Play together or replenish apart? : the role of leisure with and without one’s partner for buffering against stress spillover
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Stressful experiences external to relationships (e.g., work stress, finances) often are associated with poor relationship functioning and lowered relationship satisfaction, a phenomenon called stress spillover. To explain this phenomenon, it has been suggested that coping with stressors drains individuals of their self-regulatory resources, leaving them with fewer resources for engaging in effortful pro-relationship behaviors. The goal of the current study was to examine possible ways for partners to replenish their self-regulatory resources following stressful events, and thus protect their relationships from harmful spillover effects. Specifically, the current study examined (1) whether leisure participation buffers spouses against the deleterious effects of stress and (2) the types of leisure (i.e., leisure with or without one’s partner) that are most beneficial for preventing stress spillover and safeguarding the self-regulatory resources necessary for positive relationship functioning. As part of a larger study of marriage, couples completed a 14-day daily diary assessing their daily stress, feelings of self-regulatory depletion, marital conflict, marital satisfaction, and leisure participation. On average, spouses exhibited significant stress spillover, such that spouse reported lower relationship satisfaction, greater relationship conflict and greater self-regulatory depletion on days of high versus low stress. Evidence for the potential buffering role of leisure with a partner were mixed; although spending more time in leisure with the partner was associated with greater relationship satisfaction and lower levels of self-regulatory depletion on high stress days, this leisure also increased the likelihood of relationship conflict under conditions of stress. Leisure without the partner did little to buffer spouses against stress spillover.