Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Trait Expressiveness and Marital Satisfaction: The Role of Idealization Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Trait Expressiveness and Marital Satisfaction: The Role of Idealization Processes

Article excerpt

This study examined the processes that underlie the association between trait expressiveness and marital satisfaction. A total of 168 newlywed couples participated in a four-wave, 13-year longitudinal study of marriage. Cross-sectional and longitudinal path analyses suggested that expressiveness promotes satisfaction by leading spouses to engage in affectionate behavior and by leading them to idealize their partner. Expressive people formed idealized images of their partner because they brought out the best in their partner's behavior and because they interpreted their partner's behavior in a favorable light. The study extends previous research by showing that the benefits of trait expressiveness extend into the second decade of marriage and by providing a plausible explanation of the connections between trait expressiveness and marital satisfaction.

Key Words: idealization, marital interaction, marital satisfaction, personality.

Trait expressiveness, a personal disposition that reflects stereotypically feminine qualities such as kindness, gentleness, and understanding, has been linked to marital satisfaction in numerous studies (e.g., Baucom & Aiken, 1984; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986; Peterson, Baucom, Elliott, & Farr, 1989). Although originally labeled femininity, the name of this disposition has been changed to reflect the fact that it focuses on broad personality traits, rather than on other stereotypical aspects of femininity such as physical appearance, dress, and leisure interests (Spence, 1984). Also, the new title is more in keeping with the finding that positive stereotypically female qualities are important for both men and women. Indeed, several investigations (e.g., Antill, 1983; Burger & Jacobson, 1979; Peterson et al.) have shown that both men and women are happier with their relationships to the extent that they themselves possess such traits and to the extent that their partner possesses such traits. In contrast, there is little evidence that positive stereotypically masculine traits, such as independence, competitiveness, and self-confidence, are associated with relational satisfaction (e.g., Antill; Kurdek & Schmitt; Peterson et al.). Taken together, these findings have led researchers to conclude that trait expressiveness in either gender is a "most important ingredient in marital happiness" (Antill, p. 150).

Despite this important conclusion, little is known about the processes responsible for the connection between trait expressiveness and marital satisfaction. In the current investigation, we examine both behavioral and perceptual explanations for this connection. In the behavioral perspective, trait expressiveness is viewed as influencing marital satisfaction through the behaviors that spouses engage in toward each other. This contrasts with the perceptual explanation, which posits that trait expressiveness affects satisfaction by influencing people's subjective evaluations of their intimate partner. Although these explanations generally have been treated separately in previous research, they may be more complementary than mutually exclusive. Specifically, it is possible that trait expressiveness leads spouses to engage in affectionate behavior and that this, in turn, leads them to form relatively favorable perceptions of one another.

The specific theoretical links between trait expressiveness and marital satisfaction are depicted in Figure 1. In keeping with the behavioral perspective, trait expressiveness is associated with affectionate behavior in marriage. Compared with those who are less expressive, expressive individuals are more likely to engage in affectionate behavior toward their partners (Huston & Houts, 1998). This association is represented by Paths a and a' in Figure 1. The use of parallel paths (e.g., a and a') allows for an examination of whether the links between trait expressiveness and affectionate behaviors differ for husbands and wives. …

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