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Effects of Problem Specificity, Problem Severity, and Integrative Complexity on Marital Satisfaction


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EFFECTS OF PROBLEM SPECIFICITY, PROBLEM SEVERITY, AND INTEGRATIVE COMPLEXITY ON MARITAL SATISFACTION By CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL ADAMS A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2004

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Copyright 2004 by Christopher Michael Adams

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I cannot adequately put into words my appreciation for the assistance and support I have received during my academic career. I thank Dr. Benjamin Karney for the opportunity to be part of the Florida Project on Newlywed Marriage and Adult Development for the past four years, as well as the guidance and encouragement he provided during the process of writing my thesis. I also thank my parents for their support throughout my life, and particularly, over the past few years. Finally, I would also like to thank Lisa Smith for her continued encouragement and patience. iii

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................................vi CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems.............................................6 Integrative Complexity.................................................................................................8 Overview of the Current Study...................................................................................13 2 METHODS.................................................................................................................14 Participants.................................................................................................................14 Procedure....................................................................................................................15 Measures.....................................................................................................................15 Marital Satisfaction.............................................................................................15 Marital Problems and Problem Severity..............................................................16 Integrative Complexity........................................................................................16 3 RESULTS...................................................................................................................19 Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems...........................................19 Problem Frequency and Duration........................................................................19 Problem Severity and Specific Marital Problems...............................................20 Problem Severity and Marital Satisfaction..........................................................21 Integrative Complexity...............................................................................................23 Integrative Complexity, Problem Specificity and Problem Reoccurrence..........24 Integrative Complexity and Problem Severity....................................................25 Integrative Complexity and Marital Satisfaction................................................25 4 DISCUSSION.............................................................................................................27 Limitations..................................................................................................................27 Findings......................................................................................................................28 Problem Severity and Specificity........................................................................28 Integrative Complexity........................................................................................33 iv

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Conclusions and Implications.....................................................................................36 LIST OF REFERENCES...................................................................................................40 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................46 v

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Arts of Education EFFECTS OF PROBLEM SPECIFICITY, PROBLEM SEVERITY, AND INTEGRATIVE COMPLEXITY ON MARITAL SATISFACTION By Christopher Adams May 2004 Chair: Peter A. D. Sherrard Major Department: Counselor Education The current study attempts to evaluate what problems do newlywed couples (defined as couples in the first four years of marriage) report most frequently and how couples construct their thoughts about these problems. In addition, the study explores how the severity of these problems and the integrative complexity of spouses thoughts about their problems influence the reoccurrence of such problems and spouses marital satisfaction. Integrative complexity is characterized by the ability to differentiate multiple aspects or perspectives of a marital problem and to integrate these aspects into a contextual understanding of the problem and moving toward resolution. Participants were 82 newlywed couples recruited from the community surrounding a large southeastern university and followed over the course of four years. Couples were asked to complete an assessment measuring marital satisfaction, to write a description of a marital problem, and to rate the problem severity. Descriptions of marital problems were coded for integrative complexity by trained coders. Descriptive statistics, vi

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correlations, and t-tests were conducted to evaluate the relationships between the variables. The results show that the most frequently occurring problem of newlywed couples related to the amount of time spent together. The specific marital problem reported by spouses showed a tendency to vary based on level of marital satisfaction. Furthermore, spouses problems displayed a tendency to persist throughout the first few years of marriage. The data suggest that problem severity negatively correlates with marital satisfaction across newlywed marriage, but that it is not correlated with reoccurrence of a marital problem. In general, spouses displayed differentiation but not integration. Integrative complexity was found to correlate with marital satisfaction between the second and third year of marriage for both spouses; it was negatively correlated with problem reoccurrence for wives. The results are discussed in the context of the current understanding of marital satisfaction. The current findings suggest that the complexity of thoughts about ones marriage do have an impact on marital satisfaction, perhaps during important transitional periods in the marriage. Further research may reveal greater effects of complexity on marital satisfaction, particularly during transitions such as pregnancy. In addition, the data suggest that marital satisfaction relies on more than complex constructions of marital problems and that interventions designed for couples may need to become more integrated. vii

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION No relationship is problem-free. Even the most satisfying and happy marriages generally experience difficulties at some point. For example, couples may disagree regarding the amount of time they spend together, how to raise children, or how to handle family finances. Marital conflict can occur when tension is produced by factors that are external to couples (e.g., the behavior of another family member), or when spouses perceive inequity in their relationship (e.g., one partner spends more time raising the couples children) (Young & Long, 1998). Some couples encounter a variety of problems throughout their marriages; others perpetually confront the same problem during the course of their marriages. Although all couples face difficulties and conflict during their marriages, many couples are very effective at dealing with their problems, yet other couples constantly struggle to manage marital distress. According to Wall & Nolan (1987), conflict situations develop when varying degrees of autonomy and interdependence are needed in order for couples to cooperate and come to mutually satisfying decisions. Consequently, the means employed by couples to handle conflict and the ways that spouses interact with each other have a direct impact upon the satisfaction and stability of their marriages (see Karney & Bradbury, 1995, for a review). Numerous studies suggest that couples exhibiting a greater ability to manage their problems generally experience greater marital satisfaction and increased marital stability than those who lack such ability (Gottman, 1999; Jacobson and Christensen, 1996b; Ting-Toomey, 1983). Furthermore, the relationship between couples problem-solving 1

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2 efficacy and marital satisfaction has profound implications for the mental health of spouses and their children (Coie et al., 1993). Developing effective interventions to assist couples to successfully resolve their differences and maintain satisfying relationships is, therefore, of paramount importance to researchers and clinicians. What distinguishes successful problem-solving from ineffective problem-solving? Problem solving has been the crux of marital and family therapy. Jacobson and Margolin (1979) suggest that, rather than being problem-free, satisfying relationships do have problems, but their members have more feasible problem-solving skills than their peers in dissatisfying relationships. Satir (1983) wrote that couples need to learn how to assert their thoughts, wishes, feelings and knowledge without destroying, invading or obliterating the other [partner], and while still coming out with a fitting joint outcome (p. 16). According to Jacobson and Christensen (1996b): Success at solving problems means success in bringing about change. A relationship problem usually involves the desire for some kind of change on the part of at least one partner. The couple that can successfully make changes when they are called for is likely to maintain a flexible, satisfying relationship over a long period of time. (p. 181) Clinical researchers as well have attempted to examine effective problem-solving skills (e.g., Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). Theories of effective marital problem solving have been influenced in large part by negotiation theory. The goal of negotiation is to reach a convergence wherever differences in interests or goals exist (Scanzoni & Godwin, 1990; Scanzoni & Polonko, 1980). From this perspective, effective problem solving for couples requires that each partner perceives equality in a decision-making process, acknowledging the importance of each partners point of view. Researchers and clinicians appear to agree that effective problem resolution among couples is a process of determining each persons point of view, and somehow coming to a mutually acceptable

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3 decision regarding the conflict of each spouses opinions and interests. In fact, marital counseling is typically designed to assist couples to understand the perspective of each spouse and to negotiate their differences (Freedman & Combs, 2002; Jacobson & Margolin, 1979; Weiss, Birchler, & Vincent, 1974; Wile, 2002). While some couples are able to solve their problems on their own, others seek professional assistance to help them cope with their problems, turning to psychologists, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and clergy for help. One might assume that couples receiving therapy would generally show an increased ability to deal with marital problems and experience more satisfying, longer lasting relationships. However, this is not always the case. Cookerly (1980) found that five years after receiving therapy, 43.6% of couples had separated or divorced. Gottman (1999) estimates that 30-50% of couples relapse one year after receiving therapy. Over the past 30 years, behavioral interventions have dominated couples therapy. In the 1970s, the work of Stuart (1969) and Patterson and Weiss (Weiss, Hops, and Patterson, 1973) led a zeitgeist of interest in using behavioral principles in couples counseling, conceptualizing marital problems as the result of poor social and communication skills. However, research suggests that simply improving couples social and problem-solving skills (e.g., communication styles) is inadequate at improving marital satisfaction (Jacobson, 1984; Jacobson, Schmalling, & Holtzworth-Munroe, 1987) as it simply resolves surface issues rather than addressing the core problems that couples face. Heyman (2001) notes that presenting problems such as poor communication skills do not reveal the actual issues that couples are negotiating. For example, stating that the husband is unhappy because he doesnt communicate well is about as useful a conceptualization [of a marital

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4 problem] as the patient died because his heart stopped beating (Heyman, 2001, p. 6). Such writing supports the notion that couples that are effective at managing their problems may not simply have a better array of problem-solving skills; couples who successfully navigate their differences with or without the assistance of a mental health professional may differ markedly from problem-stuck couples in aspects other than their ability to use conflict resolution skills. How, then, can marriage counseling assist troubled couples to resolve their problems more effectively? More importantly though, what distinguishes these couples from the ones who are able to effectively handle their conflict? Markman (1992) notes that researchers are divided on this question. Some theorists (e.g., Christensen & Shenk, 1991) have emphasized the role of the observable differences (the presenting problem to many marriage therapists) that exist among distressed versus non-distressed couples (e.g., differences in communication styles, parenting styles, religious beliefs, or spending habits), claiming that these differences are inherently stressful for couples. For example, a couple might present to therapy with the husband stating, I want to have sex and she doesnt or the wife stating, He doesnt talk to me as much as I would like him to. Although specific presenting issues may be more difficult for couples to resolve, some researchers (e.g., Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Fincham & Beach, 1999b; Fincham & Bradbury, 1992) believe that the way spouses conceptualize those differences is the problem. That is, particular ways of thinking may promote the ability to better cope with problems, while other ways limit such abilities. When presented with a particular problem, some couples may be able to think about that problem in a manner that fosters coping and effective problem solving. Specifically, some partners may be able to

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5 incorporate multiple perspectives of a problem into their conceptualization of that problem which may, in turn, lead to more effective problem resolution. Although a rather substantial body of research exploring cognition in marriage has developed in recent years, the majority of marital studies historically have been aimed at investigating behaviors exhibited by partners. Fincham, Bradbury, and Scott (1990) noted that a need exists to expand the scope of research concerning marital cognition. Of particular importance is the way couples think about their problems as they enter into marriage and transition through the critical first years of marriage. Presumably, couples enter their marriages satisfied and reporting few problems; the problems they might have are theoretically less severe than in latter years of the relationship. As couples transition into their marriages, marital satisfaction tends to decline and stabilize; however, many couples experience more profound and constant decreases in satisfaction, often resulting in separation and divorce. The way couples organize their thoughts about marital problems may have an impact upon coping, which would likely result in decreased marital satisfaction and eventual dissolution. Distressed spouses, then, may vary from non-distressed spouses in the way they think about their marital problems. Furthermore, couples with partners who think significantly differently about their problems may display lower marital satisfaction than couples with spouses who think similarly. The remainder of this portion of the study addresses three factors that might be crucial in understanding marital satisfaction and dissolution problem specificity, problem severity, and integrative complexity (i.e., the way spouses structure their thoughts about marital problems) and presents an overview of the current study.

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6 Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems Numerous couples face similar problems, and some couples manage those difficulties quite effectively and maintain stable, satisfying relationships. However, many couples do not cope with those problems as successfully and experience unhappy marriages, many of which dissolve. Are certain marital problems more difficult for couples to cope with? Some studies indicate that this may be true to some degree. In an analysis of coping efforts and marital satisfaction, Bowman (1990) found that the marital problems participants identified most often were money, communication, and children. Gruver and Labadie (1975) reported that married college students cited sex, communication, and time together as the greatest sources of conflict (see also Knox et al., 1997; and Zusman & Knox, 1998) Husbands dissatisfaction with sex has also been shown to be predictive of seeking marital therapy (Doss, Atkins, & Christensen, 2003). A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2001) cited poor communication, finances, infidelity, substance abuse, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, and poor conflict resolution skills as the most common reasons for separation and divorce. A study by The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (Johnson et al., 2003) found that Oklahomans cited a lack of commitment (85%), excessive conflict/arguing (61%), infidelity (58%), financial problems (41%), domestic violence (30%), family problems (29%) and religious differences (21%) as some of the most common reasons given for divorce. Based on some of these findings, certain problems may indeed be more difficult for couples to cope with than others, specifically issues related to communication, finances, and domestic violence. Increasing the difficulty of these problems for couples is the degree of severity of their problems. One might imagine that couples that consider

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7 their problems to be least severe would be able to cope with them more easily than couples who believe their problems are extremely severe. When couples believe that their problems are severe they may perceive fewer ways of coping with those problems. Any clinician who has worked in a crisis setting knows the difficulty that clients who are experiencing immediate and severe problems have trying to see ways out of their situation. Further complicating conflict management for couples is the tendency for marital problems to persist for many years. Couples who have been mired in a problem for several years would presumably experience greater difficulty resolving that problem (otherwise, would it really be a problem ?). One such problem, for example, is that of domestic violence. Jacobson and Gottman (1998) reported that of the couples they studied, only 7% of violent husbands stopped their violent behavior altogether. Furthermore, Gottman (1999) found that in a longitudinal study of couples 69% of the participants experienced such perpetual problems (p. 56), that is, areas of disagreement that lasted for several years. A potentially more severe problem experienced over a period of many years might foster decreased marital satisfaction. The current study asks what marital problems do newlywed couples report most often and which of those are associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction. The study also examines how often marital problems persist over the first four years of marriage as well as how spouses differ in their assessment of problem severity. Furthermore, the study proposes the following hypotheses concerning the effect of problem specificity and severity upon marital satisfaction: 1) no difference in problem severity exists based upon gender; 2) higher problem severity scores at particular points (i.e., each wave of the study) in the marriage correlate with lower marital satisfaction

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8 scores at that time; and 3) the severity of a problem at the onset of marriage (Time 1) positively correlates with the frequency of its reoccurrence as a problem during the first four years of marriage. Integrative Complexity Although some problems may be more common among divorced (and presumably dissatisfied) couples (e.g., finances, communication, and domestic violence), many satisfied and stably married couples encounter the same problems. The ability to manage a problem, then, is not simply a function of the specific problem a couple faces. As suggested earlier, some couples may approach their difficulties with more effective ways of thinking about them. The ways couples think about their problems is likely to affect their assessment of their marital problems and the methods they employ to deal with them. Although the majority of marital research conducted during the 1960s and 1970s was focused upon behavior and marital interaction, during the past two decades a large number of studies have examined the role of cognition upon marital satisfaction. In a seminal paper on cognition and marital satisfaction, Notarius et al. (1989) found that distressed wives were those who displayed negative evaluations of their husbands verbal messages, suggesting that unhappily married wives may perceive their marriages differently than satisfied wives. Whisman and Delinsky (2002) found that spouses who recall more negative aspects (measured in terms of the number of negative descriptors used to describe their partner) of their partner exhibit lower marital satisfaction than spouses who recall more positive aspects. Neff and Karney (2002) reported that satisfied spouses tend to describe their partners positive traits more globally and their negative traits more specifically, suggesting that cognitive processes play an important role in

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9 marital satisfaction. The most interesting research conducted upon the role of cognition in marriage has occurred in the area of attributions (Baucom, Sayers, & Duhe, 1989; Fincham & Bradbury, 1992; Hakstian et al, 1986; Fincham, Harold, & Gano-Phillips, 2000). Fincham (1985) found that distressed spouses tended to attribute responsibility for their problems to their partners and their relationships. In addition, distressed spouses believed that the cause of those problems was representative of their spouses negativity toward them. However, although research into the role of cognition in marriage grows, there is [still] a clear need to expand the scope of cognitions studied in marriage (Fincham, Bradbury, & Scott, 1990, p.132). An area of marital cognition that has received minimal research interest over the past twenty years has been that of cognitive structure Many couples may share similarities in the content of their thoughts, but may vary in the way they organize those thoughts. Content can be described as what someone thinks, and structure, on the other hand, is how someone thinks or organizes her or his thoughts. Cognitions that are similar in content may not necessarily be similar in structure and organization (Schroeder, 1971). For example, satisfied couples may report more positive thoughts about their partners and their marriages, while dissatisfied couples may report more negative thoughts. However, some satisfied couples might support their positive assessment of their marriage with relatively simple beliefs and perceptions, whereas dissatisfied couples may support a negative evaluation of their marriage with an extremely complex set of beliefs and perceptions (or vice-versa). Fincham, Bradbury, and Scott (1990) have acknowledged that research into cognitive structure in marriage is needed stating, although the study of cognitive

