Examining individual differences as predictors of reinforcement and punishment behaviors within romantic couples dealing with substance use : an application of inconsistent nurturing as control theory
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Managing a romantic partner’s substance misuse can be challenging, especially in cases where attempts to show support end up worsening the negative behavior. Understanding what may predict one’s actions towards a partner who smokes or drinks can help to alleviate some of the difficulty associated with these interactions. Therefore, this study was designed to examine how issues of undesirable substance use are managed within college students’ romantic relationships. More specifically, the study applied Inconsistent Nurturing as Control Theory (Le Poire, 1995) to assess the extent to which communication competence, relational uncertainty, perceived network helpfulness, and perceived network hindrance predict the reinforcement and/or punishment of a partner’s smoking or drinking. Results from cross-sectional survey data (N = 270) revealed that a significant, negative relationship existed between perceived network helpfulness and punishment and that there were significant, positive relationships between: perceived network hindrance and punishment, relational uncertainty and reinforcement, and relational uncertainty and punishment. However, there was no evidence indicating that communication competence was correlated with either reinforcement or punishment. Additional findings revealed that individuals reporting on their partners’ drinking, as opposed to their partners’ smoking, were more likely to reinforce the behavior. Men reported on using more reinforcement behaviors than women did and individuals who were in on-again/off-again relationships reported using more punishment than did those in relationships that have not renewed. In addition to examining the communicative behaviors used to address substance misuse, the current study also furthered the development of a scale created for the purposes of quantitatively measuring the constructs of reinforcement and punishment. Implications for studying predictors of reinforcement and punishment strategies are discussed, as is the importance of targeting young adult substance use.