the effects of parental alcoholism on child outcomes, and surprisingly little research has been directed specifically at the marital bond. Moreover, the majority of studies to date have focused on problem drinkers-and primarily male problem drinkers-and little is known about the consequences of alcohol consumption for nonproblem drinkers and for females.

Undertaking research on the relationship between marital functioning and alcohol use is complicated by the variability in individual drinking patterns and drinking contexts. Even research focusing exclusively on problem drinkers has suggested a complex relationship between marital functioning and drinking. Consistent with common assumptions about the adverse consequences of drinking, research has implicated heavy drinking as a cause of marital dissolution (Burns, 1984; Power & Estaugh, 1990) and established its association with a host of marital problems, including conflict, infidelity, and violence. (See Orford, 1990, for a review.) However, research also has indicated that alcohol use may be adaptive or may improve marital functioning for some couples (Dunn, Jacob, Hummon, & Seilhamer, 1987; Holmila, 1988; Jacob, Dunn, & Leonard, 1983; Steinglass, Davis, & Berenson, 1977). Even in couples with an identified problem drinker, consumption patterns and drinking contexts may moderate the relationship between drinking and marital functioning. Jacob and Leonard (1988; Leonard, 1990), for example, distinguished subgroups of alcoholics based on the patterning of their consumption and found that drinking appeared to have a different effect on the marital interactions of steady drinkers, compared with binge drinkers.

The notion that alcohol consumption may have either positive or negative effects on marital functioning should not be surprising. Research has demonstrated that, although individuals recognize the negative behavioral effects of drinking, they also identify a number of positive effects, including beliefs of improved social functioning and heightened sexual arousal. In a number of behavioral domains, these expectancies, rather than the pharmacologic action of the alcohol, appear to be of critical importance (Hull & Bond, 1986). Experimental research on the effects of alcohol on social behavior and emotions demonstrates a pattern of paradoxical effects: Alcohol can both enhance and compromise interpersonal functioning, depending on the context. For example, alcohol has been shown to facilitate self-disclosure (e. …

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