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10 structure in marriage represents a step in the right direction [regarding marital cognitive research], our review shows that research on this topic is quite limited (p. 133). Some theorists posit that partners may differ in the way that they organize and structure their thoughts concerning marital distress, and these differences influence couples problem-solving abilities and evaluation of marital satisfaction (Denton, Burleson, & Sprenkle, 1995; Tyndall & Lichtenberg, 1985). One means of assessing cognitive structure among couples is to examine archival data or verbal communication for levels of integrative complexity (Tetlock & Suedfeld, 1988). The concept of integrative complexity was largely influenced by George Kellys (1955) personal construct theory, specifically his organization corollary that states, each person characteristically evolves, for his convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs (p. 56). Integrative complexity was first described as a fixed personality trait referred to as conceptual complexity (Schroder, Driver, & Streuffert, 1967). However, as study into complexity evolved, researchers acknowledged that the complexity of cognitions was more than a dispositional trait, influenced largely by situational variables (for a review of integrative complexity see Tetlock & Suedfeld, 1988). Integrative complexity assesses two structural variables: differentiation and integration. Differentiation refers to the number of aspects to a problem that are viewed when evaluating it. For example, a spouse who displays a high degree of differentiation would be able to view the multiple aspects of her or his marital problems. A highly differentiated approach to a marital problem would identify the numerous influences upon the problem as well as the resulting effects of the problem. Integration refers to the

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11 degree and number of connections established among the differentiated aspects of a problem. Differentiation is therefore a requirement for integration. Integration, in terms of marital problems, would be exhibited by incorporating the multiple levels of a problem into a contextual understanding of the problem and movement toward problem resolution. The concept of integrative complexity in marriage is similar to the concept of cybernetics proposed by Bateson et al., (1956) and systems theory (see Becvar & Becvar, 2000, for a review) that have served as the foundation of marriage and family therapy. Using Jacobson and Christensens (1996) previously cited definition of effective problem-coping, successful conflict management involves flexibility, suggesting that some couples are more adaptable than others. Individuals exhibiting higher integrative complexity would theoretically be expected to see their problems from multiple perspectives (including those of their spouses) and integrating those perspectives into a systemic understanding of the problem, presumably utilizing this knowledge to develop ways of managing their problem. A spouse who conceptualizes a marital problem from one point of view would likely see fewer ways to cope with the problem than a spouse who views it from several different perspectives. Spouses displaying lower levels of integrative complexity concerning their marital problems would be expected to experience greater difficulty managing them than spouses showing higher degrees of complexity. Couples with a limited range of problem-coping abilities would likely express increased marital dissatisfaction than couples displaying a variety of coping skills. Integrative complexity, therefore, should presumably be correlated with marital satisfaction and stability. In addition, more severe and perpetual marital problems might foster decreased complexity due to the increased psychological stress of these problems.

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12 Furthermore, spousal differences in integrative complexity that is, spousal variations in cognitive structuring of a problem -may contribute to marital satisfaction (see Crouse, Karlins, & Schroder, 1968). Research into integrative complexity has primarily involved assessing the structure of statements and historical documents made by politicians and prominent figures, such as political speeches, governmental policy, and correspondence. A few studies have attempted to examine conceptual complexity within the context of interpersonal relationships. Neimeyer and Neimeyer (1981) found that interpersonal dyads that are similar in complexity exhibit greater mutual attraction than those that differ in thought structure. Conceptual complexity in marriage has been studied by Crouse, Karlins, & Schroeder (1968) who found that couples who were both high in complexity exhibited greater marital happiness than couples who were both low in complexity. However, these studies examined cognitive complexity as a fixed trait rather than a state-dependent variable. Currently, very little research has been conducted into the integrative complexity of spouses over time, particularly in regard to specific marital problems. Furthermore, no known studies have examined integrative complexity in the first few years of marriage when couples differences are often most salient. As a result, the current study is primarily exploratory in nature and attempts to assess the effect of problem-specific integrative complexity upon marital satisfaction among newlywed couples across time. The study posits the following questions: 1) How do spouses describe their problems?; 2) how integratively complex are spouses?; and 3) do spouses think more complexly about particular problems than others? The current study also examines how newlywed

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13 husbands and wives differ in their degree of integrative complexity, and if integrative complexity regarding a specific marital problem at the beginning of a marriage is predictive of the frequency of that problem reoccurring. The following hypotheses have been made concerning integrative complexity: 1) based upon studies suggesting that certain marital problems are more difficult for couples to cope with, differences in integrative complexity exist based upon the type of marital problem identified; 2) no difference in integrative complexity exists based upon time; 3) no difference in integrative complexity exists based upon gender; 4) increased problem severity correlates with lower integrative complexity; 5) greater integrative complexity correlates with greater marital satisfaction. Overview of the Current Study In order to conduct a study of the effects of problem specificity, problem severity and integrative complexity upon marital satisfaction couples would have to be assessed on multiple levels. First, couples would need to indicate the problematic issues in their marriages. Second, couples would also need to rank the severity of those problems. Third, couples would need to make verbal or written statements concerning their problems in order to be evaluated for degrees of integrative complexity. Finally, couples would need to be assessed at various points during the first four years of marriage. The current study recruited a sample of newlyweds and assessed them at eight points in time over four years (i.e., every six months). At each time spouses were asked to rate their overall level of marital satisfaction, to rank the severity of specific marital problems, and to write a description of a particular marital problem. Written descriptions were coded for integrative complexity by a team of trained research assistants.

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CHAPTER 2 METHODS Participants Couples were recruited from a university community in the southeastern United States using two methods. First, advertisements were placed in local newspapers, bridal shops, and bridal registries offering up to $300 to newlyweds interested in participating in a longitudinal study of marriage. Second, marriage licenses filed in the surrounding county from May 1998 through July 1998 were reviewed for eligibility in the study. Couples meeting criteria for participation based upon information obtained from the marriage licenses were mailed letters of invitation. All responding couples were screened via telephone for the following criteria: (a) the marriage was the first for both spouses, (b) the couple had married within the past three months, (c) neither spouse had children, (d) wives were between the ages of 18 and 36 (to permit for the possibility of conceiving a child during the study), (e) both spouses spoke English fluently and had completed no less than 10 years of education (to ensure understanding of the questionnaires used in the study), and (f) the couple had no immediate plans to relocate. The first 82 couples that met the criteria for participation and arrived for their scheduled appointment made up the sample population. The mean age of husbands was 25.2 years old, with men ranging from 18 to 35 (SD = 3.3). The wives ranged from 19 to 36 years old, and the mean age was 23.7 years old (SD = 2.8). Eighty-four percent of the husbands and 90% of the wives were Caucasian. Forty percent of the husbands and 39% of the wives were employed full time; at least half 14

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15 of the population was full-time students (husbands = 54%, wives = 50%). Forty-seven percent of the husbands and 48% of the wives reported being Protestant, 16% of both husbands and wives were Catholic, and 14% of husbands and 15% of wives indicated their religious affiliation as other. The average annual income of husbands and wives combined was less then $20,000. Procedure The current study analyzes data that come from eight waves of data received during four years of a longitudinal study of newlywed couples. Couples were assessed every six months over the first four years of their marriages. Participants were mailed packets of self-report measures three of which are used in the current study every six months. Couples were asked to complete the self-report measures and to return the packets to the research team at no cost to them. Measures Marital Satisfaction Several commonly used marital satisfaction inventories (e.g., Dyadic Adjustment Scale; Spanier, 1976) assess both spouses evaluations of specific areas of marital conflict and their appraisals of the relationship in general. To avoid confounding theses two aspects, marital satisfaction was measured with an instrument that assesses only global evaluations of marriage. Spouses were asked to complete a 15-item version of the Semantic Differential (SMD; Osgood, Succi, & Tannenbaum, 1957). The measure asks souses o rate their current feelings about their marriage on 7-point Likert-type scales between two opposite descriptors (e.g., Bad-Good, Satisfied-Dissatisfied, Unpleasant-Pleasant). Scores could range from 15 to 105. The internal consistency of

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16 the SMD was high for both spouses (Cronbachs alpha = .91 for husbands and .93 for wives). Marital Problems and Problem Severity Spouses completed a version of the Relationship Problem Inventory (RPI; Knox, 1970) in order to identify specific marital problems. The RPI is a list of 19 topics of potential marital disagreement (e.g., communication, finances, family). The measure asks spouses to rate the extent to which each topic is an area of conflict on a scale ranging from 1 (i.e., not a problem) to 11 (i.e., major problem). The RPI has shown adequate reliability in previous studies, and has been used to elicit problems in research on marital interaction (e.g., Gottman, Markman, & Notarius, 1977). Integrative Complexity In order to assess for integrative complexity, spouses were asked to write a description of a specific marital problem. Previous research suggests that written material tends be higher in complexity than verbal material (Suedfeld, Tetlock, & Streufert, 1992). As a result, the current study assesses spouses written descriptions under the assumption that higher complexity scores will also result in a greater range of possible scores. Furthermore, spouses written descriptions may more accurately reflect their degree of complexity regarding specific marital problems because they have more time to think about the problem and are not confronted with the stress of having to defend their position to another person. Spouses were asked to write a short paragraph describing one of the problems on the RPI. The page following the RPI contained specific instructions for writing the description of the problem:

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17 Choose one of the issues on the previous page that you rated as being an area of difficulty or disagreement for you in your marriage. Please describe the problem in more detail in the lines provided below. What is the issue? How could it be resolved? The written descriptions were coded for integrative complexity by two undergraduate students and one graduate student (intraclass correlation coefficients over eight waves of the study ranged from .66 to .87 for husbands and .65 to .76 for wives; percent agreement ranged from 89% to 94% for husbands and from 82% to 91% for wives) using the criteria outlined in the Conceptual/Integrative Complexity Scoring Manual (Baker-Brown, et al, 1992). The scoring system was originally developed in order to code the structure of individual ideas. The current study applies the coding system to descriptions of marital problems. Consequently, the system as it is used in this study differs from its use in prior studies. Whereas previous studies have used the coding system to assess the complexity of individual units of thought, the current study uses the system to measure the overall complexity of entire global descriptions of marital problems. The scoring system rates the degree of differentiation and integration exhibited in verbal and written material on a scale of 1 to 7, with a score of one indicating no differentiation, and a score of 7 representing differentiation and full integration. Using this system, a problem description receives a score of 1 when only one view of a problem is presented and no differentiation is displayed. For example: My husband is a real slob. He never cleans up after himself and is completely disorganized. His clothes sit on the bedroom floor for weeks before he puts them away if he puts them away! No matter how many times I ask him he will not clean up after himself.

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18 A score of 3 is representative of differentiation without integration. Such a description generally acknowledges at least two perspectives of a problem but does not draw any connections between those perspectives. For example: I value cleanliness and organization and I try to keep my house in good condition. My husband does not enjoy cleaning and organizing as much as I do. I clean our house nearly everyday, and my husband prefers to clean every few weeks. I like to have things put away and out of sight, whereas my husband is not bothered when things are not put away. We just have different opinions about cleanliness. A score of 5 is indicative of differentiation with some degree of integration. Multiple perspectives are acknowledged and some relationship between those perspectives is outlined: My husband and I have different opinions about household cleanliness and organization. I like the house cleaned daily; he prefers to clean every other week or so. We are attempting to resolve this difference by developing a cleaning schedule that works for both of us. Scores of 7 indicate high differentiation and high integration. The relationship between multiple views of a problem is recognized and the nature of that relationship is clearly stated. For example: Our difference of opinions regarding cleanliness and organization seems to stem from our upbringing. My husbands family was more laid-back and easy going, while my family was more demanding and structured. If we are to move forward as a couple, we will both need to adjust our expectations and work toward a mutually satisfying level of cleanliness. Scores of 2, 4, and 6 represent transition points between these levels of complexity.

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CHAPTER 3 RESULTS Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems Problem Frequency and Duration Over the eight waves of the study the most frequently reported marital problem for the entire sample was amount of time spent together. For both husbands and wives, amount of time spent together was the most frequently reported marital problem at 5 of the 8 waves of the study. Husbands also cited communication (Time 5), career decisions (Times 3 and 8), and in-laws, parents, relatives (Times 7) as the most frequent marital problems. Wives reported that communication (Time 1), in-laws, parents, relatives (Time 4), and money management (Time 6) were also the most common problems at particular points in their marriage. At the onset of marriage (Time 1), communication was the most frequent marital problem reported by husbands and wives [f = .21, N = 77 (husbands); f = .21, N = 78 (wives)], followed by time spent together (f = .18) for husbands and household management (f = .19) for wives. Four years later (Time 8), husbands most frequently reported career decisions and time spent together (f = .15, N = 47); wives most frequently reported time spent together (f = .15, N = 53) and household management (f = .13). The problems spouses identified at Time 1 also displayed a tendency to persist as a problem during their participation in the study. For husbands, the mean frequency of reoccurrence for all problems was .41; for wives, mean frequency of reoccurrence was .36. Due to the withdrawal of couples from the study, frequencies were calculated for the 19

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20 reoccurrence of a marital problem reported at time one by dividing the number of times the problem was reported by a spouse by the total number of reports by that spouse. For each of the 19 marital problems identified on the RPI, means were calculated for their reoccurrence within the sample. The most frequently reoccurring marital problems for husbands were money management (M f = .65, N = 9), household management (M f = .51, N = 6), and jealousy (M f = .48, N =3). The least frequently reoccurring problems for husbands were making decisions, solving problems, independence (M f = .13, N = 1), children (M f = .20, N =1), and showing affection (M f = .28, N = 3). For wives, the most frequently reoccurring problems were showing affection (M f = .667, N =1), drugs and alcohol (M f = .50, N = 1), and communication (M f = .45, N = 16). The least frequently reoccurring problems for wives were trust (M f = .15, N =1), independence (M f = .17, N = 2), and religion (M f = .17, N = 1). However, many of these problems were only reported by a few spouses. Regarding the most frequently reported problems of husbands at the onset of marriage -- communication and time together the mean frequency of reoccurrence for communication was .41 (N = 16) and .41 for time spent together (N =14). The mean frequencies of reoccurrence for communication and household management -the most commonly cited problems for wives at the start of their marriages were .21 (N = 16) and .19 (N = 15), respectively. Problem Severity and Specific Marital Problems Over the eight waves of the study the average problem severity for wives ranged from 4.37 (SD = 2.95, N = 49) at Time 6 to 5.33 (SD = 3.12, N = 46) at Time 7. Mean problem severity for wives decreased from 5.05 (SD = 2.82, N = 78) at Time 1 to 4.68 (SD = 3.12, N = 53) at Time 8. For husbands, mean problem severity ranged from 4.70

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21 (SD = 2.90, N = 46; Time 6) to 5.70 (SD = 2.87, N = 47; Time 8) over eight waves of data. Mean problem severity increased from 5.481 (SD = 3.09, N = 77) at Time 1 to 5.70 (SD = 2.87, N = 47) at Time 8. Problem severity was significantly different between wives and husbands at Time 8 [t(98) = 1.71, p = .045] only. Mean severity scores were calculated for each of the 19 problems on the RPI at Times 1 and 8 (see Table 1). At Time 1, unrealistic expectations, (M = 9, N = 2), children (M = 8, N =1) and jealousy (M = 8, N = 3), and showing affection (M = 7.33, N = 3) were the most severe problems for husbands; career decisions (M = 10, N = 1), drugs and alcohol (M = 9, N = 1), and in-laws, parents, relatives (M = 7.44, N = 9) were the most severe problems for wives. Amount of time spent together (M = 3.71, N = 14) and independence (M = 4, N = 1) were rated the least severe problems of husbands at Time 1, while jealousy (M = 1.50, N = 2) and religion (M = 2, N = 1) were rated the least severe for wives. At Time 8, making decisions, drugs and alcohol(M = 10, N = 1, respectively), money management (M = 6.75, N = 4), and in-laws, parents, relatives (M = 6.50, N = 6) were the most severe problems for husbands; unrealistic expectations (M = 4, N = 1), children (M = 4.20, N = 4), and household management (M = 4.25, N =4) were reported to be the least severe. Wives reported trust, independence (M = 10, N = 1, respectively), making decisions (M = 8.67, N =3), and in-laws, parents, relatives (M = 6.25, N = 4) as the most severe marital problems at Time 8, while they reported solving problems (M = 1, N =1), recreation and leisure time (M = 1.50, N = 4), and friends (M = 2, N =1) as the least severe. Problem Severity and Marital Satisfaction Mean marital satisfaction scores were calculated for both spouses. Wives mean satisfaction scores ranged between 89.19 [SD = 19.58, N = 62; (Time 7)] to 97.68 [SD =

