The Indirect Effect of Stress on Individual and Relational Outcomes Through Couple Interactions



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A large number of Americans have been and will be exposed to at least one traumatic stressor in their lifetime, which can lead to numerous negative long-term outcomes. Romantic partners can play a very important role following stressful life events, either by providing support or being a source of conflict. The present study aims to better understand how satisfaction with short-term couple interactions explains, at least partially, the association between levels of stress and long-term individual (i.e., psychological distress and alcohol use) and relational (i.e., relationship quality) well-being. Data were drawn from the Adult Development Study (ADS), a six-wave prospective longitudinal cohort study of newlywed couples. Analyses 1 revealed that higher actor stress was associated with greater dissatisfaction with every type of couple interaction. In years when their wives reported experiencing higher levels of stress, husbands reported lower satisfaction with personal growth and autonomy and expressions of affection. When only wives experienced high levels of stress, wives reported significantly lower satisfaction with the division of labor and the balance of power than when both partners experienced high levels of stress. Analyses 2 revealed that when wives experienced lower levels of stress, their psychological distress tended to decrease over time. When they experienced higher levels of stress, however, they tended to maintain relatively high levels of psychological distress. Analyses 3 revealed that when stress levels were discordant, wives’ problematic alcohol use increased over time. This was particularly true when husbands were the ones experiencing higher levels of stress. Analyses 4 revealed that when both partners experienced low levels of stress, both husbands and wives demonstrated the typical newlywed decreases in relationship quality over time. However, for wives, this decline was much steeper when they were the only ones experiencing high levels of stress. Across Analyses 2-4, wives’ stress affected their trajectories of psychological distress, alcohol use, and relationship quality through their dissatisfaction with the balance of power.



stress, couple interactions, psychological distress, alcohol use, relationship quality, dyadic data