Importance and factors involved in marital adjustment

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According to Alfred Adler (1978), marriage is part of the three tasks (i.e., work, friendship, and love) that the human community sets for every individual.

Relationship importance

Over the course of life, people learn to establish different relationships, with different values, expectations and commitments. One of those relationships is the marital relationship. For A good marital relationship marital adjustment is essential. Sinha & Mukerjee (1990) defines marital adjustment as “The state in which there is an overall feeling in husband and wife of happiness and satisfaction with their marriage and with each other”.

Locke & Wallace (1959) defines marital adjustment as: “accommodation of husband and wife to each other at a given time”

According to Spanier and Cole (1976), marital adjustment is a process, the outcome of which is determined by the degree of: a) troublesome marital differences, b) interpersonal tensions and personal anxiety, c) marital satisfaction d) dyadic cohesion, e) consensus on matters of importance to marital functioning.

There are a number of factors that define a healthy marital adjustment. Some of these factors are

Factors involved in Marital Adjustment:

Wife employment and Marital Adjustment:

Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) had earlier found that individuals, particularly wives, reported increased levels of self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth were positively correlated with employment.

Previous research on the relationship be- tween wife employment and marital adjust- ment has produced conflicting results: some investigations report a positive relationship between wife employment and marital adjust- ment (Burke & Weir, 1976; Hartley, 1978); others suggest a negative relationship (Bean, Curtis, & Marcum, 1977; Gover, 1963); other studies show no relationship (Bahr & Day, 1978; Blood & Wolfe, 1960).

Nathawat and Mathur (1993) did a study in India about marital adjustment and subjective well-being in Indian-educated housewives and working women. Their results indicated that working women had better marital adjustment and subjective well-being. Working women reported high scores on general health, life satisfaction and self-esteem measures & lower scores on hopelessness, insecurity and anxiety whereas the housewives had lower scores on negative affect than the working women.

Trust and marital adjustment:

Relationships are composed of trust, and sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings. They are built upon trust and sharing and they get stronger from these things (Finkenauer, Kerkhof, Righetti, & Branje, 2009). According to Regan, Kocan, and Whitlock (1998) Trust is one of the most important component of a loving relationship. Also international studies have found trust to be a critical factor in the success of long-term marriages (Roizblatt et al. 1999; Sharlin 1996).

In a longitudinal study, Kristina Moeller and Hakan Stattin (2001) report that adolescents with trustful parental relationships experienced greater satisfaction with their partner relationships in midlife.

Quality of life and marital adjustment

Psychological Factors: Depression stress (psychological well being)

Lower psychological well-being is a major risk factor for relationship distress. Higher rates of relationship problems have been consistently linked to persons suffering from severe psychiatric disorders, including depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders (Bradbury, 1998). Many studies link marital conflict to depression (Beach, Arias, & O’Leary, 1987; O’Leary and Beach, 1990). Although the authors propose a bidirectional causal relationship between marital conflict and depression, they suggest that marital conflict is typically a more powerful contributing factor to depression.

Marital satisfaction appears to be an important factor of psychological well being. Marital distress has been linked with many psychological difficulties especially depression. (KAUSAR ANSARI.. thesis) .

Belongingness and Marital Adjustment:

According to Baumeister & Leary (1995) Belongingness might have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of belongingness or attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being. In a close relationship there is a need to belong and if that need isn’t fulfilled then problems may occur. One of the universal institutions is marriage which is accepted to satisfy the need for belongingness.

Economics and Marital Adjustment

Education and income have also been linked to marital satisfaction and marital

conflict, with greater levels of education and income predicting greater marital satisfaction and less conflict. Economic stress has a negative effect on marital satisfaction and a positive influence on relationship dissolution (Johnson & Booth, 1990).

