Couples Coping With Stress: Between-Person Differences and Within-Person Processes

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Abstract

In intimate relationships, spousal support (or dyadic coping) can directly benefit relationships (i.e., direct effect) and protect the relationship against the negative spillover effects of stress (i.e., buffer effect). As stress-coping theories suggest, both processes can vary between persons as well as within persons. However, empirically, this distinction is not always made explicit, resulting in potentially misleading conclusions about dyadic stress-coping processes. In the current study, we investigated stress and coping processes in couples at both between- and within-person levels. Participants were 84 Chinese dual-earning couples (N = 168 individuals) participated in a 7-day diary study. Between persons, our multilevel analyses replicated well-established buffering effects: The link between average stress and relationship outcomes was reduced if the partner provided more support on average. Within persons, results implied a significant buffer effect only in women; their relationship satisfaction was highest on days when they experienced higher levels of stress and higher levels of partner support. The present findings demonstrate how distinguishing between- and within-person effects can provide a better conceptual understanding of dyadic processes in intimate relationships while examining stress-coping associations in an understudied group.

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