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22 10.66, N = 82 (Time 1)]. Wives marital satisfaction scores were significantly different between Times 1 and 8 [t(100) = 2.27, p = .01]. Marital satisfaction decreased for wives from 97.683 (SD = 10.661, N = 82) at the beginning of marriage to 92.08 (SD = 17.47, N = 65) four years later. Husbands mean satisfaction scores ranged from 91.15 [SD = 16.89, N = 60 (Time 7)] to 96.28 [SD = 8.83, N = 81 (Time 1)]. Marital satisfaction scores for husbands were also significantly different between Time 1 and Time 8 [t(112) -= 1.66, p = .03]. Marital satisfaction decreased for husbands from 96.28 (SD = 8.83, N = 81) at Time 1 to 92.76 (SD = 12.70, N = 66) at Time 8. Marital satisfaction scores were not significantly different between spouses at any wave of the study. Spouses were categorized into three levels of satisfaction at Times 1 and 8 to determine what marital problems were reported most frequently based upon their level of satisfaction. Due to the skewed distribution of SMD scores (i.e., the majority of scores at both times were above 80 in a possible range from 15 to 105), Low Satisfaction for the study was determined to be any score below 90, Mid-level Satisfaction was considered to be any score from 90 to 99, and High Satisfaction was determined to consist of scores greater than 100. At Time 1, Low Satisfaction husbands (N = 15) reported communication most frequently; Low Satisfaction wives (N = 10) also reported communication most frequently. High Satisfaction husbands (N = 35) reported in-laws, parents, relatives most frequently, while High Satisfaction wives (N = 49) reported household management. At Time 8, Low Satisfaction husbands (N = 10) reported sex most frequently and Low Satisfaction wives (N =15) reported amount of time spent together most frequently. High Satisfaction husbands (N = 13) reported

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23 children and money management most frequently, while High Satisfaction wives (N = 28) reported household management. In order to determine the relationship between marital problem severity and marital satisfaction Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated. At all eight waves of the study, marital problem severity was significantly (all p <.05) and negatively correlated with marital satisfaction for both wives and husbands (see Table ). For wives, Pearson correlations ranged between -.36 (Time 1) and -.711 (Time 3). For husbands, correlations ranged between -.38 (Time 1) and -.59 (Time 3). Additionally, correlations between problem severity and marital satisfaction increased from Time 1 to Time 8 for both spouses. For wives, the correlation increased from -.36 at Time 1 to -.44 at Time 8; for husbands, the correlation increased from -.38 at Time 1 to -.53 at Time 8. Additionally, problem severity at the beginning of marriage was not significantly correlated with the frequency of reoccurrence of the problem [r = .11, p > .05 (wives); r = .02, p > .05 (husbands)]. Integrative Complexity Descriptive statistics were calculated at each of the six waves of the study for the integrative complexity of husbands and wives statements concerning their marital problems at those times. Husbands mean complexity scores ranged from 3.10 (SD = .99) at Time 1 to 3.24 (SD = 1.08) at Time 5. Wives mean complexity scores ranged from 2.8 (SD = 1.02) at Time 3 to 3.13 (SD = .99) Time 7; at only 2 points in the study (i.e., Times 7 and 8) were wives mean scores 3.00 or above. Spouses mean complexity scores were significantly different at two waves, Time 2 [t(137) = 1.80, p = .04] and Time 5 [t(101) = 2.02, p = .02]. Husbands and wives complexity scores were not significantly different based upon time.

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24 Integrative Complexity, Problem Specificity and Problem Reoccurrence Mean integrative complexity scores were calculated at Times 1 and 8 for each of the 19 marital problems identified on the RPI (see Table 1). At Time 1, the most complexly thought about marital problems for husbands were children (M = 4, N = 1), sex (M = 4, N = 1), and showing affection (M = 3.67, N = 3). For wives, the most complexly-regarded marital problems were solving problems (M = 4.5, N = 2), money management (M = 3.75, N = 4), and amount of time spent together (M = 3.5, N = 8). The least complexly-regarded marital problems of husbands were jealousy (M = 1.67, N = 3), making decisions, and independence (M = 2, N =1, respectively). The least complexly thought about problems of wives were showing affection (M = 1, N = 1), religion, making decisions, trust, and drugs and alcohol (M = 2, N =1, respectively). At Time 8, the most complexly-regarded marital problems of wives were showing affection (M = 4, N =1), unrealistic expectations (M = 4, N = 1), money management (M = 4, N = 3), and solving problems (M = 4, N =1). Husbands most complexly-regarded problems were religion (M = 4, N = 2), unrealistic expectations (M = 4, N = 1), and sex (M = 3.75, N = 4). Wives thought least complexly about trust, independence, and drugs and alcohol (M = 2, N =1, respectively). Husbands least complexly-regarded problems were money management (M = 2.29, N = 7) and in-laws, parents, relatives (M = 2.67, N = 6). Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated for the relationship between integrative complexity regarding a marital problem at Time 1 and the frequency of reoccurrence of the problem. The integrative complexity of wives at Time 1 was significantly correlated with the frequency of problem reoccurrence (r = -.26,

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25 p < .05); husbands integrative complexity at Time 1 was not significantly correlated with the frequency of problem reoccurrence (r = .06, p > .05). Integrative Complexity and Problem Severity Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated for the relationship between integrative complexity and problem severity at all eight waves of the study for husbands and wives. Husbands complexity scores were significantly correlated (all p-values < .05) with problem severity scores at three waves: Time 5 (r = -.36), Time 7 (r = -.25), and Time 8 (r = -.32). Wives complexity scores were significantly correlated at Time 2 (r = -.25, p < .05), Time 3 (r = -.24, p < .05), and Time 5 (r = -.20, p < .05). Integrative Complexity and Marital Satisfaction Pearson r correlations were conducted to evaluate the relationship between spouses integrative complexity and marital satisfaction scores at all eight points in the study. Wives complexity scores were significantly correlated with marital satisfaction at three points: Time 3 (r = .32, p < .05), Time 5 (r = .38, p < .05), and Time 6 (r = .38, p < .05). Husbands integrative complexity was also significantly correlated with marital satisfaction at three times in the study: Time 4 (r = .49, p < .05), Time 5 (r = .50, p < .05), and Time 6 (r = .46, p < .05).

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26 Table 1 Spouse Mean Problem Severity, Complexity, and Satisfaction by Marital Problem Topic Time 1 Time 8 Husband Topic N SEV CMPLX SMD N SEV CMPLX SMD Children 1 8 4 77 5 4.2 3.2 100.8 Religion ----2 5.5 4 91 In-laws, parents, relatives 8 5.25 2.38 90.25 6 6.5 2.67 95.5 Recreation & leisure time 9 4.67 3.44 97.67 ----Communication 16 5.06 2.94 93.38 1 6 3 101 Household Mgmt 6 6 2.5 98.67 4 4.25 3 95.5 Showing Affection 3 7.33 3.67 89.67 1 8 3 89 Making Decisions 1 5 2 101 1 10 3 101 Friends --------Unrealistic Expectations 2 9 2.5 97 1 4 4 96 Money Mgmt 9 6.22 3.56 96.89 7 6 2.29 95.14 Sex 1 11 4 89 4 6.75 3.75 86.75 Jealousy 3 8 1.67 90.33 ----Solving Problems 1 7 3 80 ----Trust --------Independence 1 4 2 -----Drugs & Alcohol ----1 10 3 67 Career Decisions 2 6 3.5 91 7 4.43 3.57 92.14 Amount of Time Spent Together 14 3.71 3.43 99.43 7 6 3.57 84.71 Time 1 Time 8 Wife Topic N SEV CMPLX SMD N SEV CMPLX SMD Children 2 2.5 2.5 102 3 2.67 3 98.67 Religion 1 2 2 100 ----In-laws, parents, relatives 9 7.44 3 96.11 4 6.25 2.5 98 Recreation & leisure time 7 4.71 2.96 77.71 4 1.5 3 91.25 Communication 16 4.81 2.44 97.19 5 4.6 2.2 92.8 Household Mgmt 15 3.87 2.87 100 7 4.14 2.29 100.71 Showing Affection 1 7 1 88 1 3 4 89 Making Decisions 3 4 3.33 103 3 8.67 2.67 63.33 Friends 2 5 2 98 1 2 3 105 Unrealistic Expectations ----1 4 4 105 Money Mgmt 4 5.5 3.75 99 4 4.25 3.5 99.25 Sex 2 4 3 99 3 9 4 86.33 Jealousy 2 1.5 2.5 100.5 ----Solving Problems 2 5.5 4.5 102.5 1 1 4 105 Trust 1 6 2 91 1 3 2 102 Independence 2 5 3 97.5 1 10 2 86 Drugs & Alcohol 1 9 2 105 1 10 2 47 Career Decisions 1 10 3 90 5 3.6 3.6 94.4 Amount of Time Spent Together 8 6.75 3.5 98.37 8 4.5 3.5 91.86 Note: Blank cells indicate that no data was available for analysis.

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CHAPTER 4 DISCUSSION Limitations The findings of the present study should be regarded with consideration as several limitations restrict their generalizability. First, the relatively small size of the sample (due in large part to divorce and/or withdrawal from the study) may have affected the breadth of information collected from couples. When examining the distribution of the marital satisfaction scores, a positively-skewed distribution is obvious as scores tend to fall within the upper limits of the possible range. Very few satisfaction scores were within the lower limits of the range. Consequently, the majority of couples in the study reported reasonably high levels of marital satisfaction, restricting the range of scores and possibly depressing correlations. However, as the couples were newlywed, higher marital satisfaction would be expected. Furthermore, the small sample size may have restricted the selection of particular marital problems as some topics were underrepresented at each of the points of the study. For example, the topics of making decisions, friends, solving problems, trust, independence, and drugs and alcohol were rarely selected as marital problems at all waves of the study. The underrepresentation of these problems reduces the significance of their effects. A larger sample size might have contributed to stronger effect sizes and a greater variety of reported marital problems. Second, comparing integrative complexity scores between spouses may not be the most effective evaluation of differences in the way they structure their 27

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28 thoughts.Integrative complexity is conceptually viewed as flexible and state-dependent. Many of the couples in the study reported differences in the marital problems they chose to describe. As a result, comparisons were conducted on spouses who reported the same problem as well as those who reported different problems. Comparing the integrative complexity of statements concerning different marital topics may pose a significant threat to the generalizability of such comparisons. Comparisons of integrative complexity regarding unlike topics may be akin to those of apples and oranges. Evaluations of such complexity may reveal greater effects if spouses were required to report on the same marital problems. However, evidence also exists suggesting that integrative complexity may be a relatively stable personality attribute (Tetlock, Peterson, & Berry, 1993). Due to the variety of problems reported by spouses, integrative complexity may be the best assessment of cognitive structure. Additionally, integrative complexity allows for a social-cognitive evaluation of thought structure rather than relying on outdated cognitive-only assessments such as measures of attribution (Fincham & Beach, 1999b). Findings Problem Severity and Specificity The present study assessed what marital problems newlywed couples report most frequently and which of those problems are associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction. The most frequently reported marital problem for both husbands and wives over the eight waves of the study was amount of time spent together. Other frequently reported problems for both spouses were communication and in-laws, parents, relatives. Such findings appear to be consistent with previous studies concerning common marital problems (e.g., Gruver & Labadie, 1975; Knox et al., 1997; and Zusman & Knox, 1998) and suggest that certain marital problems may be inevitable. In addition,

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29 certain problems seem to be common to couples with different levels of marital satisfaction. Communication was the most frequently reported marital problem of the least satisfied newlywed husbands and wives at the onset of marriage, while sex was the most frequently reported marital problem of those husbands four years later and amount of time spent together was the most frequently reported marital problem of the least satisfied wives four years later. The most satisfied husbands reported amount of time spent together (Time 1) and children and money management (Time 8) most frequently, while the most satisfied wives reported household management most frequently at both times. Such data make drawing conclusions about the impact of problem specificity on marital satisfaction difficult. However, it appears that the least satisfied newlywed couples agree that communication is a problem at the beginning of their marriages; as these couples transition through the first few years of marriage they may begin to shift their attention to other problem areas (i.e., sex for husbands and time spent together for wives). This finding may also suggest that communication can be a serious problem for couples at the start of marriage, having an impact on their marital satisfaction. As newlywed spouses become more familiar with each other, communication problems may dissipate and other problem areas may become more salient. The most frequent problem of highly satisfied wives appears to be consistent during the first four years of marriage. This may reflect the ability of satisfied wives to accept that they and their husbands may have different opinions regarding household management and that these differences do not necessarily equate to an unhappy marriage. Dissatisfied spouses may more readily

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30 identify their differences in multiple areas; consequently, these numerous difference sum to a dissatisfying marriage. Furthermore, the current findings suggest that particular marital problems may have a tendency to persist throughout the first few years of marriage. The frequency of a problem reoccurring during the first four years of marriage for both spouses was significant and moderate. This finding is in agreement with Gottmans (1999) assertion that most couples experience long-term, perpetual problems. The most frequently reoccurring marital problems for husbands were money management, household management, and jealousy; the most frequently, reoccurring problems for wives were showing affection, drugs and alcohol, and communication. Of the most commonly cited problems at the onset of marriage, only communication (for wives) was among the most frequently reoccurring problems. These findings suggest that common problems at the start of a marriage (e.g., communication difficulties and family issues) may not remain prominent Furthermore, these findings imply that perhaps most newlywed couples experience problems regarding issues such as family and the amount of time they spend together at some point in their relationship, but that these problems may not remain as severe or have a tendency to reoccur as frequently as other problems (e.g., drugs and alcohol). Problems related to the amount of time spent together and family may be severe at some point in a newlywed couples marriage, but the severity of these problems may not persist over time as the couple negotiates their differences and perhaps comes to an acceptance that these problems may continue. Although such problems may reoccur, couples may discover ways to cope with such problems that help to diminish their severity.

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31 Regarding problem severity, husbands and wives tended to differ in the problems they rated the most severe. At the onset of marriage, husbands reported unrealistic expectations as the most severe marital problems; after four years of marriage, husbands reported making decisions and drugs and alcohol as the most severe problems. Wives indicated that career decisions were the most severe problems at the beginning of marriage, while they reported that independence and drugs and alcohol as the most severe. It appears that a problem as significant and often very obvious as substance abuse is readily identified by spouses at latter points in the newlywed marriage. This may be due to the ability of substance abusers to hide their problems initially from friends and family (Roberts & McCrady, 2003) as many clinicians who have worked with substance abuse clients and their families are aware. As the seriousness of the abuse worsens, spouses may tend to become more aware of the problem and confront their partners about it. The first hypothesis of the study related to problem severity stated that no differences exist in problem severity between newlywed spouses based upon gender. The data tend to support this hypothesis. No significant differences were detected in problem severity between husbands and wives except at Time 8 (the final wave of the study). This finding may suggest that couples begin to perceive the severity of their marital problems differently as the marriage progresses. Kreider and Fields (2001) reported that the average duration of a first marriage ending in divorce is seven to eight years. Spouses who begin to disagree in their evaluations of marital problem severity may, consequently, be at higher risk of divorce. Such couples may begin to notice prominent differences in their evaluations around the midpoint (i.e., four years) of a troubled marriage.