Economic strain is directly linked to increased couple disagreements and has direct impact on marital adjustment (Kinnunen and Feldt, 2004). Many researches haves been conducted on economic factor in relation to marital adjustment e.g Zedlewski (2002) studied economic factor in relation to family well-being , he found that low family income and limited benefits have negative influences on child and family well-being. Voyandoff (1990) studied economic distress and family relations.  Ross & Mirowsky (1992) and Yadollahi (2009) studied that employment of spouses and the sense of control in various types of stressors of marital life. Diener and Diener (2001) investigated that wealth is related to many positive outcomes in life. Gudmunson, Beutler, Israelsen, McCoy & Hill (2007) found that financial problems significantly contributed to lower reported marital satisfaction among married couples. In a study in Finland conducted by Kinnunen and Feldt (2004) concluded that husband’s unemployment is strongly associated with his marital adjustment. Couples with better economic resources are martially adjusted as compared to those who have limited economic resources. Economic hard times increased rate of martial distress.  (Blekesaune’s  2008) 

Personality and Marital Adjustment

In a study by Bouchard, Sabourin, & Lussier, Y. (1999) the relationship of various personality traits with marital adjustment was studied. Personality traits studied were neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The scale used to measure marital adjustment was dyadic adjustment scale. The results showed that women high in agreeableness and openness were more adjusted. Also males that were high on openness and agreeableness were more martially adjusted. Husband’s openness was positively related to their wives marital adjustment. Open individuals may tolerate and respect differences in behavior and thought of partner which would reduce the number of conflicts and increase the consensus between spouses.

Kim, Martin, and Martin (1989) and Levine and Henessy (1990) found that personality factors differentiated stable from unstable marriages. Stable marriages were more similar in intelligence, protension, radicalism, tender-mindedness, mutual trust, acceptance, enthusiasm, and genuineness. Personality factors that reduce the likelihood of stability and satisfaction have included the lack of warmth and extraversion (Levine & Henessy); passive-aggression (Slavik, Carlson, & Sperry, 1998); borderline pathologies (Paris & Braverman, 1995); bipolar disorders (Peven & Schulman, 1998); feelings of insecurity, unfairness, depreciation, and powerlessness (Begin, Sabourin, Lussier, & Wright, 1997); disagreeableness, emotional instability, inconsiderateness, and physical abuse (Botwin et al., 1997; Kosek, 1996; Shackelford & Buss, 1997); depression (Cohan & Bradbury, 1997; Davila & Bradbury, 1997; Fals-Stewart, Birchler, Schafer, & Lucente, 1994); neuroticism (Karney & Bradbury, 1997; Russell & Wells, 1994a; Russell & Wells, 1994b); tension, anxiety, worry, and suspicion (Craig & Olson, 1995); hostility, defensiveness, and aggression (Heyman, O’Leary, & Jouriles, 1995; O’Leary, Malone, & Tyree, 1994; Newton, Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser, & Malarkey, 1995); and negative affectivity leading to negative attributions (Huston & Vangelistic, 1991; Karney, Bradbury, Fincham, & O’Sullivan, 1994).

Individual personality traits have also been linked to couples’ relationship functioning for both men and women. Personality traits of neuroticism, anxiety, and emotional instability have been shown to impair relationship functioning and reduce relationship satisfaction (Watson & Clark, 1984). Additionally, personality characteristics of agreeableness and expressiveness have been referred to as individual protective factors, which may enhance marital satisfaction (Bradbury, Campbell, & Fincham, 1995).

Communication and Marital Adjustment:

Communication is necessary for human growth and development also it serves as the essential foundation for marital success and is the facilitating process for an enduring marriage that is satisfying (Robinson & Blanton, 1993). Communication within relationships is an important factor, if there isn’t communication the relationship suffers. The relationship between marital communication and adjustment is a strong one (Murphy & Mendelson 2004). Gottman (1995) in his book indicated that communication could be both productive and destructive to relationships as unhappy couples tend to criticize, disagree, complain, put down, and use excuses and sarcasm. Unrewarding communication patterns lead to the development of relationship distress (Markman, 1979). In contrast, happy couples with marital stability and satisfaction are more likely to use active listening skills, agree, approve, assent, use laughter and humor (Fisher, Giblin, & Hoopes, 1982) and possess character virtues of self-restraint, courage, and friendship (Fowers & Olson, 1986). Gottman (1995) has suggested that satisfied couples maintain a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative exchanges in interactions

Gender also plays an important role in couple communication as there are gender differences in verbal and nonverbal communication with men tending to be more dominant in their interactions and women being more submissive (Tannen, 1990).

