Premarital predictors of marital outcomes
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This study examines whether couples’ expression of affection and negativity as newlyweds and over the first two years of marriage can be predicted from couples’ courtship experiences. The usefulness of three developmental models – disillusionment, emergent distress, and enduring dynamics – that have been put forth to explain the link between courtship and marital outcomes is explored empirically. Previous research has shown that couples who become disillusioned early in marriage are highly affectionate as newlyweds but experience a dramatic loss of affection during the early years of marriage. In contrast, the literature on marital relationships shows that many couples experience increases in distress over the course of marriage. Finally, couples who experience stable marital patterns can be differentiated regarding their marital patterns both when they are newlyweds and later in marriage. Consistent with the disillusionment model, newlyweds’ initial levels of, and couples’ declines in, vii affectional expression over the first two years of marriage was predicted by (a) couples’ shorter courtship length, (b) men’s younger age at marriage, (c) men’s lower levels of premarital ambivalence, (d) both partners’ higher levels of premarital maintenance behavior, (e) the speed with which partners fell in love with each other, and (f) both partners’ deeper feelings of love for one another during courtship. No support was found for the emergent distress model. Contrary to the predictions of the emergent distress model, couples’ length of courtship, their acceleration of commitment, and men’s speed of falling in love with their partner predicted declines rather than increases in negativity over the first two years of marriage. Finally, support for the enduring dynamics model was provided by findings, which showed that premarital conflict predicted couples’ newlywed levels of affectional expression, but not changes in affectional expression over the first two years of marriage. Similarly, partners’ premarital maintenance behavior predicted couples’ newlywed levels of negativity, but not increases in negativity over time. The discussion of the results centers on the contributions of the study for current research that seeks to predict marital outcomes and the usefulness of the three developmental models for explaining the link between courtship patterns and affectional expression and negativity early in marriage.