Engaged couples form patterns of positive and negative behavior that can predict their marital satisfaction. “Serious marital dissatisfaction predicts increased risk for a major depressive episode, even when controlling for history of depression,” said Rebecca E. Osterhout of the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and lead author of a new study examining how engaged couples’ interactions predict marital satisfaction. “Marital distress and divorce are also associated with negative child and family outcomes (e.g., poorer parenting, increased parent-child conflict, increased risk for child conduct, emotional, and behavioral problems).” Because the engagement period provides a map for the direction the marriage will ultimately take, it is a vital time for developing adaptive strategies. “With this in mind, the current study examined the association of two empirically established predictors of relationship distress in married samples, dyadic behavior and maladaptive attributions, in a sample of engaged couples reporting high levels of relationship satisfaction.”
Attributions are ways in which a partner explains a behavior or event, and maladaptive attributions tend to be intentional, often resulting in the blaming of a partner. “Research indicates that distressed couples tend to make more maladaptive attributions than do couples who are satisfied in their relationships,” said Osterhout. For her study, Osterhout evaluated the attributions of 43 engaged couples as they discussed two marital topics and found that negative attributions did indeed lead to negative behaviors. “This finding is important because it indicates that maladaptive attributions may be an enduring vulnerability that is present and potentially preventable prior to marriage. The presence of the behavior-attribution link prior to marriage suggests that interventions with the goal of preventing marital discord should assess and seek to modify both behavior and maladaptive attributions.” Osterhout added, “Cognitive and behavioral preventative interventions at the pre-marital stage may be particularly effective as satisfied, engaged couples may be more willing and motivated to learn and utilize new relationship skills and may be more likely to recognize the positive benefits of practicing and implementing the skills, which may be more naturally reinforcing.”
Osterhout, Rebecca E., Laura E. Frame, and Matthew D. Johnson. “Maladaptive Attributions and Dyadic Behavior Are Associated in Engaged Couples.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 30.8 (2011): 787-818. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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