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ASSESSING BELIEF INT COORDINATING MEANING INT ROMANTIC
THOMAS J. TIEGS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Thomas J. Tiegs
I would like to express my gratitude to my advisor and committee chair, Dr. Martin
Heesacker, for his invaluable input into this proj ect. I would also like to thank my
committee members, Dr. Ruperto Perez and Dr. Connie Shehan, for their wisdom and
insight. Additionally, I am grateful for my family and friends for their support throughout
this process and throughout my education.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .........__.. ..... .__. .............._ iii..
AB S TRAC T ..... ._ ................. ............_........5
1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............1.......... ......
2 M ETHOD .............. ...............8.....
Participants .............. ...............8.....
Procedure ................. ...............8.................
3 RE SULT S ................. ...............10.......... .....
4 DI SCUS SSION ................. ................. 12......... ....
APPENDIX MEANS, STANDARD DEVIATIONS, AND FACTOR LOADING OF
CMM SCALE ITEMS ................. ...............17........... ....
REFERENCES .............. ...............18....
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............21....
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
ASSESSING BELIEF INT COORDINATING MEANING INT ROMANTIC
Thomas J. Tiegs
Chair: Martin Heesacker
Major Department: Psychology
Research has consistently shown a substantial gap between the specific behaviors
people desire from their romantic partners and those they actually receive, as well as a
strong link between this gap and relationship dissatisfaction. The current proposal
describes the development of a scale to examine one potential source of that gap, namely
the absence of belief in the coordinated management of meaning. Coordinated
management of meaning is defined as the process of people creating a shared
understanding regarding the meaning of words and behaviors within their relationship.
The scale assesses the extent to which a person believes in a constructivist, postmodern
approach to communicating in romantic relationships.
To say that intimate relationships are important to human beings is an
understatement. The quest for love abounds. For example, from September 2000 to
September 2001 there were 2.4 million marriages in the United States alone (Bramlett &
Mosher, 2002). Love relationships are central to the lives of many people. Illustrative of
this is the fact that six of the top fifteen most stress inducing items on the social
readjustment scale (Holmes & Rahe, 1967) in some way concern intimate relationships.
It is clear that relationships are important, but it is also no secret that occasionally
people struggle to maintain healthy relationships; that the sea of love is prone to a squall
from time to time. In a report issued by the Center for Disease Control within five years a
marriage has a 20% probability of ending in divorce. By ten years of marriage that
number jumps to 33% (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002). Another indication of stormy
relationships is rampant infidelity. By their very nature, statistics on extramarital affairs
are hard to ascertain, but various sources claim that in approximately 50% of marriages at
least one partner will be unfaithful (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Tavris & Sadd,
Relationship difficulties are not limited to married couples. Heesacker, Stanley,
and Tiegs (2004) found similar rates of infidelity in dating relationships. According to
Carlson (1987) 36% of college students will experience some form of abuse in their
dating relationships. Infidelity and abuse represent relationships at their worst, but what
about when people are simply dissatisfied with their partners and want to improve their
relationships? Three primary theories have attempted to articulate the factors that nurture
and sustain relationships as well as those that lead to heartbreak. A brief review of these
theories will be presented next. Understanding these theories is vital to understanding the
rationale for the proposed research.
Thibaut and Kelley (1959) proposed the social exchange theory. Social exchange
theory posits a cost-benefit analysis of the relationship as central to relationship
satisfaction. An individual considers the rewards and costs of being in a relationship as
opposed to other alternatives. This model predicts that as the rewards increase and costs
decrease a person will be more satisfied and place a higher value on the relationship.
Building on social exchange theory, Adams (1965) took into account the extent to
which each partner benefits from the relationship. The theory suggests that it is possible
that one partner benefits too much while the other partner benefits too little from the
relationship. Both partners will become dissatisfied in this situation; so, for a couple to be
satisfied, equity is needed in terms of costs and benefits.
Rusbult' s Investment Model (1980, 1986) is also related to Thibaut and Kelley's
social exchange theory. Rusbult created the Investment Model Scale to measure
commitment level, investment size, and quality of alternatives, as well as relational
sati sfacti on.
