Academic journal article Family Relations

Temporal Ordering of Supportive Dyadic Coping, Commitment, and Willingness to Sacrifice

Academic journal article Family Relations

Temporal Ordering of Supportive Dyadic Coping, Commitment, and Willingness to Sacrifice

Article excerpt

Dyadic coping, or the ways in which a couple deals with the stress each partner experiences (Bodenmann, 2005), has demonstrated robust associations with the quality of intimate relationships (e.g., Bodenmann, Pihet, & Kayser, 2006), even when examined in concert with individual coping efforts (Papp & Witt, 2010). Indeed, dyadic coping predicted relationship satisfaction for male partners a decade later (Ruffieux, Nussbeck, & Bodenmann, 2014), and Couples Coping Enhancement Training (CCET; Bodenmann & Shantinath, 2004), an intervention program that targets dyadic coping, produced increases in relationship quality that were maintained 1 year later (Bodenmann, Charvoz, Cina, & Widmer, 2001). The way in which intimate partners respond to each other's stress clearly has implications for the happiness and stability of their union (Bodenmann & Cina, 2005), but little is known about how dyadic coping relates to other salient relationship processes, such as commitment and the willingness to make sacrifices for a partner.

In the present study we focused on understanding the temporal ordering between supportive dyadic coping (encompassing the positive instrumental and emotional behaviors enacted to assist a partner experiencing stress and operationalized through self- and partner reports from each member of the couple; Bodenmann, 2005), commitment (the intention to maintain a partnership into the future; Stanley & Markman, 1992), and the willingness to sacrifice one's own desires for the benefit of one's partner. Concepts rooted in interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) and data collected from focal participants (referred to as anchors) and their intimate partners who maintained their relationship across Waves 1, 3, and 5 of the German Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (pairfam) study were used to investigate this topic.


In this study we drew on interdependence theory to conceptualize how supportive dyadic coping, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice might be associated. Interdependence theory provides an explanation for how the beliefs and actions of both partners in an intimate union influence one another and the course of their relationship (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978; Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). According to this perspective, commitment to a relationship is a function of each partner's satisfaction and perceived quality of alternatives, whereby commitment is likely to be high when both partners are satisfied and perceive alternative arrangements (i.e., possible other partners or being alone) to be unfavorable.

In addition to relationship satisfaction and perceived quality of alternatives, the investment model asserts that the tangible (e.g., time or money) and intangible (e.g., emotional involvement or self-disclosure) investments made in a relationship also drive the development of commitment (Rusbult, 1980). As relationships progress and commitment deepens, individuals become more likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors as they experience a transformation of motivation (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978). This process allows intimate partners to prioritize the long-term health of their union over their own immediate, egoistic desires in a given situation, often manifested by an increased willingness to make sacrifices (Van Lange et al., 1997). Foregoing self-interest for the benefit of one's partner is particularly meaningful for an intimate relationship because it provides a strong signal between partners that commitment has developed (Stanley, Rhoades, & Whitton, 2010).

According to interdependence theory, a clear pathway emerges: Investments into a relationship (along with satisfaction and quality of alternatives) drive the development of commitment. Commitment, in turn, prompts a transformation of motivation, whereby partners become willing to make sacrifices for the health of their relationship. …

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