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32 Additionally, based on the data regarding the severity of specific problems, at-risk couples may differ in their perceptions of what is problematic. Couples who differ in their perceptions of what is a marital problem as well as their evaluations of problem severity may be at higher risk for marital dissatisfaction and dissolution. Following couples throughout a seven to eight year period may reveal how such differences might influence marital satisfaction and stability. The second hypothesis related to problem severity stated that higher problem severity scores at specific points in the marriage (i.e., each wave of the study) correlate with lower marital satisfaction scores at those times. The data support this hypothesis. At all eight waves of the study problem severity was negatively correlated with marital satisfaction for wives and husbands. In general, wives displayed stronger correlations between problem severity and marital satisfaction. However, husbands displayed a greater overall increase in the strength of the correlation from the beginning of marriage to four years later. These findings offer evidence to suggest that the more severe a spouse believes a marital problem to be the less her or his marital satisfaction seems to be. As a marital problem worsens for spouses, they may begin to engage in behaviors that contribute to decreased marital satisfaction (see Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Coping with a marital problem is likely more difficult as it becomes more severe, and as a result, ineffective coping problem-solving strategies may perpetuate a sense of dissatisfaction with ones marriage. The third hypothesis stated that the severity of a problem at the onset of marriage positively correlates with the frequency of its reoccurrence during the first four years of marriage. The data from the current study do not support this hypothesis. A spouses

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33 appraisal of problem severity at the beginning of marriage may not have a direct impact on its tendency to reoccur throughout marriage; rather, the way a spouse thinks about that problem and the manner in which that problem is managed may have more of an influence on its reoccurrence. The tendency of a problem to reoccur or continue may simply reflect basic differences in partners personalities and their needs that likely cannot be reconciled and will continue to persist throughout marriage (Dimidjian, Martell, & Christensen, 2002; Gottman, 1999; Jacobson & Christensen, 1996a). Integrative Complexity The current study also examined the effects of integrative complexity on the way couples describe their marital problems. The mean integrative complexity for problem descriptions for husbands and wives at all waves of the study was approximately three on a seven point scale. A score of three is representative of differentiation without integration. Thus, spouses in the current study displayed the ability see two or more perspectives of their marital problems. For example, a husband might have written: I like to have sex more often than my wife does. I would like to have sex almost every night; she would prefer to have sex once or twice a week. I tend to be more physically affectionate, whereas she enjoys spending time talking to each other or watching TV. We have different opinions about how often to have sex. Spouses in the study acknowledge that they may have a different point of view than that of others and accept theses perspectives as valid. The study also asked what problems spouses think most complexly about. Husbands consistently thought most complexly about children and sex at the beginning of marriage and four years later; the problems they thought least complexly about showed no pattern of consistency. Wives thought most complexly about solving problems at the start of marriage and four years later, while they demonstrated

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34 consistently low complexity regarding trust at both points in the marriage. This data appears to support the first hypothesis regarding integrative complexity that stated differences in integrative complexity exist based upon the type of marital problem. For example, husbands may be able to think more complexly about sex, resigning themselves to the common belief that men simply want sex more than women. Although this may not be the case, research in the field of mating (e.g., Buss & Schmitt, 1993) suggests that such beliefs may be grounded in human evolution. Husbands may acknowledge that their wives are not as biologically motivated to engage in sex, and therefore, may accept this difference. In a similar vein, wives showed a pattern of thinking least complexly about trust issues. From an evolutionary perspective, women may be more invested in emotional expression, and violations of trust deeply affect them, shaking their ability to think complexly about such an emotionally-charged problem. These results appear to contradict previous research by Suedfeld, Bluck, and Ballard (1994) that found that a higher degree of emotional involvement positively correlated with greater integrative complexity. Perhaps problems concerning trust in a marriage are so emotionally-loaded that complex cognitive structuring becomes difficult to achieve. The data also suggest that integrative complexity has an effect on problem reoccurrence for wives. The integrative complexity of a marital problem at the beginning of marriage was negatively and modestly correlated with the frequency of problem reoccurrence for wives. Wives who display lower levels of complexity at the start of a marriage may be at higher risk to experience perpetual problems (Gottman, 1999). As the data consistently reveals, if these perpetual problems are of high severity, low complexity wives may experience lower levels of marital satisfaction.

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35 The second hypothesis concerning integrative complexity was supported by the data. No differences were detected in integrative complexity based on time. This may reflect the tendency of integrative complexity to remain relatively stable, despite being a context-specific attribute (Tetlock, Peterson, & Berry, 1993). The third hypothesis regarding integrative complexity no difference in integrative complexity exists based on gender was not completely supported. The data reveal significant differences in integrative complexity between husbands and wives at Times 2 and 5. These times correspond with points at six months and two years into a marriage. Perhaps at these periods, problem severity may be greater and have an impact on the complexity of spouses, with one spouse displaying a significant decrease in complexity at these times. The data regarding the effects of problem severity on integrative complexity (Hypothesis 4) lend some support to such speculation. Although the data do not consistently support the fourth hypothesis, significant negative and modest correlations were found between problem severity and integrative complexity for husbands (Times 5, 7, and 8) and wives (Times 2, 3, 5). At Time 2, wives integrative complexity may decline as a result of increased problem severity, accounting for the differences in complexity between spouses at those times. In addition, the data suggest that problem severity has a greater impact on the integrative complexity of husbands at the latter stages of newlywed marriage (i.e., the first four years of marriage), while such effects are more profound for wives at the earlier stages of newlywed marriage. However, these findings mean little to the continued satisfaction of newlywed couples. What effect does integrative complexity have on marital satisfaction? The fifth hypothesis concerning integrative complexity stated that greater integrative complexity

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36 correlates with greater marital satisfaction. The data do no support this assertion at all waves of the study. Integrative complexity does positively and significantly correlate with marital satisfaction at Times 4-6 for husbands and at Times 3, 5, and 6 for wives. The data from these waves appear to be complement the findings by Murray and Holmes (1999) that suggest that partners in satisfied and stable relationships develop integrative cognitive representations of their partners. The results from the current study imply that higher integrative complexity is an important factor in determining increased marital satisfaction in the middle phases (approximately one to three years) of newlywed marriage. This may represent a time when newlywed couples are making significant life transitions, such as having children. Pancer et al. (2000) found that couples demonstrated higher integrative complexity after the birth of a child and those parents who displayed higher levels of complexity reported greater marital satisfaction after the birth of a child than those displaying lower complexity. The findings of Pancer et al., and the current results suggest that complexity may play a crucial role in transitioning through stages of marital development, such as parenthood. Conclusions and Implications The data reveals that problem severity is positively correlated with marital satisfaction, as any marital counselor can attest to. Couples rarely present to therapy if their problems are not severe and meriting counseling from their perspectives. Foremost, the goal of counseling with couples should be a reduction in problem severity. If couples do not experience such a decrease in severity, couples likely will not see any reason to continue with counseling and their marital satisfaction may be at risk for further decline, possibly resulting in divorce. The problems of newlywed spouses in the current study showed a tendency to persist throughout the first few marriages. Couples must, therefore,

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37 find ways to cope with those problems (e.g., communication and amount of time spent together) or risk declines in marital satisfaction. Many marital interventions are designed from a behavioral perspective and attempt to teach couples effective communication skills (see Gottman, 1999). However, as Gottman and Jacobson and Christensen (1996a) point out, improved communication skills can only go so far to help couples. As these researchers assert and as the current data suggests, many couples experience on-going and perpetual problems, such as a lack of time together or differences regarding money management or household duties. Although helping couples to improve their communication may be helpful, they may never be able to negotiate an understanding or resolution. Perhaps what is needed in couples therapy is restructuring the way spouses perceive their problems. The findings of the current study suggest that this may be useful in early stages of marriage, particularly between the second and third years of marriage often when couples are facing significant transitions in their lives, such as relocation or child-rearing. Further research must be conducted to determine the effect of integrative complexity on marital satisfaction during these transitional periods. Recent outcome research on marital therapy indicates that cognitive change in spouses may be effective in instilling relationship change and, consequently, marital satisfaction. In a qualitative study with 24 couples therapy clients, Christensen et al. (1998) reported that one of the most significant factors in the process of change was a modification in their understanding of their relationship. Friedlander and Heatherington (1998) have also demonstrated promise with an instrument designed to evaluate changes in clients cognitive representations of family problems. Constructivist approaches to counseling such as narrative therapy (Freedman

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38 & Combs, 2002; White & Epston, 1990) and constructivist family therapy (see Neimeyer, 1993) have become widely used with families over the past decade. However, as the data from the present study indicate, complexity of cognitive structure may not always play a crucial role in marital satisfaction, and attempting to restructure clients cognitions may not always be plausible. Some clients may find constructivist interventions helpful, while others balk at them. Furthermore, the current sample of newlyweds displayed a tendency toward differentiation; attempting to help differentiated couples further differentiate likely would prove fruitless. Such couples may need greater assistance integrating their constructions of their problems into meaningful resolutions. In addition, many couples may benefit from greater emotional connectedness and may not benefit from such cognitive interventions. Forgiveness as part of couples counseling shows promise in helping couples work through emotional conflicts, particularly violations of trust, and develop greater connectedness (Barnett & Youngberg, 2004). The Emotion Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) of Susan Johnson (Johnson, 2002; 2003) has demonstrated efficacy in working with couples (Shadish & Baldwin, 2003). Johnsons approach is a constructivist approach in that it focuses on the ongoing construction of present [emotional] experiencesand a systemic approach in that it focuses on the construction of patterns of interaction with emotional others (Johnson, 2002, p. 221). This approach integrates behavior, cognition, and affect in a manner that fosters increased connectedness, enabling couples with the understanding necessary to work through their problems. The promise of EFT illustrates the need for an integrative approach to couples therapy. As the current study indicates, the complexity of spouses thoughts about their

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39 problems is not consistently predictive of marital satisfaction, and thus, should not always be the focus of marriage counseling. Fincham and Beach (1999a) and Sprenkle, Blow, and Dickey (1999) suggest that the goal of marriage counseling be that of change, and point to the importance of being integrative and goal-oriented rather than technique-bound. The current study supports this claim and lends further evidence to the complexity of marital satisfaction. Until recently, marital satisfaction has been studied as a variable dependent on one or two variables. Research in the area of marital satisfaction and marital therapy modalities would benefit from taking an integrative perspective, incorporating factors such as integrative complexity within a larger and more systemic framework.

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LIST OF REFERENCES American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2001). What are the most common causes of divorce? Retrieved July 7, 2003, from http://www.aaml.org/ Marriage_Last/MarriageLastText.htm Baker-Brown, G., Ballard, E. J., Bluck, S., De Vries, B., Suedfeld, P., & Tetlock, P. E. (1992). The conceptual/integrative complexity scoring manual. In C. P. Smith (Ed.), Motivation and personality: Handbook of thematic content analysis (pp. 393-400). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Barnett, J. K., & Youngberg, C. (2004). Forgiveness as a ritual in couples therapy. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families 12, 14-20. Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J., & Weakland, J. (1956). Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science 1, 251-264. Baucom, D. H., & Epstein, N. (1990). Cognitive behavioral marital therapy New York: Brunner/Mazel. Baucom, D. H., Sayers, S. L., & Duhe, A. (1989). Attributional style and attributional patterns among married couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56, 596-607. Becvar, D. S., & Becvar, R. J. (2000). Family therapy: A systemic integration (4 th Ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Bowman, M. L. (1990). Coping efforts and marital satisfaction: Measuring marital coping and its correlates. Journal of Marriage and the Family 52, 463-474. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review 100, 204-232. Christensen, A., & Shenk, J. L. (1991). Communication, conflict, and psychological distance in non-distressed, clinic, and divorcing couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 59, 458-463. Christensen, L. L., Russell, C. S., Miller, R. B., & Peterson, C. M. (1998). The process of change in couples therapy: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 24, 177-188. 40

PAGE 48

41 Coie, J. D., Watt, N. F., West, S. G., Hawkins, D., Asarnow, J. R., Markman, H. J., Ramey, S. L., Shure, M. B., & Long, B. (1993). The science of prevention: A conceptual framework and some directions for a national research program. American Psychologist 48, 1013-1022. Cookerly, J. R. (1980). Does marital therapy do any lasting good? Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 6, 393. Crouse, B., Karlins, M., & Schroder, H. (1968). Conceptual complexity and marital happiness. Journal of Marriage and the Family 30, 643-646. Denton, W. H., Burleson, B. R., & Sprenkle, D. H. (1995). Association of interpersonal cognitive complexity with communication skill in marriage: Moderating effects of marital distress. Family Process 34, 101-111. Dimidjian, S., Martell, C. R., & Christensen, A. (2002). Integrative behavioral couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman & N. S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (3rd ed.) (pp. 251-271). New York: Guilford Press. Doss, B. D., Atkins, D. C., & Christensen, A. (2003). Whos dragging their feet? Husbands and wives seeking marital therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 29, 165-178. Fincham, F. D. (1985). Attribution processes in distressed and non-distressed couples: 2. Responsibility for marital problems. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 94, 183190. Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (1999a). Conflict in marriage: Implications for working with couples. Annual Review of Psychology 50, 47-77. Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (1999b). Marriage in the new millennium: Is there a place for social cognition in marital research? Journal of Social & Personal Relationships ,16, 685-704. Fincham, F. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (1992). Assessing attributions in marriage: The Relationship Attribution Measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 457-468. Fincham, F. D., Bradbury, T. N., & Scott, C. K. (1990). Cognition in marriage. In F.D. Fincham & T. N. Bradbury (Eds.), The psychology of marriage (pp.118-149). New York: Guilford Press. Fincham, F. D., Harold, G. T., Gano-Phillips, S. (2000). The longitudinal association between attributions and marital satisfaction: Direction of effects and role of efficacy expectations. Journal of Family Psychology 14, 267-285.

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42 Freedman, J. H., & Combs, G. (2002). Narrative couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman & N. S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (3rd ed.) (pp. 308-334). New York: The Guilford Press. Friedlander, M. L., & Heatherington, L. (1998). Assessing clients constructions of their problems in family therapy discourse. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 24, 289-303. Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy New York: W. W. Norton and Company. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). The relationship between marital interaction and marital satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57, 47-52. Gottman, J. M., Markman, H., & Notarius, C. (1977). The topography of marital conflict: A sequential analysis of verbal and non-verbal behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family 39, 461-478. Gruver, G. G., & Labadie, S. K. (1975). Marital dissatisfaction among college students. Journal of College Student Personnel 16, 454-458. Hakstian, A. R., Suedfeld, P., Ballard, E.J., & Rank, D. S. (1986). The Ascription of Responsibility Questionnaire: Development and empirical extensions. Journal of Personality Assessment 50, 229-247. Heyman, R. E. (2001). Observation of couple conflicts: Clinical assessment applications, stubborn truths, and shaky foundations. Psychological Assessment 13, 5-35. Jacobson, N. S. (1984). A component analysis of behavioral marital therapy: The relative effectiveness of behavior exchange and problem solving training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 52, 295-305. Jacobson, N. S., & Christensen, A. (1996a). Integrative couple therapy: Promoting acceptance and change New York: W. W. Norton and Company. Jacobson, N. S., & Christensen, A. (1996b). Acceptance and change in couple therapy: A therapists guide to transforming relationships New York: W. W. Norton and Company. Jacobson, N. S., & Gottman, J. M. (1998). When men batter women New York: Simon & Schuster. Jacobson, N. S., & Margolin, G. (1979). Marital therapy New York: Brunner/Mazel. Jacobson, N. S., Schmalling, K. B., & Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (1987). Component analysis of behavioral marital therapy: Two-year follow-up and prediction of relapse. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 10, 133-145.

PAGE 50

43 Johnson, C. A., Stanley, S. M., Glenn, N. D., Amato, P. R., Nock, S. L., Markman, H. J., & Dion, M. R. (2003). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce Retrieved June 28, 2003, from Oklahoma State University, Bureau for Social Research web site: http://www.okmarriage.org/Research/ OSUBaselineSurvey.pdf Johnson, S. M. (2003). The revolution in couple therapy: A practitioner-scientist perspective. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 29, 365-384. Johnson, S. M., & Denton, W. (2002). Emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating secure connections. In A. S. Gurman & N. S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (3rd ed.) (pp. 221-250). New York: The Guilford Press. Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin 118, 3-34. Kelly, G. A. (1955/1963). A theory of personality: The psychology of personal constructs New York: W. W. Norton and Company. Knox, D. (1970). Marital happiness Champaign, IL: Research Press. Knox, D., Gibson, L., Zusman, M., & Gallmeier, C. (1997). Why college students end relationships. College Student Journal 31, 449-452. Kreider, R. M., & Fields, J. M. (2001). Number, timing, and duration of marriages and divorces: Fall 1996. Current Population Reports, P70-80 Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from U. S. Census Bureau website on February 26, 2004, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p70-80.pdf Markman, H. J. (1992). Marital and family psychology burning issues. Journal of Family Psychology 5, 264-275. Murray, S. L., & Holmes, J. G. (1999). The (mental) ties that bind: Cognitive structures that predict relationship resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, 1228-1244. Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2002). Judgments of a relationship partner: Specific accuracy but global enhancement. Journal of Personality 70, 1079-1112. Neimeyer, R. A. (1993). An appraisal of constructivist psychotherapies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 61, 221-234. Neimeyer, R. A., & Neimeyer, G. J. (1981). Structural similarity in the acquaintance process. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1, 146-154.