What these theories share is a perspective on relationship satisfaction that
Abelson (1963) would characterize as "cold cognition." Abelson was the first scholar to
publish work distinguishing between cold and hot cognition. Cold cognition is relatively
devoid of affective tone and is characterized by logic and facts whereas hot cognition is
relatively saturated with affect. Abelson's distinction suggests that a theory that includes
hot cognition may provide important additional understanding of the sources of
relationship satisfaction of that provided by the cold-cognition models. One such affect-
based, hot cognition model is Heesacker' s desired loving behavior theory (Heesacker,
Smith, & Lawrence, 1998; Mejia-Millan & Heesacker, 2003).
The desired loving behavior theory proposes that individuals want to feel loved by
their romantic partners, that specific actions by the partner signal the degree to which
people feel loved, and that people differ in the amount and type of behaviors they desire
in order to feel loved. According to this theory, the extent to which their partner provides
these desired loving behaviors affects relational satisfaction. Heesacker and colleagues
developed the Desired Loving Behaviors Scale (DLBS; Heesacker et al., 1998) to test the
theory. The scale allows the calculation of a score that assesses the degree of discrepancy
between what desired loving behaviors one person wants and what that person reports
receiving from the partner. This discrepancy is inversely related to satisfaction. Also,
current relationships reported lower discrepancy scores than failed relationships.
Furthermore, Mejia-Millan and Heesacker (2003) found that the desired loving behavior
discrepancy theory significantly predicted relationship satisfaction above and beyond
variance accounted for by the equity and investment models. They also found that the
degree to which the received behavior was believed to represent feeling loved
consequently determined the importance of the behavior in influencing relationship
satisfaction, thus supporting the importance of a hot cognition perspective.
Not only are these discrepancies important, research indicates that they are also
large. Across two studies (Smith, 2000; & Mejia-Millan & Heesacker, 2003) the average
discrepancy ranged from .8 to 1.2 (on a 5-point scale). Cohen (1988) would characterize
the effect sizes of desired-received loving behavior discrepancies as large (Heesacker et
But what is the source of these discrepancies and why would couples allow much
loving behavior want-get discrepancy? One study sheds some light on these questions.
Samson (1996) attempted to reduce this discrepancy in couples through simple awareness
training. Couples were taught about the idea of discrepancies in desired loving behaviors
in an attempt to bridge the discrepancy gap. Increasing awareness of discrepancies,
though logical, failed to achieve the expected results of reducing discrepancy. Also, more
research was needed to determine possible sources of loving-behavior discrepancies.
Coordinated management of meaning theory (CMM, Pearce, 1999; Pearce &
Cronen, 1980), from the communications research literature, has the potential to explain
the source of the large discrepancies between wanted and received behaviors in previous
studies. Based on Kelly's (1955) personal construct theory, CMM is a post-modern
theory developed to explain how people establish and share meaning (Cragan & Shields,
1998). One of the basic tenets of CMM is that meaning is subjective. According to this
theory, people encounter communication problems because meaning differs from person
to person, though people often perceive meaning as obj ective or general. "A common
error in this regard is the tendency to forget that things have different meanings for
different people" (Rossiter & Pearce, 1975, p. 14). Because of this not-fully-appreciated
subj activity, communication is intrinsically vulnerable to flaws. As Cragen and Shields
(1998, p. 38) summarized, "Error-free information sharing is impossible."
Communication theorists Pearce and Cronen suggested C1VM to compensate for
these inherent communication misunderstandings. One implication of C1V1V is that to
avoid these pitfalls, people must work to share understanding. "When we communicate
with another person, we seek to create common perception of feelings, attitudes, goals,
desires, ideas, experiences and so forth" (Wood, 1998, p. 5).
In C1V1V constitutive rules specify the established behavior within a given context
(Cragan & Shields, 1998). Constitutive rules are developed in an attempt to explain the
meaning of specific behaviors within a particular communication dyad. For example, a
young lady might consider an animated and engaged conversation to indicate her desire
for friendship, whereas the young man receiving her animated and engaged conversation
might wrongly conclude more amorous intentions on her part (Abbey, 1982, 1987). A
multicultural example may also be useful in explaining constitutive rules. In the United
States shaking hands shows respect whereas in Japan shaking hands might be construed
According to Cragan and Shields (1998) three, specific, ontological assumptions
directly pertain to constitutive rules. First, humans create or impose systems of meaning
and order, even when there are none. This means that people are always assigning
meaning to things. Second, humans adhere to meaning temporally; that is, what means
one thing one day might mean another thing or nothing the next day. Last, humans'
meaning systems differ from one person to another; that is, meaning is subj ective.
