Positive Expectations Predict Positive Marital Interactions

Spouses interact in many ways, including sexually, physically, and emotionally. When both spouses work during the day, evenings can be a time to reunite and wash away daily stressors, or it can be a time of tension. Some people return home from work strung out and with few emotional resources left for healthy interactions, while others are still able to communicate and bond with their spouses in adaptive and constructive ways. Although these outcomes are based primarily on each individual’s emotional state after a long day at work, Dominik Schoebi of the Department of Psychology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland wanted to know how outcomes were influenced by one spouse’s expectations of the other. Specifically, if one spouse expects marital interactions to be positive, does that lead to more positive interactions? In contrast, do more negative expectations predict negative interactions? Also, Schoebi wanted to know what would happen when expectations were not realized.

In a recent study, Schoebi analyzed 10 days of data gathered from 103 couples. The couples were comprised of dual-income earners with children. They recorded their expectations of positive or negative interactions, then recorded the actual exchanges that occurred. The participants were also assessed for measures of rejection sensitivity, as being more sensitive to rejection could make one more vulnerable to negative outcomes when expectations are not realized. Schoebi found that although partners reported both negative and positive expectations, positive expectations were better predictors of positive interactions, even when they were unrealized. “Violation of daily expectancies was not associated with more negative interactions, but with more positive interactions,” Schoebi said.

This finding was rather surprising, but suggests that individuals who maintain a positive attitude and expect positive outcomes may view intimate exchanges through a positive lens even when their ideal desires are not met. Schoebi also noted that the participants with low rejection sensitivity were most likely to have positive exchanges with their spouses even if their original positive expectations were not met. The results of this study suggest that attitude and expectations act as a buffer for constructive and adaptive interactions between working spouses. Future work should extend this evidence by including partners of varying ethnic backgrounds and employment status.

Schoebi, Dominik, Meinrad Perrez, and Thomas N. Bradbury. Expectancy effects on marital interaction: Rejection sensitivity as a critical moderator. Journal of Family Psychology 26.5 (2012): 709-18. Print.

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  • Kelly k

    Kelly k

    November 13th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    What’s that old saying- you get what you give?
    Totally relate to that in any marriage

  • Ashley


    November 13th, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    It seems like it would also be interesting to do this study on couples without children. I am always so jealous of my couple friends without children. I mean they actually get to go SEE A MOVIE in the middle of the week! Not only do they have the time, they actually have the money. They don’t have to pay a babysitter $40 so they can go spend $60 on dinner and a movie. I might be a little more positive if I didn’t “expect” that my evenings were going to filled with fighting kids to homework and chores and then to get to bed on time.

  • Dutchess


    November 13th, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    These are the people I’d like to learn more about:

    Schoebi also noted that the participants with low rejection sensitivity were most likely to have positive exchanges with their spouses even if their original positive expectations were not met.

    My hunch is that people with low rejection sensitivity probably have very positive, fulfilling marriages and lives. Aren’t we all, underneath it all, looking to be accepted? If you don’t have a high sensitivity to rejection, it seems that life and everything that comes with it would be so much easier and more satisfying.

  • theodore


    November 13th, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    surprised to read this!I would expect unfulfilled positive expectations would lead to negativity but no!i’m someone who thinks positive expectations are not always good and I guess I will still stick with it.its better to not expect but get rather than to expect and not get what you desire.

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