Whether and how spouses seek and provide support in marital discussions is not clearly understood, and stress reactivity (e.g., tension or irritability) may interfere with effective support behaviours. In a sample of newlywed couples (N = 145), path analyses indicated negative within-spouse associations between positive and negative helpee (e.g., appropriately or inappropriately requesting help) and helper behaviours (e.g., expressing empathy or criticism). Helpee positive behaviours positively predicted helper positive behaviours, and helpee negative behaviours positively predicted helper negative behaviours. Invariance analyses indicated that in comparison to helper wives, helper husbands were more likely to reciprocate positive wife helpee behaviours and less likely to reciprocate negative wife helpee behaviours. As expected, spouses’ stress reactivity predicted husbands’ and wives’ negative behaviours, but only when couples discussed wives’ worries. Contrary to prediction, wives’ stress reactivity was less strongly associated with negative helpee behaviours when husbands were more tense or irritable; but, as expected, any negative wife helpee behaviour was more likely to be met with negative helper behaviours from their more tense or irritable husbands. Results suggest that husbands may be more appropriately responsive, and more likely to inhibit negative responses, than wives. In addition, tense or irritable wives may be more likely to inhibit criticism or demands for support with their tense husbands. However, when wives do criticize or demand help, they are more likely to be met with contempt or defensiveness from their tense or irritable husbands. Overall, this study demonstrates the importance of examining spousal support within a dyadic framework, focusing on the roles spouses play in support discussions, and identifying when physical and emotional reactions to stress may be important factors in spousal support.
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Thesis advisor: Cobb, Rebecca
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