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44 Notarius, C. I., Benson, P. R., Sloane, D., Vanzetti, N. A., & Hornyak, L. M. (1989). Exploring the interface between perception and behavior: An analysis of marital interaction in distressed and non-distressed couples. Behavioral Assessment 11, 39-64. Osgood, C. E., Succi, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B., & Gallant, M. (2000). Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. Journal of Personality 68, 253-280. Roberts, L. J., & McCrady, B. S. (2003). Alcohol problems in intimate relationships: Identification and intervention A guide for marriage and family therapists Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Satir, V. (1983). Conjoint family therapy (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books. Scanzoni, J., & Godwin, D. D. (1990). Negotiation effectiveness and acceptable outcomes. Social Psychology Quarterly 53, 239-251. Scanzoni, J., & Polonko, K. (1980). A conceptual approach to explicit marital negotiation. Journal of Marriage & the Family 42, 31-44. Schroder, H. M. (1971). Conceptual complexity and personality organization. In H. M. Schroder & P. Suedfeld (Eds.), Personality theory and information processing (pp. 240-273). New York: The Ronald Press Company. Schroder, H. M., Driver, M., & Streufert, S. (1967). Human information processing New York: Holt. Shadish, W. R., & Baldwin, S. A. (2003). Meta-analysis of MFT interventions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 29, 547-570. Spanier, G. B. (1976). Measuring dyadic adjustment: New scales for assessing the quality of marriage and similar dyads. Journal of Marriage and the Family 38, 15-28. Sprenkle, D. H., Blow, A. J., & Dickey, M. H. (1999). Common factors and other nontechnique variables in marriage and family therapy. In M. A. Hubble, B. L. Duncan, & S. D. Miller (Eds.), The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy (pp. 329-359). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Stuart, R. B. (1969). Operant-interpersonal treatment for marital discord. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 33, 675-682.

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45 Suedfeld, P., Bluck, S., & Ballard, E. J. (1994). The effects of emotional involvement and psychological distance on integrative complexity. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 24, 443-452. Suedfeld, P., Tetlock, P. E., & Streufert, S. (1992). Conceptual-integrative complexity. In C. P. Smith (Ed.), Motivation and personality: Handbook of thematic content analysis (pp. 393-400). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Tetlock, P. E., Peterson, R. S., & Berry, J. M. (1993). Flattering and unflattering personality portraits of integratively simple and complex managers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 500-511. Tetlock, P. E., & Suedfeld, P. (1988). Integrative complexity coding of verbal behaviour. In C. Antaki (Ed.), Analysing everyday explanation: A casebook of methods (pp. 43-59). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Ting-Toomey, S. (1983). An analysis of verbal communication patterns in high and low marital adjustment groups. Human Communication Research 9, 306-319. Tyndall, L. W., & Lichtenberg, J. W. (1985). Spouses cognitive styles and marital interaction patterns. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 11, 193-202. Wall, V., & Nolan, L. (1987). Small group conflict: A look at equity, satisfaction, and styles of conflict management. Small Group Behavior 18, 188-211. Weiss, R. L., Birchler, G. R., & Vincent, J. P. (1974). Contractual models for negotiation training in marital dyads. Journal of Marriage and the Family 36, 321-331. Weiss, R. L., Hops, H., & Patterson, G. R. (1973). A framework for conceptualizing marital conflict, technology for altering it, some data for evaluating it. In L. A. Hamerlynck, L. C. Handy, & E. J. Mash (Eds.), Behavior change: Methodology, concepts, and practices (pp. 309-342). Champaign, IL: Research Press. Whisman, M. A., & Delinsky, S. S. (2002). Marital satisfaction and an information-processing measure of partner-schemas. Cognitive Therapy and Research 26, 617-627. White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends New York: Norton. Wile, D. B. (2002). Collaborative couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman & N. S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (3rd ed.) (pp 281-307). New York: The Guilford Press. Young, M. E., & Long, L. L. (1998). Counseling and therapy for couples Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Zusman, M. E., & Knox, D. (1998). Relationship problems of casual and involved university students. College Student Journal 32, 606-609.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Christopher Adams received Master of Arts in Education and Specialist in Education degrees in counselor education from the University of Florida in May of 2004. While at the University of Florida, he specialized in marriage and family counseling. He attended the first two years of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and he received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida in 2000. Christopher is currently applying to doctoral programs in counseling psychology and hoping for admission in the fall of 2004. 46


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Title: Effects of Problem Specificity, Problem Severity, and Integrative Complexity on Marital Satisfaction
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Holding Location: University of Florida
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EFFECTS OF PROBLEM SPECIFICITY, PROBLEM SEVERITY, AND
INTEGRATIVE COMPLEXITY ON MARITAL SATISFACTION
















By

CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL ADAMS


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS INT EDUCATION

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2004
































Copyright 2004

by

Christopher Michael Adams
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I cannot adequately put into words my appreciation for the assistance and support I

have received during my academic career. I thank Dr. Benjamin Karney for the

opportunity to be part of the Florida Proj ect on Newlywed Marriage and Adult

Development for the past four years, as well as the guidance and encouragement he

provided during the process of writing my thesis. I also thank my parents for their

support throughout my life, and particularly, over the past few years. Finally, I would

also like to thank Lisa Smith for her continued encouragement and patience.




















TABLE OF CONTENTS


page

ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .........__.. ..... .__. .............._ iii..


AB STRAC T ................ .............. vi


CHAPTER


1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............1.......... ......


Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems .............. .....................
Integrative Complexity ................. ...............8.......... ......
Overview of the Current Study ................. ...............13........... ...


2 METHODS ................. ...............14.......... .....


Participants .............. ...............14....
Procedure ................. ................. 15..............
M measures ................ ........... ...............15......
Marital Satisfaction .............. .. ...... ..............1
Marital Problems and Problem Severity ................. .............. ......... .....16
Integrative Complexity ................. ...............16.......... ......

3 RE SULT S ................. ...............19.......... .....


Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems .............. ....................1
Problem Frequency and Duration.................. ..............1
Problem Severity and Specific Marital Problems .............. ....................2
Problem Severity and Marital Satisfaction ................. ................ ......... .21
Integrative Complexity ................. ... .. ... ....... .... .......2
Integrative Complexity, Problem Specificity and Problem Reoccurrence ..........24
Integrative Complexity and Problem Severity .............. ...............25....
Integrative Complexity and Marital Satisfaction .............. .....................2

4 DI SCUS SSION ................. ...............27................


Limitations ................. ...............27.................
Findings .............. ...... .. .................2
Problem Severity and Specificity .............. ...............28....
Integrative Complexity ................. ...............33.......... ......












Conclusions and Implications ................. ...............36........... ....


LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............40................


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............46....















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Master of Arts of Education


EFFECTS OF PROBLEM SPECIFICITY, PROBLEM SEVERITY, AND
INTEGRATIVE COMPLEXITY ON MARITAL SATISFACTION

By

Christopher Adams

May 2004

Chair: Peter A. D. Sherrard
Maj or Department: Counselor Education

The current study attempts to evaluate what problems do newlywed couples

(defined as couples in the first four years of marriage) report most frequently and how

couples construct their thoughts about these problems. In addition, the study explores

how the severity of these problems and the integrative complexity of spouses' thoughts

about their problems influence the reoccurrence of such problems and spouses' marital

satisfaction. Intenrative complexity is characterized by the ability to differentiate

multiple aspects or perspectives of a marital problem and to integrate these aspects into a

contextual understanding of the problem and moving toward resolution.

Participants were 82 newlywed couples recruited from the community surrounding

a large southeastern university and followed over the course of four years. Couples were

asked to complete an assessment measuring marital satisfaction, to write a description of

a marital problem, and to rate the problem severity. Descriptions of marital problems

were coded for integrative complexity by trained coders. Descriptive statistics,










correlations, and t-tests were conducted to evaluate the relationships between the

variables.

The results show that the most frequently occurring problem of newlywed couples

related to the amount of time spent together. The specific marital problem reported by

spouses showed a tendency to vary based on level of marital satisfaction. Furthermore,

spouses' problems displayed a tendency to persist throughout the first few years of

marriage. The data suggest that problem severity negatively correlates with marital

satisfaction across newlywed marriage, but that it is not correlated with reoccurrence of a

marital problem. In general, spouses displayed differentiation but not integration.

Integrative complexity was found to correlate with marital satisfaction between the

second and third year of marriage for both spouses; it was negatively correlated with

problem reoccurrence for wives.

The results are discussed in the context of the current understanding of marital

satisfaction. The current findings suggest that the complexity of thoughts about one's

marriage do have an impact on marital satisfaction, perhaps during important transitional

periods in the marriage. Further research may reveal greater effects of complexity on

marital satisfaction, particularly during transitions such as pregnancy. In addition, the

data suggest that marital satisfaction relies on more than complex constructions of marital

problems and that interventions designed for couples may need to become more

integrated.















CHAPTER 1
INTTRODUCTION

No relationship is problem-free. Even the most satisfying and happy marriages

generally experience difficulties at some point. For example, couples may disagree

regarding the amount of time they spend together, how to raise children, or how to handle

family finances. Marital conflict can occur when tension is produced by factors that are

external to couples (e.g., the behavior of another family member), or when spouses

perceive inequity in their relationship (e.g., one partner spends more time raising the

couple's children) (Young & Long, 1998). Some couples encounter a variety of

problems throughout their marriages; others perpetually confront the same problem

during the course of their marriages. Although all couples face difficulties and conflict

during their marriages, many couples are very effective at dealing with their problems,

yet other couples constantly struggle to manage marital distress. According to Wall &

Nolan (1987), conflict situations develop when varying degrees of autonomy and

interdependence are needed in order for couples to cooperate and come to mutually

satisfying decisions. Consequently, the means employed by couples to handle conflict

and the ways that spouses interact with each other have a direct impact upon the

satisfaction and stability of their marriages (see Karney & Bradbury, 1995, for a review).

Numerous studies suggest that couples exhibiting a greater ability to manage their

problems generally experience greater marital satisfaction and increased marital stability

than those who lack such ability (Gottman, 1999; Jacobson and Christensen, 1996b;

Ting-Toomey, 1983). Furthermore, the relationship between couples' problem-solving









efficacy and marital satisfaction has profound implications for the mental health of

spouses and their children (Coie et al., 1993). Developing effective interventions to assist

couples to successfully resolve their differences and maintain satisfying relationships is,

therefore, of paramount importance to researchers and clinicians.

What distinguishes successful problem-solving from ineffective problem-solving?

Problem solving has been the crux of marital and family therapy. Jacobson and Margolin

(1979) suggest that, rather than being problem-free, satisfying relationships do have

problems, but their members have more feasible problem-solving skills than their peers in

dissatisfying relationships. Satir (1983) wrote that couples "need to learn how to assert

their thoughts, wishes, feelings and knowledge without destroying, invading or

obliterating the other [partner], and while still coming out with a fitting j oint outcome"

(p. 16). According to Jacobson and Christensen (1996b):

Success at solving problems means success in bringing about change. A
relationship problem usually involves the desire for some kind of change on the
part of at least one partner. The couple that can successfully make changes when
they are called for is likely to maintain a flexible, satisfying relationship over a long
period of time. (p. 181)

Clinical researchers as well have attempted to examine effective problem-solving

skills (e.g., Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). Theories of effective marital problem solving

have been influenced in large part by negotiation theory. The goal of negotiation is to

reach a convergence wherever differences in interests or goals exist (Scanzoni &

Godwin, 1990; Scanzoni & Polonko, 1980). From this perspective, effective problem

solving for couples requires that each partner perceives equality in a decision-making

process, acknowledging the importance of each partner's point of view. Researchers and

clinicians appear to agree that effective problem resolution among couples is a process of

determining each person' s point of view, and somehow coming to a mutually acceptable









decision regarding the conflict of each spouse's opinions and interests. In fact, marital

counseling is typically designed to assist couples to understand the perspective of each

spouse and to negotiate their differences (Freedman & Combs, 2002; Jacobson &

Margolin, 1979; Weiss, Birchler, & Vincent, 1974; Wile, 2002).

While some couples are able to solve their problems on their own, others seek

professional assistance to help them cope with their problems, turning to psychologists,

mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and clergy for help. One might

assume that couples receiving therapy would generally show an increased ability to deal

with marital problems and experience more satisfying, longer lasting relationships.

However, this is not always the case. Cookerly (1980) found that five years after

receiving therapy, 43.6% of couples had separated or divorced. Gottman (1999)

estimates that 30-50% of couples relapse one year after receiving therapy. Over the past

30 years, behavioral interventions have dominated couples therapy. In the 1970s, the

work of Stuart (1969) and Patterson and Weiss (Weiss, Hops, and Patterson, 1973) led a

zeitgeist of interest in using behavioral principles in couples counseling, conceptualizing

marital problems as the result of poor social and communication skills. However,

research suggests that simply improving couples' social and problem-solving skills (e.g.,

communication styles) is inadequate at improving marital satisfaction (Jacobson, 1984;

Jacobson, Schmalling, & Holtzworth-Munroe, 1987) as it simply resolves surface issues

rather than addressing the core problems that couples face. Heyman (2001) notes that

presenting problems such as poor communication skills do not reveal the actual issues

that couples are negotiating. For example, stating that "'the husband is unhappy because

he doesn't communicate well' is about as useful a conceptualization [of a marital










problem] as 'the patient died because his heart stopped beating'" (Heyman, 2001, p. 6).

Such writing supports the notion that couples that are effective at managing their

problems may not simply have a better array of problem-solving skills; couples who

successfully navigate their differences with or without the assistance of a mental health

professional may differ markedly from "problem-stuck" couples in aspects other than

their ability to use conflict resolution skills.

How, then, can marriage counseling assist troubled couples to resolve their

problems more effectively? More importantly though, what distinguishes these couples

from the ones who are able to effectively handle their conflict? Markman (1992) notes

that researchers are divided on this question. Some theorists (e.g., Christensen & Shenk,

1991) have emphasized the role of the observable differences (the "presenting problem"

to many marriage therapists) that exist among distressed versus non-distressed couples

(e.g., differences in communication styles, parenting styles, religious beliefs, or spending

habits), claiming that these differences are inherently stressful for couples. For example,

a couple might present to therapy with the husband stating, "I want to have sex and she

doesn't" or the wife stating, "He doesn't talk to me as much as I would like him to."

Although specific presenting issues may be more difficult for couples to resolve, some

researchers (e.g., Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Fincham & Beach, 1999b; Fincham &

Bradbury, 1992) believe that the way spouses conceptualize those differences is the

problem. That is, particular ways of thinking may promote the ability to better cope with

problems, while other ways limit such abilities. When presented with a particular

problem, some couples may be able to think about that problem in a manner that fosters

coping and effective problem solving. Specifically, some partners may be able to









incorporate multiple perspectives of a problem into their conceptualization of that

problem which may, in turn, lead to more effective problem resolution.

Although a rather substantial body of research exploring cognition in marriage has

developed in recent years, the maj ority of marital studies historically have been aimed at

investigating behaviors exhibited by partners. Fincham, Bradbury, and Scott (1990)

noted that a need exists to expand the scope of research concerning marital cognition. Of

particular importance is the way couples think about their problems as they enter into

marriage and transition through the critical first years of marriage. Presumably, couples

enter their marriages satisfied and reporting few problems; the problems they might have

are theoretically less severe than in latter years of the relationship. As couples transition

into their marriages, marital satisfaction tends to decline and stabilize; however, many

couples experience more profound and constant decreases in satisfaction, often resulting

in separation and divorce. The way couples organize their thoughts about marital

problems may have an impact upon coping, which would likely result in decreased

marital satisfaction and eventual dissolution. Distressed spouses, then, may vary from

non-distressed spouses in the way they think about their marital problems. Furthermore,

couples with partners who think significantly differently about their problems may

display lower marital satisfaction than couples with spouses who think similarly. The

remainder of this portion of the study addresses three factors that might be crucial in

understanding marital satisfaction and dissolution problem specificity, problem

severity, and integrative complexity (i.e., the way spouses structure their thoughts about

marital problems) and presents an overview of the current study.










Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems

Numerous couples face similar problems, and some couples manage those

difficulties quite effectively and maintain stable, satisfying relationships. However, many

couples do not cope with those problems as successfully and experience unhappy

marriages, many of which dissolve. Are certain marital problems more difficult for

couples to cope with? Some studies indicate that this may be true to some degree. In an

analysis of coping efforts and marital satisfaction, Bowman (1990) found that the marital

problems participants identified most often were money, communication, and children.

Gruver and Labadie (1975) reported that married college students cited sex,

communication, and time together as the greatest sources of conflict (see also Knox et al.,

1997; and Zusman & Knox, 1998) Husbands' dissatisfaction with sex has also been

shown to be predictive of seeking marital therapy (Doss, Atkins, & Christensen, 2003).

