Conflict and cortisol in newlyweds’ natural environments : the stress-buffering role of perceived network support
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Relationship conflict is robustly linked to negative physiological responses that have serious implications for partners’ overall physical health. The link between relationship conflict and physiological reactivity, however, has been studied almost exclusively in a laboratory setting. The first aim of this study was to assess the link between conflict and physiological function in couples’ home environments. Newlywed spouses reported occurrences of marital conflict in a daily diary and concurrently provided morning and evening saliva samples for the calculation of daily diurnal cortisol slopes. Spouses experienced less steep (i.e., less healthy) diurnal cortisol slopes on days of greater marital conflict. The second aim of this study was to examine whether spouses’ connections with close others outside their marriages (i.e., quantity and quality of perceived network support) moderate physiological responses to marital conflict. Whereas the quantity of network support did not influence spouses’ responses to conflict, the quality of spouses’ network support attenuated the association between daily marital conflict and diurnal cortisol. Specifically, whereas those spouses who were less satisfied with their network support experienced less steep diurnal cortisol on days of greater marital conflict, those spouses who were more satisfied with their network support exhibited no effects of daily marital conflict on diurnal cortisol. Implications for maintaining quality social relationships outside a marriage are discussed.