Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Relationship Outcomes and Their Predictors: Longitudinal Evidence from Heterosexual Married, Gay Cohabiting, and Lesbian Cohabiting Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Relationship Outcomes and Their Predictors: Longitudinal Evidence from Heterosexual Married, Gay Cohabiting, and Lesbian Cohabiting Couples

Article excerpt

Data from partners of 236 married, 66 gay cohabiting, and 51 lesbian cohabiting couples were used to assess if members of married couples differed from those of either gay couples or lesbian couples on five dimensions of relationship quality (intimacy, autonomy, equality, constructive problem solving, and barriers to leaving), two relationship outcomes (the trajectory of change in relationship satisfaction and relationship dissolution over 5 years), and the link between each dimension of relationship quality and each relationship outcome. Relative to married partners, gay partners reported more autonomy, fewer barriers to leaving, and more frequent relationship dissolution. Relative to married partners, lesbian partners reported more intimacy, more autonomy, more equality, fewer barriers to leaving, and more frequent relationship dissolution. Overall, the strength with which the dimensions of relationship quality were linked to each relationship outcome for married partners was equivalent to that for both gay and lesbian partners.

Key Words: gay couples, lesbian couples, relationship dissolution, relationship quality.

Five themes recur in the research regarding how heterosexual close relationships are maintained over time. Theme 1-women define themselves in terms of their relationships-is consistent with evidence that women are more likely than men to derive their self-worth from the quality of their relationships (Cross & Madson, 1997). Theme 2men prize autonomy-is derived from findings that men in relationships are more likely than women in relationships to value independence and self-sufficiency (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Theme 3-men and women make unequal contributions to the maintenance of their relationships-is grounded on reports that women are more likely than men to identify relationship problems, to do a disproportionate share of household labor, and to seek support for relationship problems (Thompson & Walker, 1989). Theme 4men and women find it difficult to resolve relationship conflict constructively-is consonant with the claim that, whereas women are motivated to talk about relationship problems, men tend to withdraw from such conflict (Gottman, 1994). Finally, Theme 5-institutional barriers are needed to stabilize marriages-is in accord with the view that, if society is to benefit from stable marriages, then it must pose barriers (e.g., the loss of rights and privileges) to prevent unhappy spouses from ending their marriages (Adams & Jones, 1997).

The study presented here is based on the premise that these five themes provide the basis for constructing a five-dimensional model of relationship quality. The major assumption of this model is that relationship quality can be understood in terms of gender-linked forces within the relationship that promote the happiness of each partner, as well as institutionalized forces outside of the relationship that enable partners to continue their relationship despite personal unhappiness. Based on the five themes as well as previous accounts of the nature of relationship quality (e.g., Adams & Jones, 1997; Cochran & Peplau, 1985; Fitzpatrick, Vangelisti, & Firman, 1994; Harter et al., 1997), forces within the relationship were represented by intimacy (merging the self and the other), autonomy (maintaining a sense of self separate from the relationship), equality (having equal power and investment in the relationship), and constructive problem solving (negotiating and compromising). Forces outside of the relationship were represented by barriers to leaving the relationship (pressure to remain together).

This study first compares appraisals of the five dimensions of relationship quality of partners from married couples with those of partners from both gay and lesbian cohabiting couples. If these five dimensions represent gender-linked processes of how men and women experience their close relationships and socially sanctioned barriers that promote the stability of these relationships, then the average levels of intimacy, autonomy, equality, constructive problem solving, and barriers perceived by partners from opposite-sex couples in socially approved relationships-heterosexual married couples-should differ from those perceived by partners from same-sex couples in socially stigmatized relationships-gay and lesbian cohabiting couples. …

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