Couples who drink alcohol often do so together. Whether it is sharing a bottle of wine over dinner or having a few drinks at a social gathering, research suggests that couples who drink together have more intimate and satisfying relationships than those who drink apart. But why is that? What motivates a person in a relationship to join their partner in social drinking? Ash Levitt of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo in New York wanted to find out if expectations of alcohol use, and specifically, whether conceptions that drinking will enhance relationship elements, are related to alcohol use among intimate partners.
In a recent study, Levitt examined data from 470 married couples and evaluated their drinking behaviors over the first nine years of their marriages. He looked at what motivated the men and women to drink with their spouses, and what led them to drink apart from them, and how these behaviors affected overall relationship satisfaction and realization of expectancies. He found that both men and women expected to have more social and intimate interactions with their partners when they drank together. This was not the case when they merely drank in the company of their spouse, but only when they drank with their spouse. In other words, each partner believed drinking would enhance their intimacy and closeness; therefore, they drank with that expectation and those expectations in turn increased the motivation to drink.
Levitt also found that when partners drank apart from one another they had more relationship conflict and higher levels of dissatisfaction. Power expectancies also contributed to this effect. When partners felt the need to battle for power, they were more likely to drink apart than with each other. In contrast, the partners who drank together did not have as many power struggles. Levitt noticed that, in addition, women held slightly higher expectations of intimacy. This led to increased instances of drinking for the women, but not for the men. The findings of this study demonstrate the reciprocal effects of alcohol expectancies in romantic relationships. “The current results suggest that couple members drink together more because of certain positive expected effects of alcohol and that doing so positively reinforces these expectancies,” said Levitt.
Levitt, A., and Leonard, K. E. (2012). Relationship-specific alcohol expectancies and relationship-drinking contexts: Reciprocal influence and gender-specific effects over the first 9 years of marriage. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030821
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