Emmers-Sommer (2004) studied the effect of communication quality and quantity indicators on satisfaction in relationships. A key term in the study was quality time; this refers to focused, uninterrupted time spent with children, partners, friends, and significant others. Another key term used in the study was quantity time; this refers to frequency of communication or contact. For individuals to reach relationship satisfaction they have to examine the quantity and quality of their disclosures with their partners. Emmers-Sommer (2004) found that quality of communication predicts both relationship satisfaction and intimacy. The quantity of communication, however, was not a predictor for relationship satisfaction.

Concealment/Non- disclosure and marital adjustment:

Disclosure as a phenomenon was first investigated by Sidney Jourard (1971). The process was originally defined as telling others about the self.

Rosenfeld (1979) explained self-disclosure as the personal information of self that is only available from himself and is not available from other sources.

Jorgensen & Gaudy (1980) defines self disclosure as:

“A process by which a marriage partner ex- presses feelings, perceptions, fears, and doubts of the inner self to the other partner, allowing relatively private and personal information to surface in the relationship that normally would not be revealed in the course of day-to-day interaction.”

The word conceal has been originated from the Latin work Concelare , celare means to hide.

Merriam Webster defines concealment as “to prevent disclosure or recognition”.

Concealment is the activity of hiding information and keeping secrets from other people. Larson and Chastain (1990) explained self concealed personal information as firstly, a subset of private personal information, secondly, it is accessible only to the individual and thirdly it is actively kept from the awareness of others. Thus, self-concealment involves the conscious concealment of private information like feelings, thoughts, actions or events that one perceives as highly intimate, distressing or negative.

Even though concealment and disclosure seem the same, there is some difference between self-disclosure and self-concealment. According to Larson and Chastain 1990 the act of revealing personal information is self- disclosure whereas the act of concealing personal information is self-concealment. They argued that self-concealment and self-disclosure are two separate and distinct constructs even though they are related.

Effects of concealment/non-disclosure on marital adjustment

Feelings of Exclusion

People usually resent it when they perceive that another person is keeping secrets from them. The general reaction towards concealment is that of exclusion since in that persons view his right to know is being violated. This level or degree of exclusion felt by a person is higher when these persons are in a close and intimate relationship (Finkenauer, Kerkhof, Righetti, & Branje, 2009).

Marital relationships are composed of trust, and sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings. They are built upon trust and sharing and they get stronger from these things. Therefore the quality of relationship is influenced adversely when there is a perception of concealment from partner. The perception of concealment effects on relationship quality, the person feels rejected or excluded (Finkenauer, Kerkhof, Righetti, & Branje, 2009).

The exclusion that is communicated by concealment can be assumed to violate almost all features and values commonly associated with close relationships, including trust, caring, honesty, friendship, companionship, unconditional acceptance, and respect (Finkenauer, Kerkhof, Righetti, & Branje, 2009).

Psychological effects

To keep secrets or deliberately conceal information from others seems to be part of normal development. Even though every person has secrets they can sometimes be a burden. There are different types of secrets people keep like having cheated on an exam, having a disease, sexual orientation or having been sexually molested as a child. Most of these secrets involve stigmatizing or negative information that usually involves the secret keepers themselves. People who conceal negative or distressing information of self from others as compared to the ones who do not, are more depressed, anxious, shy and have low self-esteem.(Kelly, Klusas, Weiss & Kenny, 2001)

Effects of Disclosure on marital adjustment

Self-disclosure and liking

The earliest work done on the relationship between disclosure and liking was by Jourard (1959) who found a positive association between liking the other person and disclosing to that person in a sample of nursing students and faculty. A number of studies have been done on this relationship and confirmed that we disclose more to people whom we like. (e.g., Certner,1973, Fitzgerald, 1963; Worthy, Gary, & Kahn, 1969) and also we tend to like the people who disclose personal information to us (e.g., Archer, Berg, & Runge, 1980; Daher & Banikiotes, 1976;Taylor, Gould, & Brounstein, 1981).

