Social Support, Conflict, and the Development of Marital Dysfunction

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How spouses help each other contend with personal difficulties is an unexplored but potentially important domain for understanding how marital distress develops. Newly married couples participated in 2 interaction tasks: a problem-solving task in which spouses discussed a marital conflict and a social support task in which spouses discussed personal, nonmarital difficulties. Observational coding of these interactions showed that wives' support solicitation and provision behaviors predicted marital outcomes 2 years later, independent of negative behaviors during marital problem-solving discussions. In addition, couples who exhibited relatively poor skills in both behavioral domains were at particular risk for later marital dysfunction. These results suggest that social support exchanges should be incorporated into social learning analyses of marriage and into programs designed to prevent marital distress.

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