A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2001) cited poor

communication, finances, infidelity, substance abuse, physical/emotional/sexual abuse,

and poor conflict resolution skills as the most common reasons for separation and

divorce. A study by The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (Johnson et al., 2003) found that

Oklahomans cited a lack of commitment (85%), excessive conflict/arguing (61%),

infidelity (58%), financial problems (41%), domestic violence (30%), family problems

(29%) and religious differences (21%) as some of the most common reasons given for

divorce.

Based on some of these findings, certain problems may indeed be more difficult

for couples to cope with than others, specifically issues related to communication,

finances, and domestic violence. Increasing the difficulty of these problems for couples

is the degree of severity of their problems. One might imagine that couples that consider









their problems to be least severe would be able to cope with them more easily than

couples who believe their problems are extremely severe. When couples believe that

their problems are severe they may perceive fewer ways of coping with those problems.

Any clinician who has worked in a crisis setting knows the difficulty that clients who are

experiencing immediate and severe problems have trying to see ways out of their

situation. Further complicating conflict management for couples is the tendency for

marital problems to persist for many years. Couples who have been mired in a problem

for several years would presumably experience greater difficulty resolving that problem

(otherwise, would it really be a problem?). One such problem, for example, is that of

domestic violence. Jacobson and Gottman (1998) reported that of the couples they

studied, only 7% of violent husbands stopped their violent behavior altogether.

Furthermore, Gottman (1999) found that in a longitudinal study of couples 69% of the

participants experienced such "perpetual problems" (p. 56), that is, areas of disagreement

that lasted for several years. A potentially more severe problem experienced over a

period of many years might foster decreased marital satisfaction.

The current study asks what marital problems do newlywed couples report most

often and which of those are associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction. The

study also examines how often marital problems persist over the first four years of

marriage as well as how spouses differ in their assessment of problem severity.

Furthermore, the study proposes the following hypotheses concerning the effect of

problem specificity and severity upon marital satisfaction: 1) no difference in problem

severity exists based upon gender; 2) higher problem severity scores at particular points

(i.e., each wave of the study) in the marriage correlate with lower marital satisfaction









scores at that time; and 3) the severity of a problem at the onset of marriage (Time 1)

positively correlates with the frequency of its reoccurrence as a problem during the first

four years of marriage.

Integrative Complexity

Although some problems may be more common among divorced (and presumably

dissatisfied) couples (e.g., finances, communication, and domestic violence), many

satisfied and stably married couples encounter the same problems. The ability to manage

a problem, then, is not simply a function of the specific problem a couple faces. As

suggested earlier, some couples may approach their difficulties with more effective ways

of thinking about them. The ways couples think about their problems is likely to affect

their assessment of their marital problems and the methods they employ to deal with

them .

Although the maj ority of marital research conducted during the 1960s and 1970s

was focused upon behavior and marital interaction, during the past two decades a large

number of studies have examined the role of cognition upon marital satisfaction. In a

seminal paper on cognition and marital satisfaction, Notarius et al. (1989) found that

distressed wives were those who displayed negative evaluations of their husbands' verbal

messages, suggesting that unhappily married wives may perceive their marriages

differently than satisfied wives. Whisman and Delinsky (2002) found that spouses who

recall more negative aspects (measured in terms of the number of negative descriptors

used to describe their partner) of their partner exhibit lower marital satisfaction than

spouses who recall more positive aspects. Neff and Karney (2002) reported that satisfied

spouses tend to describe their partners' positive traits more globally and their negative

traits more specifically, suggesting that cognitive processes play an important role in









marital satisfaction. The most interesting research conducted upon the role of cognition

in marriage has occurred in the area of attributions (Baucom, Sayers, & Duhe, 1989;

Fincham & Bradbury, 1992; Hakstian et al, 1986; Fincham, Harold, & Gano-Phillips,

2000). Fincham (1985) found that distressed spouses tended to attribute responsibility

for their problems to their partners and their relationships. In addition, distressed spouses

believed that the cause of those problems was representative of their spouses' negativity

toward them. However, although research into the role of cognition in marriage grows,

"there is [still] a clear need to expand the scope of cognitions studied in marriage"

(Fincham, Bradbury, & Scott, 1990, p.132).

An area of marital cognition that has received minimal research interest over the

past twenty years has been that of cognitive structure. Many couples may share

similarities in the content of their thoughts, but may vary in the way they organize those

tho ghts. Content can be described as what someone thinks, and structure, on the other

hand, is how someone thinks or o ganizes her or his thou hts. C gnitions that are similar

in content may not necessarily be similar in structure and organization (Schroeder, 1971).

For example, satisfied couples may report more positive thoughts about their partners and

their marriages, while dissatisfied couples may report more negative thoughts. However,

some satisfied couples might support their positive assessment of their marriage with

relatively simple beliefs and perceptions, whereas dissatisfied couples may support a

negative evaluation of their marriage with an extremely complex set of beliefs and

perceptions (or vice-versa).

Fincham, Bradbury, and Scott (1990) have acknowledged that research into

cognitive structure in marriage is needed stating, "although the study of cognitive









structure in marriage represents a step in the right direction [regarding marital cognitive

research], our review shows that research on this topic is quite limited" (p. 133). Some

theorists posit that partners may differ in the way that they organize and structure their

thoughts concerning marital distress, and these differences influence couples' problem-

solving abilities and evaluation of marital satisfaction (Denton, Burleson, & Sprenkle,

1995; Tyndall & Lichtenberg, 1985). One means of assessing cognitive structure among

couples is to examine archival data or verbal communication for levels of integrative

complexity (Tetlock & Suedfeld, 1988). The concept of integrative complexity was

largely influenced by George Kelly's (1955) personal construct theory, specifically his

organization corollary that states, "each person characteristically evolves, for his

convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships

between constructs" (p. 56). Integrative complexity was first described as a fixed

personality trait referred to as conceptual complexity (Schroder, Driver, & Streuffert,

1967). However, as study into complexity evolved, researchers acknowledged that the

complexity of cognitions was more than a dispositional trait, influenced largely by

situational variables (for a review of integrative complexity see Tetlock & Suedfeld,

1988).

Integrative complexity assesses two structural variables: differentiation and

integration. Differentiation refers to the number of aspects to a problem that are viewed

when evaluating it. For example, a spouse who displays a high degree of differentiation

would be able to view the multiple aspects of her or his marital problems. A highly

differentiated approach to a marital problem would identify the numerous influences

upon the problem as well as the resulting effects of the problem. Integration refers to the









degree and number of connections established among the differentiated aspects of a

problem. Differentiation is therefore a requirement for integration. Integration, in terms

of marital problems, would be exhibited by incorporating the multiple levels of a problem

into a contextual understanding of the problem and movement toward problem resolution.

The concept of integrative complexity in marriage is similar to the concept of cybernetics

proposed by Bateson et al., (1956) and systems theory (see Becvar & Becvar, 2000, for a

review) that have served as the foundation of marriage and family therapy.

Using Jacobson and Christensen' s (1996) previously cited definition of effective

problem-coping, successful conflict management involves flexibility, suggesting that

some couples are more adaptable than others. Individuals exhibiting higher integrative

complexity would theoretically be expected to see their problems from multiple

perspectives (including those of their spouses) and integrating those perspectives into a

systemic understanding of the problem, presumably utilizing this knowledge to develop

ways of managing their problem. A spouse who conceptualizes a marital problem from

one point of view would likely see fewer ways to cope with the problem than a spouse

who views it from several different perspectives. Spouses displaying lower levels of

integrative complexity concerning their marital problems would be expected to

experience greater difficulty managing them than spouses showing higher degrees of

complexity. Couples with a limited range of problem-coping abilities would likely

express increased marital dissatisfaction than couples displaying a variety of coping

skills. Integrative complexity, therefore, should presumably be correlated with marital

satisfaction and stability. In addition, more severe and perpetual marital problems might

foster decreased complexity due to the increased psychological stress of these problems.









Furthermore, spousal differences in integrative complexity that is, spousal variations in

cognitive structuring of a problem -- may contribute to marital satisfaction (see Crouse,

Karlins, & Schroder, 1968).

Research into integrative complexity has primarily involved assessing the structure

of statements and historical documents made by politicians and prominent figures, such

as political speeches, governmental policy, and correspondence. A few studies have

attempted to examine conceptual complexity within the context of interpersonal

relationships. Neimeyer and Neimeyer (1981) found that interpersonal dyads that are

similar in complexity exhibit greater mutual attraction than those that differ in thought

structure. Conceptual complexity in marriage has been studied by Crouse, Karlins, &

Schroeder (1968) who found that couples who were both high in complexity exhibited

greater marital happiness than couples who were both low in complexity. However,

these studies examined cognitive complexity as a fixed trait rather than a state-dependent

variable.

Currently, very little research has been conducted into the integrative complexity of

spouses over time, particularly in regard to specific marital problems. Furthermore, no

known studies have examined integrative complexity in the first few years of marriage

when couples' differences are often most salient. As a result, the current study is

primarily exploratory in nature and attempts to assess the effect of problem-specific

integrative complexity upon marital satisfaction among newlywed couples across time.

The study posits the following questions: 1) How do spouses describe their problems?; 2)

how integratively complex are spouses?; and 3) do spouses think more complexly about

particular problems than others? The current study also examines how newlywed









husbands and wives differ in their degree of integrative complexity, and if integrative

complexity regarding a specific marital problem at the beginning of a marriage is

predictive of the frequency of that problem reoccurring. The following hypotheses have

been made concerning integrative complexity: 1) based upon studies suggesting that

certain marital problems are more difficult for couples to cope with, differences in

integrative complexity exist based upon the type of marital problem identified; 2) no

difference in integrative complexity exists based upon time; 3) no difference in

integrative complexity exists based upon gender; 4) increased problem severity correlates

with lower integrative complexity; 5) greater integrative complexity correlates with

greater marital satisfaction.

Overview of the Current Study

In order to conduct a study of the effects of problem specifieity, problem severity

and integrative complexity upon marital satisfaction couples would have to be assessed

on multiple levels. First, couples would need to indicate the problematic issues in their

marriages. Second, couples would also need to rank the severity of those problems.

Third, couples would need to make verbal or written statements concerning their

problems in order to be evaluated for degrees of integrative complexity. Finally, couples

would need to be assessed at various points during the first four years of marriage. The

current study recruited a sample of newlyweds and assessed them at eight points in time

over four years (i.e., every six months). At each time spouses were asked to rate their

overall level of marital satisfaction, to rank the severity of specific marital problems, and

to write a description of a particular marital problem. Written descriptions were coded

for integrative complexity by a team of trained research assistants.















CHAPTER 2
METHOD S

Participants

Couples were recruited from a university community in the southeastern United

States using two methods. First, advertisements were placed in local newspapers, bridal

shops, and bridal registries offering up to $300 to "newlyweds interested in participating

in a longitudinal study of marriage." Second, marriage licenses filed in the surrounding

county from May 1998 through July 1998 were reviewed for eligibility in the study.

Couples meeting criteria for participation based upon information obtained from the

marriage licenses were mailed letters of invitation. All responding couples were screened

via telephone for the following criteria: (a) the marriage was the first for both spouses,

(b) the couple had married within the past three months, (c) neither spouse had children,

(d) wives were between the ages of 18 and 36 (to permit for the possibility of conceiving

a child during the study), (e) both spouses spoke English fluently and had completed no

less than 10 years of education (to ensure understanding of the questionnaires used in the

study), and (f) the couple had no immediate plans to relocate. The first 82 couples that

met the criteria for participation and arrived for their scheduled appointment made up the

sample population.

The mean age of husbands was 25.2 years old, with men ranging from 18 to 35 (SD

= 3.3). The wives ranged from 19 to 36 years old, and the mean age was 23.7 years old

(SD = 2.8). Eighty-four percent of the husbands and 90% of the wives were Caucasian.

Forty percent of the husbands and 39% of the wives were employed full time; at least half










of the population was full-time students (husbands = 54%, wives = 50%). Forty-seven

percent of the husbands and 48% of the wives reported being Protestant, 16% of both

husbands and wives were Catholic, and 14% of husbands and 15% of wives indicated

their religious affiliation as "other." The average annual income of husbands and wives

combined was less then $20,000.

Procedure

The current study analyzes data that come from eight waves of data received during

four years of a longitudinal study of newlywed couples. Couples were assessed every six

months over the first four years of their marriages. Participants were mailed packets of

self-report measures three of which are used in the current study every six months.

Couples were asked to complete the self-report measures and to return the packets to the

research team at no cost to them.

Measures

Marital Satisfaction

Several commonly used marital satisfaction inventories (e.g., Dyadic Adjustment

Scale; Spanier, 1976) assess both spouses' evaluations of specific areas of marital

conflict and their appraisals of the relationship in general. To avoid confounding theses

two aspects, marital satisfaction was measured with an instrument that assesses only

global evaluations of marriage. Spouses were asked to complete a 15-item version of the

Semantic Differential (SMD; Osgood, Succi, & Tannenbaum, 1957). The measure asks

souses o rate their current feelings about their marriage on 7-point Likert-type scales

between two opposite descriptors (e.g., "Bad-Good," "Satisfied-Dissatisfied,"

"Unpleasant-Pleasant"). Scores could range from 15 to 105. The internal consistency of









the SMD was high for both spouses (Cronbach's alpha = .91 for husbands and .93 for

wives).

Marital Problems and Problem Severity

Spouses completed a version of the Relationship Problem Inventory (RPI; Knox,

1970) in order to identify specific marital problems. The RPI is a list of 19 topics of

potential marital disagreement (e.g., communication, finances, family). The measure

asks spouses to rate the extent to which each topic is an area of conflict on a scale ranging

from 1 (i.e., "not a problem") to 11 (i.e., "major problem"). The RPI has shown adequate

reliability in previous studies, and has been used to elicit problems in research on marital

interaction (e.g., Gottman, Markman, & Notarius, 1977).

Integrative Complexity

In order to assess for integrative complexity, spouses were asked to write a

description of a specific marital problem. Previous research suggests that written

material tends be higher in complexity than verbal material (Suedfeld, Tetlock, &

Streufert, 1992). As a result, the current study assesses spouses written descriptions

under the assumption that higher complexity scores will also result in a greater range of

possible scores. Furthermore, spouses written descriptions may more accurately reflect

their degree of complexity regarding specific marital problems because they have more

time to think about the problem and are not confronted with the stress of having to defend

their position to another person. Spouses were asked to write a short paragraph

describing one of the problems on the RPI. The page following the RPI contained

specific instructions for writing the description of the problem:









Choose one of the issues on the previous page that you rated as being an area of
difficulty or disagreement for you in your marriage. Please describe the problem in
more detail in the lines provided below. What is the issue? How could it be
resolved?

The written descriptions were coded for integrative complexity by two

undergraduate students and one graduate student (intraclass correlation coefficients over

eight waves of the study ranged from .66 to .87 for husbands and .65 to .76 for wives;

percent agreement ranged from 89% to 94% for husbands and from 82% to 91% for

wives) using the criteria outlined in the Conceptual/Integrative Complexity Scoring

Manual (Baker-Brown, et al, 1992). The scoring system was originally developed in

order to code the structure of individual ideas. The current study applies the coding

system to descriptions of marital problems. Consequently, the system as it is used in this

study differs from its use in prior studies. Whereas previous studies have used the coding

system to assess the complexity of individual units of thought, the current study uses the

system to measure the overall complexity of entire global descriptions of marital

problems.

The scoring system rates the degree of differentiation and integration exhibited in

verbal and written material on a scale of 1 to 7, with a score of one indicating no

differentiation, and a score of 7 representing differentiation and full integration. Using

this system, a problem description receives a score of 1 when only one view of a problem

is presented and no differentiation is displayed. For example:

My husband is a real slob. He never cleans up after himself and is completely
disorganized. His clothes sit on the bedroom floor for weeks before he puts them
away if he puts them away!i No matter how many times I ask him he will not
clean up after himself.









A score of 3 is representative of differentiation without integration. Such a

description generally acknowledges at least two perspectives of a problem but does not

draw any connections between those perspectives. For example:

I value cleanliness and organization and I try to keep my house in good condition.
My husband does not enjoy cleaning and organizing as much as I do. I clean our
house nearly everyday, and my husband prefers to clean every few weeks. I like to
have things put away and out of sight, whereas my husband is not bothered when
things are not put away. We just have different opinions about cleanliness.


A score of 5 is indicative of differentiation with some degree of integration.

Multiple perspectives are acknowledged and some relationship between those

perspectives is outlined:

My husband and I have different opinions about household cleanliness and
organization. I like the house cleaned daily; he prefers to clean every other week
or so. We are attempting to resolve this difference by developing a cleaning
schedule that works for both of us.