Traces of CMM can be found in the social psychology literature. For example,
Murray, Holmes, Bellavia, Griffin, and Dolderman (2002) found that couples were more
satisfied in relationships when they could shift their perception of one another to match
their ideals of what a partner should be. Murray et al. (2002) suggested that the more the
partners think they are similar to one another, through a process of ego assimilation; the
more satisfied they would be. In essence, the more their self-meanings coordinate with
their partner meanings, the greater the relationship satisfaction.
CMM also borrows support from the psychological literature based on the work
of John Gottman. Gottman created a powerful theory and method to predict divorce
among couples. His oral history interview technique can accurately predict divorce
87.4% of the time (Carrere, Buhlman, Gottman, Coan, & Ruckstuhl, 2000). In his work,
Gottman (1994) found that couples who maintain a Hyve-to-one ratio of positive to
negative interactions are much more likely to stay together. If a couple doesn't maintain
this ratio, or if they have more negatives than positive interactions, they are more prone
to divorce. But what if a lack of coordinated meaning confuses a partner' s understanding
of what is positive and what is negative? According to Carrere et al. (2000), "There is
support for causal linkages between perceptual biases and selective attention on the path
of marriage." The current research might suggest that if partners better coordinate
meaning, they may be more likely to reach the Hyve-to-one ratio.
Based on the literature, coordinated management of meaning emerges as a
possible explanation for relationship satisfaction and desired loving behavior
discrepancy. Because no other such measures exist, the current research developed a
scale to assess the extent to which people believe in creating a shared understanding of
the meaning of words and behaviors within relationships. The scale examines
constructivist thinking in individuals, specifically in regards to romantic relationships.
The current research hypothesized that the scale would be a consistent measure of
coordinated communication styles in individuals.
Two hundred-twenty participants were recruited for scale development from
undergraduate psychology classes. Of those reporting sex, 173 (80%) were women and
44 (20%) were men. Although disparate in number, a t-test revealed no sex differences (t
= 1.31i, p > .19). Of participants reporting age, 27 (12.3%) were 18, 66 (30%) were 19, 75
(34.1%) were 20, 31 (14. 1%) were 21. 21 (9.5%) participants reported age as other. The
maj ority of participants identified as single (194, 88.2%). Four (2%) reported being
married, 16 (7%) reported cohabiting, and 6 (3%) reported marital status as other.
Participants that indicated race were mostly White, non-Hispanic (71%), followed by
Hispanic (14%), Asian-American (6%), other (5%), and African-American (4%).
Participants received extra course credit for completing the survey.
A scale was developed to measure coordinated management of meaning. This
Coordinated Management of Meaning Scale (CMM) was designed to assess the extent to
which people believe that actions can have multiple meanings and the importance of
sharing understanding within interpersonal relationships. The author and his advisor
generated sixteen potential scale items based the writings of Pearce and Cronen (e.g.,
Pearce, 1999; Pearce & Cronen, 1980) on the central tenets of coordinated management
of meaning of theory. These were each Likert-type items to which participants responded
on a five-point rating scale with the anchors "Strongly Disagree," "Disagree," "Neutral,"
"Agree," and "Strongly Agree." Sample items include, "People often have
misunderstandings because the same actions have multiple meanings" and "When we
build relationships with other people, what we are really building is a common
understanding of what our actions mean." Higher scores on the scale indicate greater
belief in coordinating meaning in communication. Item two is reverse scored.
Participants were recruited from undergraduate psychology classes at a large
Southeastern university. Data were collected both in regular class times as well as
separate sessions outside of class. Participants were instructed they would be filling out a
brief survey on communication styles. All participants were told that involvement was
completely voluntary, that they could withdraw at any time, and that all data are kept
anonymous and confidential. After completing the informed consent the scale was passed
out and completed. Students received one extra credit point for completing the survey.
Two factors emerged in the scree plot of a principal-component factor analysis.
