Discussing my romantic problems with my best friend: Longitudinal examinations of relationship work in younger and older couples
Type of Degreedissertation
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All couples experience romantic challenges and sharing these problems with others seems innately human. This dissertation underscores the importance of carefully considering with whom and how often one should discuss romantic relationship problems. Further, it highlights the importance of taking a developmental approach when investigating these processes, as the frequency and impact of romantic problem disclosures appear to change over time. Among two distinct samples, we investigated how frequently partners discussed relationship problems with one another and with a best friend as well as the impact of these discussions on the relationship over time (e.g., romantic stability, relationship satisfaction). The first study examined a sample of 82 romantically-involved young adults and revealed that they were more likely to discuss romantic problems with partners than with friends and that discussions with partners increased over time. Logistic regression analyses revealed that when individuals discussed relationship problems with partners, they were more likely to remain in that relationship over time, whereas discussing problems with friends was associated with greater likelihood of breaking up. Furthermore, structural equation modeling suggested that those who experienced more conflict early in the relationship were less likely to later speak with their partners about romantic problems. Failing to discuss romantic problems with either the partner or the friend was linked with greater conflict, whereas discussing the issue with only the partner was associated with less conflict. Overall, young adults appeared to benefit most when discussing their romantic challenges with their partners. The second study examined similar processes among a sample of 53 older-adult married couples. Results suggested that both wives and husbands more frequently discussed marital problems with one another than with friends, however, these discussions decreased in frequency over time. Multi-level modeling (MLM) analyses indicated that frequently discussing marital problems with the spouse was associated with declines in marital satisfaction over the course of one year. MLM results also suggested that those who were less maritally satisfied were more likely to discuss marital problems with friends one year later. Unlike younger adults, older adults appear to benefit from not engaging in discussions of romantic problems with their spouses.