Stress and reactivity to daily relationship experiences: How stress hinders adaptive processes in marriage

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Sep;97(3):435-50. doi: 10.1037/a0015663.


Maintaining a relationship requires that intimates successfully navigate the ups and downs of their daily experiences with their partners. Intimates whose daily global satisfaction is heavily dependent on these experiences exhibit worse relationship outcomes than do intimates whose satisfaction is less sensitive to fluctuating daily experiences. The current studies examined how intimates' reactivity to daily experiences within the relationship is affected by their experiences of stress outside the relationship. Using diary data, Study 1 examined the covariance between spouses' daily global and specific relationship evaluations in 146 newlywed couples. Between-subjects analyses revealed that daily global satisfaction covaried with perceptions of specific relationship experiences more strongly in spouses experiencing more stress. Study 2 examined the within-person association between reactivity and stress using 7-day diaries collected at 3 time points over 4 years in a sample of 82 couples. Intimates' reactivity to daily relationship experiences was stronger when they were experiencing greater than normal stress. All findings held when controlling for the influence of various individual difference factors on reactivity. These findings highlight ways that adaptive relationship functioning may be constrained by external stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Family Conflict / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Object Attachment
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament
  • Young Adult