Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Relationship Standards and Marital Satisfaction in Chinese and American Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Relationship Standards and Marital Satisfaction in Chinese and American Couples

Article excerpt

Samples of urban community couples in Shanghai, China, and suburban U.S. couples were administered measures of relationship adjustment and personal standards regarding characteristics of couple relationships. There were few gender differences in adherence to relationship standards but many differences between Chinese and U.S. couples. Fewer cultural differences existed in degree of couple consensus on relationship standards, but both adherence to standards and couple consensus on standards were associated with partners' levels of marital adjustment. Implications of the findings for clinical assessment and intervention with distressed couples, in particular for Western therapists working with Chinese couples whose standards may conflict with goals and methods of couple therapy, are discussed.

There has been growing evidence that the ways in which members of couples perceive, interpret, and evaluate each other and the events that occur in their relationship have a significant impact on the quality of their relationships (Epstein & Baucom, 2002). Baucom, Epstein, Sayers, and Sher (1989) identified five major types of cognition that have potential to influence partners' emotional and behavioral responses to each other: (a) Selective perceptions, or the particular aspects of relationship events that each partner notices; (b) attributions, the inferences that each person makes about causes of positive and negative aspects of the relationship; (c) expectancies or predictions about the likelihood that particular events will occur in the relationship; (d) assumptions that involve basic beliefs or schemas about the characteristics that individuals and relationships have in general, or about characteristics of one's own relationship; and (e) standards involving beliefs or schemas about the characteristics that relationships and their members "should" have.

Whereas selective perceptions, attributions, and expectancies are forms of moment-to-moment information processing, assumptions and standards tend to be more long-standing schemas or "cognitive structures"-relatively stable concepts that an individual develops about the world, including the characteristics of intimate relationships. The temporal distinction between schemas and the more moment-to-moment forms of cognition becomes less clear when members of a couple develop relatively stable attributions about the causes of events in their relationship (e.g., "She forgets things I tell her because I'm not important to her."). Such a cross-situational attributional style (Noller, Beach, & Osgarby, 1997) can be considered a form of schema in that it is a stable assumption about relatively consistent aspects of the partner that shape the partner's behavior.

Research studies have provided evidence that all five forms of cognition identified by Baucom et al. (1989) affect partners' level of satisfaction with their relationships and the degrees to which they communicate with each other in positive or negative ways (Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Epstein & Baucom, 1993, 2002; Fincham & Beach, 1999; Noller et al., 1997). The two types of cognitions that have received the most empirical attention and support as factors in couples' relationship quality have been attributions and standards. This study was intended to expand knowledge of the role of standards in couple relationships, exploring cross-cultural differences, because most research has been conducted with U.S. samples. Cultural differences in partners' relationship standards must be taken into account to achieve culturally sensitive assessment and treatment of relationship problems.

Standards and Relationship Quality

Albert Ellis (1976, 1977; Ellis & Harper, 1961) drew attention to the negative impact that "irrational beliefs" or extreme, unrealistic standards that people hold about intimate relationships has on partners' satisfaction and interaction patterns. Ellis applied the concepts and methods of his rational-emotive therapy to reducing marital distress by challenging the irrational beliefs that spouses used to judge each other and the quality of their relationship. …

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