Scores of 7 indicate high differentiation and high integration. The relationship

between multiple views of a problem is recognized and the nature of that relationship is

clearly stated. For example:

Our difference of opinions regarding cleanliness and organization seems to stem
from our upbringing. My husband's family was more laid-back and easy going,
while my family was more demanding and structured. If we are to move forward
as a couple, we will both need to adjust our expectations and work toward a
mutually satisfying level of cleanliness.

Scores of 2, 4, and 6 represent transition points between these levels of complexity.















CHAPTER 3
RESULTS

Specificity, Severity, and Duration of Marital Problems

Problem Frequency and Duration

Over the eight waves of the study the most frequently reported marital problem for

the entire sample was "amount of time spent together." For both husbands and wives,

"amount of time spent together" was the most frequently reported marital problem at 5 of

the 8 waves of the study. Husbands also cited "communication" (Time 5), "career

decisions" (Times 3 and 8), and "in-laws, parents, relatives" (Times 7) as the most

frequent marital problems. Wives reported that "communication" (Time 1), "in-laws,

parents, relatives" (Time 4), and "money management" (Time 6) were also the most

common problems at particular points in their marriage. At the onset of marriage (Time

1), "communication" was the most frequent marital problem reported by husbands and

wives [f= .21, N = 77 (husbands); f= .21, N = 78 (wives)], followed by "time spent

together" (f= .18) for husbands and "household management" (f= .19) for wives. Four

years later (Time 8), husbands most frequently reported "career decisions" and "time

spent together" (f = .15, N = 47); wives most frequently reported "time spent together" (f

=.15, N = 53) and "household management" (f= .13).

The problems spouses identified at Time 1 also displayed a tendency to persist as a

problem during their participation in the study. For husbands, the mean frequency of

reoccurrence for all problems was .41; for wives, mean frequency of reoccurrence was

.36. Due to the withdrawal of couples from the study, frequencies were calculated for the










reoccurrence of a marital problem reported at time one by dividing the number of times

the problem was reported by a spouse by the total number of reports by that spouse. For

each of the 19 marital problems identified on the RPI, means were calculated for their

reoccurrence within the sample. The most frequently reoccurring marital problems for

husbands were "money management" (Mf= .65, N = 9), "household management" (Mf=

.51i, N = 6), and "j ealousy" (M = .48, N=-3). The least frequently reoccurring problems

for husbands were "making decisions," "solving problems," "independence" ( f= .13, N

= 1), "children" ( f= .20, N =1), and "showing affection" ( f= .28, N = 3). For wives,

the most frequently reoccurring problems were "showing affection" ( f= .667, N =1),

"drugs and alcohol" (Mf= .50, N = 1), and "communication" ( f= .45, N = 16). The

least frequently reoccurring problems for wives were "trust" (Mf= .15, N =1),

"independence" ( f= .17, N = 2), and "religion" (Mf= .17, N = 1). However, many of

these problems were only reported by a few spouses. Regarding the most frequently

reported problems of husbands at the onset of marriage -- "communication" and "time

together" the mean frequency of reoccurrence for "communication" was .41 (N = 16)

and .41 for "time spent together" (N=-14). The mean frequencies of reoccurrence for

"communication" and "household management" -- the most commonly cited problems

for wives at the start of their marriages were .21 (N = 16) and .19 (N = 15),

respectively.

Problem Severity and Specific Marital Problems

Over the eight waves of the study the average problem severity for wives ranged

from 4.37 (SD = 2.95, N = 49) at Time 6 to 5.33 (SD = 3.12, N = 46) at Time 7. Mean

problem severity for wives decreased from 5.05 (SD = 2.82, N = 78) at Time 1 to 4.68

(SD = 3.12, N = 53) at Time 8. For husbands, mean problem severity ranged from 4.70










(SD = 2.90, N = 46; Time 6) to 5.70 (SD = 2.87, N = 47; Time 8) over eight waves of

data. Mean problem severity increased from 5.481 (SD = 3.09, N = 77) at Time 1 to 5.70

(SD = 2.87, N = 47) at Time 8. Problem severity was significantly different between

wives and husbands at Time 8 [t(98) = 1.71, p = .045] only.

Mean severity scores were calculated for each of the 19 problems on the RPI at

Times 1 and 8 (see Table 1). At Time 1, "unrealistic expectations," (M = 9, N = 2),

"children" (M = 8, N =1) and "j ealousy" (M = 8, N = 3), and "showing affection" (M =

7.33, N = 3) were the most severe problems for husbands; "career decisions" (M = 10, N

= 1), "drugs and alcohol" (M = 9, N = 1), and "in-laws, parents, relatives" (M = 7.44, N =

9) were the most severe problems for wives. "Amount of time spent together" (M = 3.71,

N = 14) and "independence" (M = 4, N = 1) were rated the least severe problems of

husbands at Time 1, while "jealousy" (M = 1.50, N = 2) and "religion" (M = 2, N = 1)

were rated the least severe for wives. At Time 8, "making decisions," "drugs and

alcohol"(M = 10, N = 1, respectively), "money management" (M = 6.75, N = 4), and "in-

laws, parents, relatives" (M = 6.50, N = 6) were the most severe problems for husbands;

"unrealistic expectations" (M = 4, N = 1), "children" (M = 4.20, N = 4), and "household

management" (M = 4.25, N =4) were reported to be the least severe. Wives reported

"trust," "independence" (M = 10, N = 1, respectively), "making decisions" (M = 8.67, N

=3), and "in-laws, parents, relatives" (M = 6.25, N = 4) as the most severe marital

problems at Time 8, while they reported "solving problems" (M = 1, N =1), "recreation

and leisure time" (M = 1.50, N = 4), and "friends" (M = 2, N =1) as the least severe.

Problem Severity and Marital Satisfaction

Mean marital satisfaction scores were calculated for both spouses. Wives' mean

satisfaction scores ranged between 89.19 [SD = 19.58, N = 62; (Time 7)] to 97.68 [SD =









10.66, N = 82 (Time 1)]. Wives marital satisfaction scores were significantly different

between Times 1 and 8 [t(100) = 2.27, p = .01]. Marital satisfaction decreased for wives

from 97.683 (SD = 10.661, N = 82) at the beginning of marriage to 92.08 (SD = 17.47, N

= 65) four years later. Husbands' mean satisfaction scores ranged from 91.15 [SD =

16.89, N = 60 (Time 7)] to 96.28 [SD = 8.83, N = 81 (Time 1)]. Marital satisfaction

scores for husbands were also significantly different between Time 1 and Time 8 [t(1 12) -

= 1.66, p = .03]. Marital satisfaction decreased for husbands from 96.28 (SD = 8.83, N =

81) at Time 1 to 92.76 (SD = 12.70, N = 66) at Time 8. Marital satisfaction scores were

not significantly different between spouses at any wave of the study.

Spouses were categorized into three levels of satisfaction at Times 1 and 8 to

determine what marital problems were reported most frequently based upon their level of

satisfaction. Due to the skewed distribution of SMD scores (i.e., the majority of scores at

both times were above 80 in a possible range from 15 to 105), Low Satisfaction for the

study was determined to be any score below 90, Mid-level Satisfaction was considered to

be any score from 90 to 99, and High Satisfaction was determined to consist of scores

greater than 100. At Time 1, Low Satisfaction husbands (N = 15) reported

"communication" most frequently; Low Satisfaction wives (N = 10) also reported

"communication" most frequently. High Satisfaction husbands (N = 35) reported "in-

laws, parents, relatives" most frequently, while High Satisfaction wives (N = 49) reported

"household management." At Time 8, Low Satisfaction husbands (N = 10) reported

"sex" most frequently and Low Satisfaction wives (N=-15) reported "amount of time

spent together" most frequently. High Satisfaction husbands (N = 13) reported









"children" and "money management" most frequently, while High Satisfaction wives (N

= 28) reported "household management."

In order to determine the relationship between marital problem severity and marital

satisfaction Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated. At all

eight waves of the study, marital problem severity was significantly (all p <.05) and

negatively correlated with marital satisfaction for both wives and husbands (see Table ).

For wives, Pearson correlations ranged between -.36 (Time 1) and -.711 (Time 3). For

husbands, correlations ranged between -.38 (Time 1) and -.59 (Time 3). Additionally,

correlations between problem severity and marital satisfaction increased from Time 1 to

Time 8 for both spouses. For wives, the correlation increased from -.36 at Time 1 to -.44

at Time 8; for husbands, the correlation increased from -.38 at Time 1 to -.53 at Time 8.

Additionally, problem severity at the beginning of marriage was not significantly

correlated with the frequency of reoccurrence of the problem [r = .11i, p > .05 (wives); r =

.02, p >.05 (husbands)].

Integrative Complexity

Descriptive statistics were calculated at each of the six waves of the study for the

integrative complexity of husbands' and wives' statements concerning their marital

problems at those times. Husbands' mean complexity scores ranged from 3.10 (SD =

.99) at Time 1 to 3.24 (SD = 1.08) at Time 5. Wives' mean complexity scores ranged

from 2.8 (SD = 1.02) at Time 3 to 3.13 (SD = .99) Time 7; at only 2 points in the study

(i.e., Times 7 and 8) were wives' mean scores 3.00 or above. Spouses' mean complexity

scores were significantly different at two waves, Time 2 [t(137) = 1.80, p = .04] and

Time 5 [t(101) = 2.02, p = .02]. Husbands' and wives' complexity scores were not

significantly different based upon time.










Integrative Complexity, Problem Specificity and Problem Reoccurrence

Mean integrative complexity scores were calculated at Times 1 and 8 for each of

the 19 marital problems identified on the RPI (see Table 1). At Time 1, the most

complexly thought about marital problems for husbands were "children" (M = 4, N = 1),

"sex" (M = 4, N = 1), and "showing affection" (M = 3.67, N = 3). For wives, the most

complexly-regarded marital problems were "solving problems" (M = 4.5, N = 2), "money

management" (M = 3.75, N = 4), and "amount of time spent together" (M = 3.5, N = 8).

The least complexly-regarded marital problems of husbands were "j ealousy" (M = 1.67,

N = 3), "making decisions," and "independence" (M = 2, N =1, respectively). The least

complexly thought about problems of wives were "showing affection" (M = 1, N = 1),

"religion," "making decisions," "trust," and "drugs and alcohol" (M = 2, N =1,

respectively).

At Time 8, the most complexly-regarded marital problems of wives were "showing

affection" (M = 4, N =1), "unrealistic expectations" (M = 4, N = 1), "money

management" (M = 4, N = 3), and "solving problems" (M = 4, N =1). Husbands' most

complexly-regarded problems were "religion" (M = 4, N = 2), "unrealistic expectations"

(M = 4, N = 1), and "sex" (M = 3.75, N = 4). Wives thought least complexly about

"trust," "independence," and "drugs and alcohol" (M = 2, N =1, respectively).

Husbands' least complexly-regarded problems were "money management" (M = 2.29, N

= 7) and "in-laws, parents, relatives" (M = 2.67, N = 6).

Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated for the

relationship between integrative complexity regarding a marital problem at Time 1 and

the frequency of reoccurrence of the problem. The integrative complexity of wives at

Time I was significantly correlated with the frequency of problem reoccurrence (r = -.26,










p < .05); husbands' integrative complexity at Time I was not significantly correlated with

the frequency of problem reoccurrence (r = .06, p > .05).

Integrative Complexity and Problem Severity

Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated for the

relationship between integrative complexity and problem severity at all eight waves of

the study for husbands and wives. Husbands' complexity scores were significantly

correlated (all p-values < .05) with problem severity scores at three waves: Time 5 (r = -

.36), Time 7 (r = -.25), and Time 8 (r = -.32). Wives' complexity scores were

significantly correlated at Time 2 (r = -.25, p < .05), Time 3 (r = -.24, p < .05), and Time

5 (r = -.20, p < .05).

Integrative Complexity and Marital Satisfaction

Pearson r correlations were conducted to evaluate the relationship between spouses'

integrative complexity and marital satisfaction scores at all eight points in the study.

Wives' complexity scores were significantly correlated with marital satisfaction at three

points: Time 3 (r = .32, p < .05), Time 5 (r = .38, p < .05), and Time 6 (r = .38, p < .05).

Husbands' integrative complexity was also significantly correlated with marital

satisfaction at three times in the study: Time 4 (r = .49, p < .05), Time 5 (r = .50, p <

.05), and Time 6 (r = .46, p < .05).










































V


Table 1 Spouse Mean Problem Severity, Complexity, and Satisfaction by Marital Problem Topic


Time 1


Time 8


Husband


Topic
Children
Religion
In-laws, parents, relatives
Recreation & leisure time
Communication
Household Mgmt
Showing Affection
Making Decisions
Friends
Unrealistic Expectations
Money Mgmt
Sex
Jealousy
Solving Problems


N SEV CMPLX SMD N SEV CMPLX
1 8 4 77 5 4.2 3.2
-- -- -- -- 2 5.5 4
8 5.25 2.38 90.25 6 6.5 2.67
9 4.67 3.44 97.67 -- --
16 5.06 2.94 93.38 1 6 3
6 6 2.5 98.67 4 4.25 3
3 7.33 3.67 89.67 1 8 3
1 5 2 101 1 10 3


SMD
100.8
91
95.5

101
95.5
89
101

96
95.14
86.75





67
92.14
84.71


2 9 2.5
9 6.22 3.56
1 11 4
3 8 1.67
1 7 3


97 1 4 4
96.89 7 6 2.29
89 4 6.75 3.75
90.33 -- --
80 -- ---



--1 10 3
91 7 4.43 3.57
99.43 7 6 3.57


Trust-- --
Independence 1 4 2
Drugs & Alcohol-- --
Career Decisions 2 6 3.5
Amount of Time Spent Togehr1 .1 34


Time 1


Time 8


Wife


Topic N SEV CMPLX SMD N SEV CMPLX SMD
Children 2 2.5 2.5 102 3 2.67 3 98.67
Religion 1 2 2 100 -- ---
In-laws, parents, relatives 9 7.44 3 96.11 4 6.25 2.5 98
Recreation & leisure time 7 4.71 2.96 77.71 4 1.5 3 91.25
Communication 16 4.81 2.44 97.19 5 4.6 2.2 92.8
Household Mgmt 15 3.87 2.87 100 7 4.14 2.29 100.71
Showing Affection 1 7 1 88 1 3 4 89
Making Decisions 3 4 3.33 103 3 8.67 2.67 63.33
Friends 2 5 2 98 1 2 3 105
Unrealistic Expectations -- -- -- -- 1 4 4 105
Money Mgmt 4 5.5 3.75 99 4 4.25 3.5 99.25
Sex 2 4 3 99 3 9 4 86.33
Jealousy 2 1.5 2.5 100.5 -- ---
Solving Problems 2 5.5 4.5 102.5 1 1 4 105
Trust 1 6 2 91 1 3 2 102
Independence 2 5 3 97.5 1 10 2 86
Drugs & Alcohol 1 9 2 105 1 10 2 47
Career Decisions 1 10 3 90 5 3.6 3.6 94.4
Amount of Time Spent Together 8 6.75 3.5 98.37 8 4.5 3.5 91.86
Note: Blank cells indicate that no data was available for analysis.















CHAPTER 4
DISCUSSION

Limitations

The findings of the present study should be regarded with consideration as several

limitations restrict their generalizability. First, the relatively small size of the sample

(due in large part to divorce and/or withdrawal from the study) may have affected the

breadth of information collected from couples. When examining the distribution of the

marital satisfaction scores, a positively-skewed distribution is obvious as scores tend to

fall within the upper limits of the possible range. Very few satisfaction scores were

within the lower limits of the range. Consequently, the maj ority of couples in the study

reported reasonably high levels of marital satisfaction, restricting the range of scores and

possibly depressing correlations. However, as the couples were newlywed, higher

marital satisfaction would be expected. Furthermore, the small sample size may have

restricted the selection of particular marital problems as some topics were

underrepresented at each of the points of the study. For example, the topics of "making

decisions," "friends," "solving problems," "trust," "independence," and "drugs and

alcohol" were rarely selected as marital problems at all waves of the study. The

underrepresentation of these problems reduces the significance of their effects. A larger

sample size might have contributed to stronger effect sizes and a greater variety of

reported marital problems.

Second, comparing integrative complexity scores between spouses may not be the

most effective evaluation of differences in the way they structure their










thoughts.Integrative complexity is conceptually viewed as flexible and state-dependent.

