The Development of Marital Tension: Implications for Divorce Among Married Couples

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Abstract

Marriages are often characterized by their positive and negative features in terms of whether they elicit feelings of satisfaction and happiness or conflict and negativity. Although research has examined the development of marital happiness, less is known about the development of negativity among married couples. We examined how marital tension (i.e., feelings of tension, resentment, irritation) develops within couples over time and whether marital tension has unique implications for divorce. Specifically, we examined marital tension among husbands and wives within the same couples from the first to the sixteenth year of marriage, as well as links between marital tension and divorce. Participants included 355 couples assessed in years 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 16 of marriage. Multilevel models revealed that wives reported greater marital tension than husbands. Marital tension increased over time among both husbands and wives, with a greater increase among husbands. Couples were more likely to divorce when wives reported higher marital tension, a greater increase in marital tension, and greater cumulative marital tension. Findings are consistent with the emergent distress model of marriage, but indicate that despite the greater increases in marital tension among husbands, wives’ increased marital tension over the course of marriage is more consistently associated with divorce.

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