Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Observer, Self-, and Partner Reports of Hostile Behaviors in Romantic Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Observer, Self-, and Partner Reports of Hostile Behaviors in Romantic Relationships

Article excerpt

The present study examines how different observers of romantic relationships differ in their reports of hostility. Using confirmatory factor analysis with structured means, the results from 236 young adults and their romantic partners indicated that (a) the correlations among targets' self-reports, partners' reports, and observers' reports of targets' behaviors were moderate; (b) targets' self-reports of their own level of hostility were lower than their partners' reports of them; (c) young couples who were living together demonstrated a higher level of hostility than dating couples; and (d) women showed a higher level of hostility toward their partners than did men.

Key Words: close relationships, cohabitation, dating, marriage, structural equation modeling.

Successful romantic relationships have significance both for individuals and society. Dating relationships often lead to marriage and the formation of new families, and stable families offer known economic, social, physical, and psychological advantages to both adults and children. At the same time, romantic relationships can be fragile, and the emergence of destructive or self-defeating patterns of interaction within a relationship can undermine the well-being of adults and children in families (Simons & Marcussen, 1999; Wickrama, Lorenz, Conger, & Elder, 1997). For this reason, family scholars have come to acknowledge the centrality of patterns of interaction between couples, and couples' perceptions of those interactions, on the eventual success or failure of relationships (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998; Huston & Houts, 1998). For example, Karney and Bradbury's (1995) vulnerability-stress-adaptation model and Bryant and Conger's (2002) romantic relationship development model both emphasize the importance of couples" interactions, especially hostile interactions. Conger, Cui, Bryant, and Elder (2000), in testing aspects of their model, found that the hostility of a target young adult toward a romantic partner was associated with low relationship quality. In the present report, we focus on romantic couples' hostile interactions as a risk factor for decreasing relationship quality and we examine how observers of romantic relationships differ in their perceptions of couple hostility.

One of the difficulties family researchers have in studying patterns of behavioral interaction is that the patterns may look different, depending on who is reporting the behaviors. Therefore, when a single person answers all the questions in a survey, responses may be biased by the unique dispositions of that individual. For example, in many family studies, the respondent may be asked about the attitudes or behaviors of other family members: Would you say your husband is hostile? Depressed? Are your children well behaved? Delinquent? Collecting information about family members from a single respondent may create systematic measurement error, specifically, method variance bias (Bank, Dishion, Skinner, & Patterson, 1990; Lorenz, Conger, Simons, Whitbeck, & Elder, 1991). Respondents' description of the attitudes and behaviors of other family members may reflect their own dispositions and attributions more than it describes the family member about whom the response was intended. For example, a partner's perceptions of a spouse's behavior may depend more on the partner's general feelings about the relationship than on the spouse's actual behavior (Weiss, 1980). Many researchers realizing the limitations of single-informant methods have advocated multiple-informant studies (e.g., Bank et al.).

The increase in multiple-informant research raises further issues about the similarities and differences among responses by different informants. Most studies investigating this issue, however, have focused primarily on married couples and have not included couples in other types of romantic relationships (e.g., Melby, Conger, Ge, & Warner, 1995; Melby, Ge, Conger, & Warner, 1995). …

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