Many of the couples in the study reported differences in the marital problems they chose

to describe. As a result, comparisons were conducted on spouses who reported the same

problem as well as those who reported different problems. Comparing the integrative

complexity of statements concerning different marital topics may pose a significant threat

to the generalizability of such comparisons. Comparisons of integrative complexity

regarding unlike topics may be akin to those of apples and oranges. Evaluations of such

complexity may reveal greater effects if spouses were required to report on the same

marital problems. However, evidence also exists suggesting that integrative complexity

may be a relatively stable personality attribute (Tetlock, Peterson, & Berry, 1993). Due

to the variety of problems reported by spouses, integrative complexity may be the best

assessment of cognitive structure. Additionally, integrative complexity allows for a

social-cognitive evaluation of thought structure rather than relying on outdated cognitive-

only assessments such as measures of attribution (Fincham & Beach, 1999b).

Findings

Problem Severity and Specificity

The present study assessed what marital problems newlywed couples report most

frequently and which of those problems are associated with lower levels of marital

satisfaction. The most frequently reported marital problem for both husbands and wives

over the eight waves of the study was "amount of time spent together." Other frequently

reported problems for both spouses were "communication" and "in-laws, parents,

relatives." Such findings appear to be consistent with previous studies concerning

common marital problems (e.g., Gruver & Labadie, 1975; Knox et al., 1997; and Zusman

& Knox, 1998) and suggest that certain marital problems may be inevitable. In addition,









certain problems seem to be common to couples with different levels of marital

satisfaction. "Communication" was the most frequently reported marital problem of the

least satisfied newlywed husbands and wives at the onset of marriage, while "sex" was

the most frequently reported marital problem of those husbands four years later and

"amount of time spent together" was the most frequently reported marital problem of the

least satisfied wives four years later. The most satisfied husbands reported "amount of

time spent together" (Time 1) and "children" and "money management" (Time 8) most

frequently, while the most satisfied wives reported "household management" most

frequently at both times.

Such data make drawing conclusions about the impact of problem specifieity on

marital satisfaction difficult. However, it appears that the least satisfied newlywed

couples agree that communication is a problem at the beginning of their marriages; as

these couples transition through the first few years of marriage they may begin to shift

their attention to other problem areas (i.e., sex for husbands and time spent together for

wives). This finding may also suggest that communication can be a serious problem for

couples at the start of marriage, having an impact on their marital satisfaction. As

newlywed spouses become more familiar with each other, communication problems may

dissipate and other problem areas may become more salient. The most frequent problem

of highly satisfied wives appears to be consistent during the first four years of marriage.

This may reflect the ability of satisfied wives to accept that they and their husbands may

have different opinions regarding "household management" and that these differences do

not necessarily equate to an unhappy marriage. Dissatisfied spouses may more readily









identify their differences in multiple areas; consequently, these numerous difference sum

to a dissatisfying marriage.

Furthermore, the current findings suggest that particular marital problems may have

a tendency to persist throughout the first few years of marriage. The frequency of a

problem reoccurring during the first four years of marriage for both spouses was

significant and moderate. This finding is in agreement with Gottman's (1999) assertion

that most couples experience long-term, perpetual problems. The most frequently

reoccurring marital problems for husbands were "money management," household

management," and "j ealousy;" the most frequently, reoccurring problems for wives were

"showing affection," "drugs and alcohol," and "communication." Of the most commonly

cited problems at the onset of marriage, only "communication" (for wives) was among

the most frequently reoccurring problems. These findings suggest that common problems

at the start of a marriage (e.g., communication difficulties and family issues) may not

remain prominent Furthermore, these findings imply that perhaps most newlywed

couples experience problems regarding issues such as family and the amount of time they

spend together at some point in their relationship, but that these problems may not remain

as severe or have a tendency to reoccur as frequently as other problems (e.g., "drugs and

alcohol"). Problems related to the amount of time spent together and family may be

severe at some point in a newlywed couple's marriage, but the severity of these problems

may not persist over time as the couple negotiates their differences and perhaps comes to

an acceptance that these problems may continue. Although such problems may reoccur,

couples may discover ways to cope with such problems that help to diminish their

severity .










Regarding problem severity, husbands and wives tended to differ in the problems

they rated the most severe. At the onset of marriage, husbands reported "unrealistic

expectations" as the most severe marital problems; after four years of marriage, husbands

reported "making decisions" and "drugs and alcohol" as the most severe problems.

Wives indicated that "career decisions" were the most severe problems at the beginning

of marriage, while they reported that "independence" and "drugs and alcohol" as the most

severe. It appears that a problem as significant and often very obvious as substance

abuse is readily identified by spouses at latter points in the newlywed marriage. This

may be due to the ability of substance abusers to hide their problems initially from

friends and family (Roberts & McCrady, 2003) as many clinicians who have worked with

substance abuse clients and their families are aware. As the seriousness of the abuse

worsens, spouses may tend to become more aware of the problem and confront their

partners about it.

The first hypothesis of the study related to problem severity stated that no

differences exist in problem severity between newlywed spouses based upon gender. The

data tend to support this hypothesis. No significant differences were detected in problem

severity between husbands and wives except at Time 8 (the final wave of the study).

This finding may suggest that couples begin to perceive the severity of their marital

problems differently as the marriage progresses. Kreider and Fields (2001) reported that

the average duration of a first marriage ending in divorce is seven to eight years. Spouses

who begin to disagree in their evaluations of marital problem severity may, consequently,

be at higher risk of divorce. Such couples may begin to notice prominent differences in

their evaluations around the midpoint (i.e., four years) of a troubled marriage.









Additionally, based on the data regarding the severity of specific problems, at-risk

couples may differ in their perceptions of what is problematic. Couples who differ in

their perceptions of what is a marital problem as well as their evaluations of problem

severity may be at higher risk for marital dissatisfaction and dissolution. Following

couples throughout a seven to eight year period may reveal how such differences might

influence marital satisfaction and stability.

The second hypothesis related to problem severity stated that higher problem

severity scores at specific points in the marriage (i.e., each wave of the study) correlate

with lower marital satisfaction scores at those times. The data support this hypothesis.

At all eight waves of the study problem severity was negatively correlated with marital

satisfaction for wives and husbands. In general, wives displayed stronger correlations

between problem severity and marital satisfaction. However, husbands displayed a

greater overall increase in the strength of the correlation from the beginning of marriage

to four years later. These findings offer evidence to suggest that the more severe a

spouse believes a marital problem to be the less her or his marital satisfaction seems to

be. As a marital problem worsens for spouses, they may begin to engage in behaviors

that contribute to decreased marital satisfaction (see Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Coping

with a marital problem is likely more difficult as it becomes more severe, and as a result,

ineffective coping problem-solving strategies may perpetuate a sense of dissatisfaction

with one's marriage.

The third hypothesis stated that the severity of a problem at the onset of marriage

positively correlates with the frequency of its reoccurrence during the first four years of

marriage. The data from the current study do not support this hypothesis. A spouse's










appraisal of problem severity at the beginning of marriage may not have a direct impact

on its tendency to reoccur throughout marriage; rather, the way a spouse thinks about that

problem and the manner in which that problem is managed may have more of an

influence on its reoccurrence. The tendency of a problem to reoccur or continue may

simply reflect basic differences in partners' personalities and their needs that likely

cannot be reconciled and will continue to persist throughout marriage (Dimidjian,

Martell, & Christensen, 2002; Gottman, 1999; Jacobson & Christensen, 1996a).

Integrative Complexity

The current study also examined the effects of integrative complexity on the way

couples describe their marital problems. The mean integrative complexity for problem

descriptions for husbands and wives at all waves of the study was approximately three on

a seven point scale. A score of three is representative of differentiation without

integration. Thus, spouses in the current study displayed the ability see two or more

perspectives of their marital problems. For example, a husband might have written:

I like to have sex more often than my wife does. I would like to have sex almost
every night; she would prefer to have sex once or twice a week. I tend to be more
physically affectionate, whereas she enj oys spending time talking to each other or
watching TV. We have different opinions about how often to have sex.

Spouses in the study acknowledge that they may have a different point of view than that

of others and accept theses perspectives as valid.

The study also asked what problems spouses think most complexly about.

Husbands consistently thought most complexly about "children" and "sex" at the

beginning of marriage and four years later; the problems they thought least complexly

about showed no pattern of consistency. Wives thought most complexly about "solving

problems" at the start of marriage and four years later, while they demonstrated









consistently low complexity regarding "trust" at both points in the marriage. This data

appears to support the first hypothesis regarding integrative complexity that stated

differences in integrative complexity exist based upon the type of marital problem. For

example, husbands may be able to think more complexly about sex, resigning themselves

to the common belief that men simply want sex more than women. Although this may

not be the case, research in the field of mating (e.g., Buss & Schmitt, 1993) suggests that

such beliefs may be grounded in human evolution. Husbands may acknowledge that their

wives are not as "biologically motivated" to engage in sex, and therefore, may accept this

difference. In a similar vein, wives showed a pattern of thinking least complexly about

trust issues. From an evolutionary perspective, women may be more invested in

emotional expression, and violations of trust deeply affect them, shaking their ability to

think complexly about such an emotionally-charged problem. These results appear to

contradict previous research by Suedfeld, Bluck, and Ballard (1994) that found that a

higher degree of emotional involvement positively correlated with greater integrative

complexity. Perhaps problems concerning trust in a marriage are so emotionally-loaded

that complex cognitive structuring becomes difficult to achieve.

The data also suggest that integrative complexity has an effect on problem

reoccurrence for wives. The integrative complexity of a marital problem at the beginning

of marriage was negatively and modestly correlated with the frequency of problem

reoccurrence for wives. Wives who display lower levels of complexity at the start of a

marriage may be at higher risk to experience "perpetual problems" (Gottman, 1999). As

the data consistently reveals, if these perpetual problems are of high severity, low

complexity wives may experience lower levels of marital satisfaction.









The second hypothesis concerning integrative complexity was supported by the

data. No differences were detected in integrative complexity based on time. This may

reflect the tendency of integrative complexity to remain relatively stable, despite being a

context-specific attribute (Tetlock, Peterson, & Berry, 1993). The third hypothesis

regarding integrative complexity no difference in integrative complexity exists based

on gender was not completely supported. The data reveal significant differences in

integrative complexity between husbands and wives at Times 2 and 5. These times

correspond with points at six months and two years into a marriage. Perhaps at these

periods, problem severity may be greater and have an impact on the complexity of

spouses, with one spouse displaying a significant decrease in complexity at these times.

The data regarding the effects of problem severity on integrative complexity

(Hypothesis 4) lend some support to such speculation. Although the data do not

consistently support the fourth hypothesis, significant negative and modest correlations

were found between problem severity and integrative complexity for husbands (Times 5,

7, and 8) and wives (Times 2, 3, 5). At Time 2, wives' integrative complexity may

decline as a result of increased problem severity, accounting for the differences in

complexity between spouses at those times. In addition, the data suggest that problem

severity has a greater impact on the integrative complexity of husbands at the latter stages

of newlywed marriage (i.e., the first four years of marriage), while such effects are more

profound for wives at the earlier stages of newlywed marriage.

However, these findings mean little to the continued satisfaction of newlywed

couples. What effect does integrative complexity have on marital satisfaction? The fifth

hypothesis concerning integrative complexity stated that greater integrative complexity









correlates with greater marital satisfaction. The data do no support this assertion at all

waves of the study. Integrative complexity does positively and significantly correlate

with marital satisfaction at Times 4-6 for husbands and at Times 3, 5, and 6 for wives.

The data from these waves appear to be complement the findings by Murray and Holmes

(1999) that suggest that partners in satisfied and stable relationships develop integrative

cognitive representations of their partners. The results from the current study imply that

higher integrative complexity is an important factor in determining increased marital

satisfaction in the middle phases (approximately one to three years) of newlywed

marriage. This may represent a time when newlywed couples are making significant life

transitions, such as having children. Pancer et al. (2000) found that couples demonstrated

higher integrative complexity after the birth of a child and those parents who displayed

higher levels of complexity reported greater marital satisfaction after the birth of a child

than those displaying lower complexity. The findings ofPancer et al., and the current

results suggest that complexity may play a crucial role in transitioning through stages of

marital development, such as parenthood.

Conclusions and Implications

The data reveals that problem severity is positively correlated with marital

satisfaction, as any marital counselor can attest to. Couples rarely present to therapy if

their problems are not severe and meriting counseling from their perspectives. Foremost,

the goal of counseling with couples should be a reduction in problem severity. If couples

do not experience such a decrease in severity, couples likely will not see any reason to

continue with counseling and their marital satisfaction may be at risk for further decline,

possibly resulting in divorce. The problems of newlywed spouses in the current study

showed a tendency to persist throughout the first few marriages. Couples must, therefore,









find ways to cope with those problems (e.g., "communication" and "amount of time spent

together") or risk declines in marital satisfaction.

Many marital interventions are designed from a behavioral perspective and attempt

to teach couples effective communication skills (see Gottman, 1999). However, as

Gottman and Jacobson and Christensen (1996a) point out, improved communication

skills can only go so far to help couples. As these researchers assert and as the current

data suggests, many couples experience on-going and perpetual problems, such as a lack

of time together or differences regarding money management or household duties.

Although helping couples to improve their communication may be helpful, they may

never be able to negotiate an understanding or resolution. Perhaps what is needed in

couples therapy is restructuring the way spouses perceive their problems.

The findings of the current study suggest that this may be useful in early stages of

marriage, particularly between the second and third years of marriage often when

couples are facing significant transitions in their lives, such as relocation or child-rearing.

Further research must be conducted to determine the effect of integrative complexity on

marital satisfaction during these transitional periods. Recent outcome research on marital

therapy indicates that cognitive change in spouses may be effective in instilling

relationship change and, consequently, marital satisfaction. In a qualitative study with 24

couples therapy clients, Christensen et al. (1998) reported that one of the most significant

factors in the process of change was a modification in their understanding of their

relationship. Friedlander and Heatherington (1998) have also demonstrated promise with

an instrument designed to evaluate changes in clients' cognitive representations of family

problems. Constructivist approaches to counseling such as narrative therapy (Freedman









& Combs, 2002; White & Epston, 1990) and constructivist family therapy (see Neimeyer,

1993) have become widely used with families over the past decade.

However, as the data from the present study indicate, complexity of cognitive

structure may not always play a crucial role in marital satisfaction, and attempting to

restructure clients' cognitions may not always be plausible. Some clients may find

constructivist interventions helpful, while others balk at them. Furthermore, the current

sample of newlyweds displayed a tendency toward differentiation; attempting to help

differentiated couples further differentiate likely would prove fruitless. Such couples

may need greater assistance integrating their constructions of their problems into

meaningful resolutions. In addition, many couples may benefit from greater emotional

connectedness and may not benefit from such cognitive interventions. Forgiveness as

part of couples counseling shows promise in helping couples work through emotional

conflicts, particularly violations of trust, and develop greater connectedness (Barnett &

Youngberg, 2004). The Emotion Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) of Susan Johnson

(Johnson, 2002; 2003) has demonstrated efficacy in working with couples (Shadish &

Baldwin, 2003). Johnson's approach "is a constructivist approach in that it focuses on

the ongoing construction of present [emotional] experiences...and a systemic approach in

that it focuses on the construction of patterns of interaction with emotional others"

(Johnson, 2002, p. 221). This approach integrates behavior, cognition, and affect in a

manner that fosters increased connectedness, enabling couples with the understanding

necessary to work through their problems.

The promise of EFT illustrates the need for an integrative approach to couples

therapy. As the current study indicates, the complexity of spouses' thoughts about their










problems is not consistently predictive of marital satisfaction, and thus, should not always

be the focus of marriage counseling. Fincham and Beach (1999a) and Sprenkle, Blow,

and Dickey (1999) suggest that the goal of marriage counseling be that of change, and

point to the importance of being integrative and goal-oriented rather than technique-

bound. The current study supports this claim and lends further evidence to the

complexity of marital satisfaction. Until recently, marital satisfaction has been studied as

a variable dependent on one or two variables. Research in the area of marital satisfaction

and marital therapy modalities would benefit from taking an integrative perspective,

incorporating factors such as integrative complexity within a larger and more systemic

framework.
















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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Christopher Adams received Master of Arts in Education and Specialist in

Education degrees in counselor education from the University of Florida in May of 2004.

While at the University of Florida, he specialized in marriage and family counseling. He

attended the first two years of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and

he received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida in 2000.

Christopher is currently applying to doctoral programs in counseling psychology and

hoping for admission in the fall of 2004.