Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Quality and Spouses' Marriage Work with Close Friends and Each Other

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Quality and Spouses' Marriage Work with Close Friends and Each Other

Article excerpt

Through in-home interviews with 142 married couples, we explored how husbands' and wives' marriage work with close friends and one another was linked to their perceptions of marital quality. Results showed that husbands engaged in more marriage work with their wives than with close friends, whereas wives engaged in similar levels of marriage work with their close friends and husbands. For wives, marriage work with their spouses was found to moderate the relationship between marital quality and marriage work with friends. At low levels of marriage work with their spouses, wives' marriage work with friends was negatively related to their reports of marital love and positively related to reports of ineffective arguing. In contrast, at high levels of marriage work with their husbands, no significant relationship was found between wives' marriage work with friends and marital quality for wives. Findings underscore the role of spouses' friendships and suggest that the strength of spouses' ties to one another is linked to the social context they and their close friends create.

Key Words: friendship, marital quality, marriage, marriage work, social context.

Husbands' and wives' close friendships are one aspect of the social context in which their family relationships develop (Milardo & Helms-Erikson, 2000). Although numerous studies have explored links between marital outcomes and the structural patterns of spouses' social networks (e.g., density, network overlap), little attention has been given to the routine processes that occur in spouses' relationships with particular close friends. Both social support and marital relationship researchers have encouraged greater attention to everyday interactions that spouses experience with specific friends (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000; Huston, 2000). For example, Leatham and Duck (1990) argue that

Attention needs to be paid not only to the obvious heroic instances of transactions of social support, but also to the run-of-the-mill transactions of friendship that provide the backdrop against which social support is delivered in a crisis or circumstances of special need. (pp. 1-2)

In the current study, we explored the links between friendship and marriage by paying particular attention to both husbands' and wives' routine disclosures with their closest friends about their marriage-a process we label marriage work based on earlier research by Oliker (1989). More specifically, we examined (a) the extent to which both husbands and wives engaged in marriage work with their close friends and one another, and (b) the associations between spouses' perceptions of marital quality and husbands' and wives' reliance on marriage work with one another and their close friends.


Oliker's (1989) conceptualization of marriage work was based, in part, on Hochschild's (1979, 1983) construct of emotion work. Hochschild defined emotion work as deliberate attempts to change or shape emotions or feelings in a given relational context. She proposed that individuals attempt to actively change their emotions or feelings in either degree or quality to comply with socially constructed, internalized feeling rules that dictate the appropriateness of an emotion. For example, an individual may perceive that anger is not justified in a given situation and may try not to be angry. In conceptualizing marriage work, Oliker focused on the cognitive techniques Hochschild proposed for managing emotions. Cognitive techniques were defined as attempts to change "images, ideas or thoughts in the service of changing feelings associated with them" (Hochschild, 1979, p. 562). For example, the women in Oliker's study said that talking about marital problems with a close friend changed their attitudes and feelings about the problems, their husbands, or their marriages. Discussions usually included friends validating wives' feelings as well as introducing new perspectives. …

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