Stress spillover in early marriage : the role of self-regulatory depletion

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Buck, April Allen

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Stressful experiences external to a marriage (e.g., work stress, finances) are often associated with poor relationship functioning and lowered marital satisfaction, a phenomenon called stress spillover. To date, however, little attention has been devoted to understanding the specific mechanisms through which stress may lead to maladaptive relationship patterns. Drawing from theories of self-regulatory depletion, it was predicted that coping with external stress is an effortful process that consumes spouses' regulatory resources, leaving spouses with less energy to effectively respond to their relationship issues. The current study relied on a sample of 171 newly-married couples to examine whether self-regulatory depletion may mediate the link between external stress and relationship well-being. Couples were asked to complete a 14-day daily diary, which assessed their daily stress, their state of self-regulatory depletion, their marital behaviors, and their daily marital appraisals. Within-person analyses revealed that, on average, couples experienced stress spillover, such that on days when their stress was higher than usual they reported enacting more negative behaviors towards their partner and endorsed less positive appraisals of the relationship. Further evidence revealed that self-regulatory depletion accounted for a majority of these spillover effects. These findings suggest that even happy and committed couples may find it difficult to engage in adaptive relationship processes under conditions of stress.



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