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In most cases, this represents a drastic and unwanted change in a highly valued belief, a change that is emotionally and financially costly to both members of the couple.
One way spouses can do this is by generating explanations for a spouse’s failings that limit any broader implications those failings may have.
For example, if my spouse is distant and withdrawn one evening, deciding that my spouse’s behavior is a symptom of a difficult day at work (rather than a sign of a lack of interest in me) means that the behavior has no global implications for my marriage.
Unfortunately, in the context of stress, even couples who are normally effective at maintaining their relationships may find it difficult to do so. APA maintains an archive of our published material throughout our websites.
To evaluate this possibility, recently married couples were asked about the kinds of explanations they made for each other’s negative behaviors every six months for the first four years of their marriages (Neff & Karney, 2004). Attributions in marriage: Integrating specific and global evaluations of a relationship. From time to time, you may come across a page that includes outdated science or missing details that could be improved.
Second, maintaining a relationship takes energy, and in some contexts that energy is in short supply.
It is not enough that couples have the ability to address problems effectively if they lack the capacity to exercise those abilities in the moment. The dynamic structure of relationship perceptions: Differential importance as a strategy of relationship maintenance.Yet intimate relationships, and marriages in particular, are the exception to this rule.After two people stand before everyone important to them in the world and publicly declare that they love each other and intend to remain together for the rest of their lives, everything social psychology has learned about the stability of publicly declared opinions suggests that these will be the most stable opinions of all (Festinger, 1957). Despite the almost uniform happiness and optimism of newlyweds, most first marriages will end in divorce or permanent separation (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002), and the rate of dissolution for remarriages is even higher (Cherlin, 1992).When couples who have written these paragraphs are then invited to discuss real marital issues, the ability to recognize multiple perspectives emerges as a significant predictor of the quality of their discussions, as rated by outside observers (Karney & Gauer, in press). A likely source is exposure to more or less successful problem-solving in early childhood.Indeed, wives whose parents divorced when they were children and husbands whose childhood family environments were highly negative also have more difficulty resolving problems together, and are at risk for declines in marital satisfaction as a result (Story, Karney, Lawrence, & Bradbury, 2004).Over time, as specific aspects of the relationship change, with some parts becoming more positive and some becoming more negative, the couples who stay happiest overall are the ones who change their beliefs about what is important in their relationships accordingly, deciding that whatever aspects of the marriage have declined must not be so important after all (Neff & Karney, 2003).As a consequence of this continued process of selective attention, global evaluations of a marriage tend to be pretty stable from day to day, as these are the evaluations we are motivated to protect, but perceptions of specific aspects of the marriage tend to vary, more positive on good days and less positive on bad days (Mc Nulty & Karney, 2001).As research identifies more of the processes that contribute to stability and change in marital satisfaction, models of these processes have expanded to account for those broader forces.One framework that attempts this is the Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation Model of Marriage (i.e., the VSA model; Karney & Bradbury, 1995).Consistent with the research described above, the VSA model (see Figure 1) describes adaptive processes (e.g., solving problems, explaining each other’s behavior) as directly affecting how marital satisfaction changes over time.The model further suggests that these processes themselves are facilitated or constrained by spouse’s enduring vulnerabilities (e.g., cognitive styles, personality traits, childhood experiences) and the stressful circumstances they encounter outside the relationship (e.g., work load, financial strains, health problems).