Marital Communication Behaviour: The Role of Marital Satisfaction, Depressive Symptoms and Proximal Appraisals of Marital Problem-Solving Ability.
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According to Bradbury and Fincham’s contextual model of relationship conflict, communication behaviour is likely influenced by relationship factors at both the distal and proximal level. The overall goal of the present study was thus to build on previous research on marital conflict by examining the relations between relevant distal (i.e. marital satisfaction and depressive symptomatology), and proximal relationship variables (i.e. event-dependent expectancies and appraisals), and communication behaviour. Our specific aims were threefold: a) to explore the impact of marital satisfaction and depression on couples’ expectancies for marital problem-solving discussions; b) to examine the effect of such expectancies on actual communication behaviour, after controlling for marital satisfaction and depressive symptoms; and c) to determine whether expectancies and actual communication behaviour influence couples’ post-discussion appraisals, even after controlling for levels of depression and marital satisfaction. A total of 76 married and cohabitating couples across varying levels of marital satisfaction and depression participated in this study. All couples engaged in two marital problem-solving discussions, one in which the husband wanted change and the second in which the wife wanted change. Before engaging in these problem-solving discussions, spouses’ expectancies for resolving the topic of conflict were assessed using both affective and cognitive items. After each discussion ended, participants also rated their cognitive and affective appraisals of the interaction. Results showed that higher levels of marital satisfaction predicted more positive expectancies (both affective and cognitive) for successful communication in the upcoming interactions. Depressive symptoms, however, were only found to impact couples’ feelings in anticipation of the discussions, and not their cognitive expectancies. With regards to actual communication behaviour, after controlling for the effects of marital satisfaction and depressive symptoms, more positive expectations for an upcoming conflict discussion were associated with less negative communication behaviours during the discussion. Spouses’ cognitive post-discussion appraisals of the conflict interactions were positively associated with individuals’ own expectancies going in to these discussions, as well as their partners’ expectancies over and above the effects of depression and marital satisfaction. Finally, actual communication behaviour also influenced appraisals, such that those who spent more time during the conflict discussions engaging in positive behaviours and less time engaging in negative communication behaviours reported greater satisfaction with the discussions. Implications of these results for couples’ therapy are briefly discussed.