Items were included if they had a factor loading of .4 or greater. The first factor had an
eigenvalue of 2. 13 and accounting for 58.08% of the variance. The second factor had an
eigenvalue of 1.05 and accounted for 28.4% of the variance. A varimax orthogonal
rotation was employed. After rotation, the second factor had only three items and was
consequently dropped. Factor one retained seven items (see Appendix A), achieved
simple structure, and was internally consistent (Cronbach's oc = .71). According to
Nunnally (1967), a Cronbach' s value of .50 or higher is valid for research and a value of
.70 or higher is a valid internal consistency for other applications. Of the original 16
items, seven comprised the scale and nine were dropped. Examination of the nine items
that did not make the scale suggest they were assessing subtly different constructs. Face
validity of the dropped seems adequate, but they did not hold up under statistical scrutiny.
Some items may have been too confusing for the sample (e.g. "Implicit meanings often
accompany actions" and "The biggest source of 'analysis paralysis' is the attempt to
figure out what the behavior of another person really means.") Because the construct
being tested is conceptualized as a dynamic one, which could change readily over time,
test-retest reliability was not examined. A scale score is achieved by tabulating a mean
score on the seven items. A higher score indicates a more constructivistic communication
style, a higher willingness to work at understanding communication in relationships, and
a higher likelihood of coordinating meaning in relationships.
Pearce and Cronen proposed the theory of Coordinated Management of Meaning
(CMM) to better understand how people communicate and the intrinsic troubles people
have in communicating. Nowhere does healthy communication seem more pertinent than
in intimate relationships. As discussed earlier, intimate relationships are central to many
peoples' lives. It is also known that intimate relationships are not always healthy and
often fall victim to infidelity and abuse. Various relationship theories have attempted to
explain relationship satisfaction. A few of the main theories focus on relatively cold
cognition, that is, they consider the quantifiable trade-offs within the relationship. One
theory that approaches intimate relationships from a hot cognitive viewpoint is the
Desired Loving Behavior theory (DLBS). The DLBS theory asks people what they deem
meaningful and whether or not they are receiving that behavior from their partner. The
current research developed a scale based on the DLB S/hot cognitive model. The scale
incorporates the ontological assumptions of CMM; namely that meaning is subj ective,
temporal, and personal. It was theorized that the more people coordinate meaning in their
relationships, the more they work to share understanding of feelings and actions, the less
discrepancy they will experience in their relationship. The current research developed an
internally valid scale assessing the construct of coordinated meaning. Many potential
research opportunities exist using the newly created CMM measure. Implications, future
research and limitations are also discussed.
The implications for the scale abound. As already described, CMM may explain
DLBS discrepancies and relationship satisfaction. If a link between communication style,
discrepancies, and relational satisfaction is found, much can be done by counselors to aid
couples in therapy. Combined with the Desired Loving Behavior Scale the CMM scale
may be used to determine where couples are experiencing difficulties in their
relationships. From this, counselors can educate couples and help them practice
coordinating meaning within the relationship.
In hindsight, one limitation of the current scale is a slight bias towards
heterosexual relationships. In order to compensate for diversity in romantic relationships,
wording of items may be changed to reflect a broader range of experiences in the dating
arenas. Another limitation resides in the demographic section. The current study failed to
ask for experience in dating relationships, a factor that may likely influence how much a
person believes in coordinating meaning in relationships. A third limitation of this study
is its relatively low internal consistency. While statistically adequate for research
purposes, the scale does not indicate enough internal consistency for use with clinical
populations. The items on the scale may also be subject to social desirability,
representing another limitation of this study.
Future research on the topic of coordinating meaning offers a wide variety of
possibilities. Research in this area might look at couples, both dating and married, to see
the extent to which people continue to coordinate meaning within their relationships. For
example, do couples decline in coordinating meaning once they've "figured out" what
various behaviors mean in the relationship? If so, what are the implications of that
decline for relationship satisfaction and divorce? Does failure to coordinate meaning over
time result in partners "falling out of love?" In a related vein, is coordinating meaning
necessary to maintain over the years, so that as people change and grow meanings change
and grow with them? Does the need for coordinating meaning decline when both partners
are in similar and stable situations (e.g. both are college sophomores). Future research
may also consider looking at intra-partner discrepancy on belief in, and need for
In addition to assessing beliefs in coordinating meaning, it may be more practical
to examine how much partners actually do coordinate meaning in their relationship.