Self-Disclosure and psychological well-being

Most of the studies done on the relationship between concealment and psychological well-being have shown the same results which are that higher levels of disclosure are associated with psychological wellbeing and lower levels of disclosure are associated with poorer mental health. Disclosing distressing information helps with the psychological well-being and not disclosing leads to poorer mental health. It is thought that disclosing distressing information helps psychological well-being by reducing the stress of keeping the information to oneself (Ichiyama et al 1993; Cramer, 1999; Barry and Mizrahi, 2005; Hook and Andrews, 2005; Kahn et al 2002).

Gender differences and concealment:

Concealment is behavior that is more common in males. On the other hand previous studies indicate that females are usually more willing to disclose distressing or personal information. Traditionally, discussing personal problems is a behavior that is considered more appropriate for females than for males (Kahn and Hessling, 2001). Among men, asking for help when faced with psychological problems is often perceived as a weakness (Jourard and Lasakow, 1958; West, 1970; Jourard, 1971; Cozby, 1973; Kelly and Achter, 1995; Kahn and Hessling, 2001). Moreover, traditional sex-role stereotypes suggest that females are more skillful in communicating and also are more concerned with issues of intimacy than are men. So an intimate disclosure by a man may be seen as less appropriate than a similar disclosure by a woman (Collins & Miller 1994).

All in all men who disclose are generally viewed as maladjusted whereas women who do not disclose may be viewed as maladjusted. (Collins & Miller 1994).

Age and tendencies towards disclosure/ non-concealment

and in terms of age it has been found that young people are more likely to disclose than older people. (Jourard, 1971; Hook and Andrews, 2005).

Literature Review:

Labels such as “satisfaction”, “adjustment”, “success”, “happiness”, and “quality” have all been used in describing the quality of marriage (Fincham, Beach, & Kemp-Fincham, 1997)

Theories on marital adjustment and disclosure

Social penetration theory:

Many studies have dealt with self disclosure. One main theory that was a framework for the study is Social Penetration Theory (Altman & Taylor, 1987). This theory was a model for the study because it looks at self disclosure as both the depth and the breadth. In this study the depth of self disclosure is an important factor when reaching satisfaction in relationships. Altman and Taylor use an onion as a metaphor for relationship development. They suggest that the onion represents the breadth and depth of self disclosures. On the outer layer of the onion individuals have the breadth of disclosures: a broad aspect of a person such as their tastes, worldview, and studies. As individuals’ go deeper into the onion, they get to the depth of disclosures meaning they get more detail on aspects of an individual. This represents the degree of a person’s disclosure. The main route to deep social penetration is through individuals disclosures. The depth of penetration would represent the degree of personal disclosure. Altman and Taylor (1987) suggest the depth of penetration into the onion model is the degree of intimacy. This study examines the depth of penetration, breadth is equally important in relationships. This theory supports the idea that people who have a high level of depth in their disclosure will be more satisfied in romantic relationships. This theory does not examine the amount of self disclosure as it does the depth of self disclosure.

Three competing models of marital disclosure and satisfaction

Jorgensen & Gaudy (1980) gave models for marital disclosure and satisfaction and according to Spanier (1976) marital satisfaction is a sub category of marital adjustment.

According to the linear model of marital relationship, there exists a positive, linear relationship between marital disclosure and marital satisfaction. Marital relationship is characterized by factors like intimacy, trust and caring. Marital disclosure positively impacts these factors and therefore presence of these factors in a marital relationship systematically increase the level of marital satisfaction. Therefore, this model suggests that higher the level of marital disclosure greater will be the marital satisfaction and vice versa.

