Change in marital satisfaction among Chinese couples during the early years of marriage: the roles of individual characteristics, couple interactive processes, and social network factors

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Hongjian Cao (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mark Fine

Abstract: Understanding couple relationship well-being and its key determinants is paramount given the substantial costs of marital distress to individuals, families, as well as the society. However, some groups of couples have been historically underrepresented in prior marriage research (e.g., Non-Western couples). Without investigating these groups of couples systematically, the diversity inherent within marriage cannot be adequately acknowledged. Furthermore, from a cultural sensitivity perspective, empirical findings and theoretical perspectives derived from studies of one certain group of couples are likely to be poorly suited to or even irrelevant to the life experiences of another group of couples. To somewhat fill this gap, a series of empirical studies were conducted in the present body of work to particularly examine how the variation in Chinese couples’ marital well-being over time could be accounted for by the complex, dynamic interplay among factors of different levels (e.g., individual characteristics, couple dyadic adaptive processes, and external contextual factors) based on the data from a recent longitudinal research project named Chinese Newlyweds Longitudinal Study (CNLS). The first study in the present body of work focused on the associations between spouses’ personal characteristics (i.e., neuroticism) and marital satisfaction and the mechanisms explaining why such associations might occur. Specifically, based on three annual waves of data obtained from 268 Chinese couples during their early years of marriage, this study tested an actor-partner interdependence mediation model in which spouses’ neuroticism was linked to the changes in their own and their partners’ marital satisfaction through both intrapersonal (i.e., marital attribution) and interpersonal (i.e., marital aggression) processes. Considering both intra and interpersonal processes simultaneously in a single model, a series of indirect pathways were identified: Wave 1 Husbands’ Neuroticism ? Wave 2 Husbands’ Negative Marital Attribution ? Wave 1 to Wave 3 Changes in Husbands’ Marital Satisfaction; and Wave 1 Wives’ Neuroticism ? Wave 2 Wives’ Negative Marital Attribution or Aggression ? Wave 1 to Wave 3 Changes in Wives’ or Husbands’ Marital Satisfaction. As such, this study not only adds to a limited body of research examining why neuroticism affects conjugal well-being, but also extends prior research by focusing on Chinese couples, utilizing a longitudinal, dyadic mediation model, and testing intra and interpersonal processes simultaneously. The findings also have important practical implications. That is, couples involving highly neurotic partners may benefit the most from interventions based on the cognitive-behavioral approaches. When working with couples bothered by neuroticism, practitioners need to help them address both dysfunctional interactive patterns and distorted cognitive styles. The second study in the present body of work sought to understand the associations between couple dyadic interactive processes (i.e., marital hostility) and marital satisfaction and the conditions under which such associations might vary. Specifically, based on both observational and self-report survey data obtained from 106 Chinese couples during their early years of marriage, this study linked marital hostility observed from multiple couple interactions to both the concurrent levels of and the subsequent changes in spouses’ reports of relationship satisfaction, and also examined how intrapersonal traits (i.e., self-esteem), relationship features (i.e., commitment), external environment factors (i.e., life event stress), and spouses’ avoidance tendency in marital problem resolutions may contextualize such associations. Results indicated that both the concurrent and the longitudinal actor and/or partner effects of marital hostility on marital satisfaction were moderated by spouses’ own and/or their partner’s self-esteem, commitment, life event stress, and avoidance. Furthermore, in general, whereas spouses’ own factors as moderators explained under what circumstances hostility may be harmful for relationship satisfaction, spouses’ partner’s factors as moderators determined when hostility can be beneficial for relationship satisfaction. Such findings highlight the importance of approaching the association between marital hostility and conjugal well-being from a dyadic, multilevel, and contextual perspective. The third study in the present body of work examined the associations between external contextual factors (i.e., parents’ attitude and in-law relationship quality) and marital satisfaction and how different social network factors might operate in conjunction with each other to shape conjugal well-being over time in Chinese marriage. Based on three annual waves of data obtained from 265 Chinese couples during the early years of marriage and utilizing an actor-partner interdependence mediation model with latent difference scores, this study examined the associations among parental attitude toward their adult children’s marriage, in-law relationship quality, and adult children’s marital satisfaction. Results indicated that when both husbands’ and wives’ parents’ attitude and relationship quality with mothers-in-law and with fathers-in-law were considered simultaneously in a single model, only two indirect pathways were still significant: husbands’ parents’ satisfaction with their adult children’s marriage was positively associated with the changes in both husbands’ and wives’ marital satisfaction via wives’ relationship quality with their mothers-in-law. Such findings not only suggest the particularly salient roles of husbands’ parents’ attitude and the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law in predicting Chinese adult children’s marital well-being, but also highlight the importance of conceptualizing families as configurations of interdependent relationships across multiple households and examining marital well-being from ecological and social network perspectives. Taken altogether, the present body of work represents one of the very first steps in systematically understanding marital well-being and its determinants among Chinese couples. Findings of the three aforementioned studies have clearly demonstrated that Chinese couples’ relationship development over time is a product of the complex, dynamic intersections of individual characteristics, relational dynamics, and external contextual factors. Furthermore, findings of the present body of work may promote cultural sensitivity in marriage research by yielding important insights for developing culturally relevant frameworks for understanding marital issues in Asian countries.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Chinese, Couple, Marriage, Newlywed
Marriage $z China $x Psychological aspects
Marital quality $z China
Marital conflict $z China
Married people $z China $x Psychology
Newlyweds $z China $x Psychology

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