Future studies may also examine motivation to coordinate meaning compared to the
ability to coordinate meaning. If partners want to understand one another, but simply lack
the communication skills to do so, it may have negative ramifications for their
relationship. Another possible research idea in this realm is to assess relationships in how
traditional or egalitarian they are and correlate this finding to CMM. One might predict
that a more traditional relationship would find the women engaging in coordinating
meaning more than her partner whereas more modern relationships would find a more
equal ratio of coordinating meaning between partners.
Since the creation of the CMM scale and the writing of this document, one such
future research proj ect has been run and completed using the CMM and is briefly
described here. Four factors were hypothesized to predict relationship satisfaction:
Adversarial Sexual Beliefs (ASB; Burt, 1980), the previously described Desired Loving
Behaviors Discrepancy (DLBS; Heesacker et al., 1998), Beliefs About Emotions (BAE;
Heesacker et al., 1999), and Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM). The ASB
assesses peoples' beliefs that gendered relationships are inherently conflictual. The BAE
examines participants' beliefs in the gender stereotype of men as hypo-emotional and
women as hyper-emotional. ASB, BAE, and DLBS discrepancy were hypothesized to
inversely predict relationship satisfaction. Based on the theoretical underpinnings
previously discussed, the extent to which people coordinate meaning in their relationships
was hypothesized to inversely predict DLBS discrepancy and positively predict
relationship satisfaction. One hundred and nineteen participants were recruited from
undergraduate psychology courses. A multiple regression model was run and found to be
significant, F(4, 112) = 5.16, p < .001. The DLBS (P = -.32, p < .001) and the ASB (P = -
.17, p < .05) were the only two significant predictors in the model. Beliefs about
emotions did not significantly predict relationship satisfaction. Contrary to the
hypotheses and purpose of creating the CMM scale, no significant relationship was found
between CMM and DLB S discrepancy or between CMM and relationship satisfaction.
The CMM, although internally valid, failed to achieve convergent validity,
namely it didn't correlate to the constructs that theory might suggest. In light of these
findings, the items are undergoing scrutiny to determine where improvements can be
made. One possibility currently under consideration is to revise the scale by instructing
participants about the pertinent construct and then ask them to create statements that
reflect the construct. These items would then be administered to a different sample and a
factor analysis would be run to test the construct and condense the scale.
The basic principle in CMM, the idea that people must strive to understand shared
meaning has strong research potential and important implications for explaining
difficulties in relationships and communication. The troubles encountered with the CMM
scale suggest that understanding the process and outcomes associated with CMM may be
more problematic than originally predicted. Future research in this area should include
revising scale items, examining test-retest reliability as well as examining convergent
validity with other measures of communication styles.
The sea of love and relationships will always have potential to be rough and
stormy. With the help of the current and future research, dating partners may be able to
chart a course for smooth, coordinated sailing.
MEANS, STANDARD DEVIATIONS, AND FACTOR LOADING OF
People often have misunderstandings
because the same actions have
People can argue endlessly about the
meaning of someone' s behavior.
One of the biggest problems in people
getting along is that they think they
understand each other's actions when
they really don't.
Good friendship takes time mostly
because only over time do people
come to understand the meaning
behind the other person's actions.
When we build relationships with
other people, what we are really
building is a common understanding
of what our actions mean.
The reason marriage is hard work is
because couples must learn what their
spouses' actions really mean.
It takes time to understand people's
actions and what they mean.
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Thomas Joseph Tiegs was born July 20, 1976, near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tom
grew up with his parents, Bill and Colleen, and his two older sisters, Suzanne and
Heather. He attended high school in Prior Lake, Minnesota, and graduated in 1994. After
graduating Tom worked various jobs until he decided it was time to continue his
education in 1998. Tom enrolled in the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota,
where he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and
a double minor in communications and theology. After completing his bachelor' s degree,
Tom continued his education in the counseling psychology department at the University
of Florida. Tom will receive his Master of Science degree in 2004 and plans to continue
on to receive his Ph.D.