The curvilinear model as opposed to the linear model suggests that a satisfying marital relationship exists only with medium levels of self disclosure. When self disclosure falls on the high or low end of the continuum of self disclosure, marital satisfaction will decrease. This means that too lack of self disclosure is not the only factor that results in low marital satisfaction. Extensive self disclosure might be perceived as nagging or too much complaining which might raise negative feelings of hostility in the spouse which in turn will decrease the marital satisfaction. Hence, according to this model moderate levels of self disclosure are characterized as a key factor in achieving high marital satisfaction.

John Gottman’s (1999) scientifically validated theory of marriage, based on 25 years of longitudinal research, is one of the leading theories in the study of marital satisfaction. Gottman’s theory (1999) states that positive interaction and friendship is the key to marital satisfaction and the prediction of marital stability over time. According to Gottman (1999), a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions is necessary for marital stability. Gottman defines marital stability as a satisfying marital relationship that is not disrupted by separation or divorce. He states, “The most important finding was that more positive affect was the only variable that predicted both marital stability and happiness” (p. 21).

In Gottman’s theory (1999), there is a process of what he calls “sentiment override” in couples. He states, “Sentiment override can be either positive or negative. Negative sentiment override means that people have ‘a chip on their shoulder’. These types of partners are hypervigilant, looking for slights or attacks by their partner. Positive sentiment override means that even negativity by the partner is interpreted as informative rather than as a personal attack” (p. 164). Positive sentiment override creates a milieu in which the partners are more tolerant and accepting of each other, while negative sentiment override creates a set of expectations that one’s spouse will behave negatively.

Similarly, O’Leary and Smith (1991) refer to this phenomenon as cognitive attributional correlates of marital satisfaction. These authors state that distressed couples are less likely to objectively interpret positive behaviors from their spouses as positive and more likely to interpret the intent of their spouse’s statements more negatively than they were meant to be. Compared to non-distressed couples, dissatisfied spouses make attributions that cast their partners’ behavior in a negative light and these attributions in turn negatively influence marital satisfaction (Bradbury & Fincham, 1990). In summary, according to Gottman (1999) as well as O’Leary and Smith (1991) it is not what happens in the marriage, but how the partners perceive and define what has happened that is critical.

Gottman posits that 69% of couples’ problems will be what he calls, “perpetual problems”, meaning largely unresolvable. He has found that in the case of the perpetual problems, it is important for couples to establish a dialogue, as opposed to a solution in these instances. When couples cannot dialogue about these issues, they often become “gridlocked”, where each partner becomes frustrated and eventually emotionally disengaged. The role of communication therefore plays an important role in marital satisfaction.

Studies examining marital satisfaction vary in design, measurement, and outcomes, leading to a number of explanations accounting for marital satisfaction (Gottman, 1999).

Perception of concealment has an adverse effect on marital relationships. Some researches have been carried out related to this issue. In a longitudinal study it was studied how perceiving concealment in close relationships influences marital well-being. The research showed that people in marital relationships who perceive their partner to be concealing information from them had poor relationships, mistrust and conflict between them. In the study it was also discussed that people who conceal information also perceive that the other person is concealing information from them. Perceiving concealment may give the other partner the impression that he/she is not desirable or cannot be trusted; it gives the other person the feelings of being excluded. And the feeling of exclusion may result in feelings of separation or estrangement which may result in marital conflict (Finkenauer et al., 2009).

Another study conducted in Belgium has investigated disclosure and secrecy in close, long-term relationships. It showed in the study that secrecy contributed a lot to marital dissatisfaction. The study explains how a person who has a secret avoids a difficult topic rather than facing it to avoid conflict, while the other partner perceives the secrecy as a sign of suspicion, which contributes negatively to marital satisfaction. Another point in the study was that people trying to hide something on the way feel that they have to put on a mask for the other person so he/she doesn’t get to know their secret; they have to pretend which may lead to less intimacy and closeness. People who felt comfortable with sharing their emotions and were able to talk about matters were more satisfied with their relationship. One of the questionnaires used to test their study was the Larson and Chastain’s (1990) Self- Concealment Scale (Finkenauer & Hazam, 2000).

Low expressiveness leads to dissatisfaction in a marital relationship. Miller et al. (2003) argued that expressive people are less likely to suffer decline in marital satisfaction. They found that spouse’s expressiveness was positively related to their own and partners affectionate behaviors and this affectionate behavior was in turn related with marital satisfaction. Expressiveness is positively associated with people’s perception of their partners responsiveness.

Davidson, Balswick & Halverson (1983) did a study on the Affective Self-Disclosure and Marital Adjustment. It was based upon 162 married couples. The study explains that the greater is the discrepancy in partners affective self-disclosure, the lesser is the individuals marital adjustment. READ WHOLE PAPER AND WRITE.

Sprecher and Hendrick (2004) examined the relationship between self-disclosure and relationship quality and found a positive relationship between disclosure and relationship quality. Self-disclosure is an indicator of satisfaction in romantic relationships.

Levesque, Steciuk, and Ledley (2002) studied how self-disclosure relates to the development of personal relationships, relational intimacy, and relationship dissolution. The results showed that perceived intimacy was strongly associated with level of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure was found to be strongly reciprocal. Levesque et al. 2002 found that the level of self-disclosure strongly influences individual differences between disclosers.

HANSEN E.J & SCHULDT J.W (1984) did a study on marital self-disclosure and marital satisfaction. The sample for the study was on a sample of 50 married couples of mean age 25 years and mean length of marriage was 3.18 years and mean education was 15 years. Scales used for measuring the variables were Jourard’s self disclosure questionnaire( jourard and Lasakow, 1958) and Spanier’s (1976) Dyadic Adjustment Scale. the results of the study showed that wifes disclosure to husband was positively related to husband’s marital satisfaction and husbands disclosure to wife was also positively related to husband’s marital satisfaction.

One predictor that may have particular importance to marital satisfaction is gender roles.

According to Kurdek (2005) there are two classes of theories that explain the position about how men and women experience close relationships in different ways. the first class, that is the biological, posits that males and females in a relationship process events differently at the cardiovascular, endocrinological, immunological, neurosensory, and neurophysiological levels. For example Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton (2001) in their research reviewed evidence showing that men are more physiologically sensitive to acute stressors than women and women showed stronger and more durable physiological changes than men in marital conflict. The other class that is the class of social psychological theories posits that both genders differ in ways that are directly relevant to relationship functioning like the structure and content of how the self is constructed, personality traits and socialized roles. The other class that is the class of social psychological theories posits that both genders differ in ways that are directly relevant to relationship functioning like the structure and content of how the self is constructed, personality traits and socialized roles.

Other research has also substantiated that marriage disproportionately benefits men, with husbands reporting higher levels of marital satisfaction and well-being than their wives (Bird & Fremont, 1991; McRae & Brody, 1989; Schumm, Webb, & Bollman, 1998).

Gender is defined as the socially determined role of an individual that is ascribed as a result of his or her sex (Juni & Grimm, 1994). Gender roles influence men and women in every aspect of their lives and relationships (Knox & Schacht, 2000).

Demographic characteristics including age, race, income, education, length of marriage, and religiosity, have been linked to marital satisfaction and marital conflict (Knox & Schacht, 2000). Based on Gottman’s (1999) research, length of marriage is also a significant predictor for marital satisfaction and marital conflict. He identifies two critical time periods of vulnerability in the marital trajectory, with the majority of couples divorcing within the first seven years of marriage. Couples’ who divorce within the first seven years of marriage have relationships characterized by having high levels of marital conflict. Conversely, a second vulnerable time period for the marital trajectory is 16 to 24 years of marriage. This is the next most likely time frame for couples to divorce. These relationships are characterized by spending little time together, lack of communication, and a lack of conflict expression. Gottman (1999) refers to these couples as “two ships passing in the night”.

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