Sample Psychology Paper on Impacts of Stress on Marital Satisfaction

Abstract

Marital satisfaction is an abstract phenomenon based on the reports issued by spouses in marriages. The determination of a whether one is satisfied with their marriage is based on individual reports, which vary extensively from one person to another. Even between spouses in the same marriage, the degree of satisfaction is not the same depending on factors such as intimacy, passion, and commitment. While some of the issues that affect marital satisfaction are internal, others such as stress are external. Research has shown that stress affects the level of satisfaction in a marriage based on its impacts on the victim as well as on the way the unstressed individual reacts to their partner. The present study confirms, through primary and secondary approaches, that stress is indeed a determinant of marital satisfaction as it influences both directly and indirectly factors that contribute to marital happiness.

 

Impacts of Stress on Marital Satisfaction

Introduction

Marital satisfaction is a phenomenon that is both difficult to measure and evaluate. While many couples may seem happy together, satisfaction with a marriage is a personal variable that can only be known from the perspective of a particular spouse. One of the partners can be happy and satisfied with their marriage, while the other is merely struggling to remain in the marriage (Idemudia & Neo, 2015). Previous studies have shown that many factors including stress, interpersonal skills, and communication between partners influence interpersonal relationship to a great extent. Stress, for instance, affects many of the factors that contribute to positive relations in a marriage, subsequently affecting the indicators of marital satisfaction. As a result, stress is considered to influence the level of marital satisfaction either directly whereby the marriage is the source of stress, or indirectly whereby other factors which affect the marriage or personal interactions therein are affected.

While it is undoubted that stress reduces marital satisfaction, the manner in which this occurs is still under study, with most of the existing literature arguing that stress affects the components of satisfaction. In the present study, the objective is to explain the relationship between stress and marital satisfaction, whether they are interrelated. To achieve this aim, the paper answers the following research questions:

  • What is marital satisfaction and what are its indicators? – This first question will help the study in identifying a baseline for measuring marital satisfaction among the potential respondents.
  • How does stress affect marital commitment? -The second question is directly addresses the research objective and the response to this question will follow a successful definition of marital satisfaction.
  • What are the external and internal factors that are correlated with marital satisfaction? – From the definition of the external and internal factors in marital satisfaction, the variables of the study will be defined hence the relevance of the study.

To answer these questions effectively, secondary research alone may not be sufficient due to the fact that marital satisfaction, as explained previously, is a highly personal phenomenon.  It is for this reason that the study takes a combined primary and secondary approach to research with the objective to gain as much personalized insight into the phenomenon as possible. The paper is divided into five key sections including the introduction, literature review, methodology, discussion, and conclusion.

Literature Review

Marital Satisfaction Overview

Jahani et al. (2016) describe marital satisfaction as the feeling of fulfillment or gratification, which is experienced by marital partners after consideration of all the factors and characteristics of their marriage. From this definition, it can be deduced that marital satisfaction levels can differ between two individuals in the same marriage. While one may experience fulfillment, gratification, and pleasure based on how things are going on at a given moment, the other spouse may be feeling less fulfilled, and may desire for changes to occur in the marriage for them to be more satisfied. Randall and Bodenmann (2009) also characterize marital satisfaction based on the level of pleasure or fulfillment experienced by a spouse. In addition, Jahani et al. (2016) in their definition of marital satisfaction suggest that marriage is characterized by several factors, and their interplay can either reduce or increase the level of satisfaction among the partners.Gottman’s theory of marital dissolution and stability describes elements that make a marriage satisfactory and those which make it unstable (Gottman, 1993). From the theory, various factors can be recognized and linked to marital satisfaction and subsequently used to evaluate the level of satisfaction in a marriage.

Randall and Bodenmann (2009) describe some of the factors that characterize a marriage, which affect the level of satisfaction therein. According to these scholars, marital satisfaction is a function of the communication characteristics, the skills and abilities in problem-solving, the goals of the marriage, and the bilateral relationships between the couple. Based on these factors, satisfaction in a marriage can be defined as an extent to which an individual is satisfied as per the features demonstrated by the marriage. Spouses describe marital satisfaction according to their personal needs and expectations. Once there is a need that remains unfulfilled, the level of satisfaction automatically reduces.

Carandang and Guda (2015) also describe marital satisfaction based on a series of factors which they refer to as the triangular theory of love. According to the authors of the concept, Sternberg’striangle of love comprises of three elements which include commitment, passion, and intimacy. For a spouse to consider their marriage satisfactory, all the three components of love have to be in harmony. In addition, in their study, Carandang and Guda (2016) showed that there is a strong correlation between the level of intimacy in a marital relationship and the satisfaction therein. Similarly, a significant positive correlation exists between passion and the commitment element.

While most authors describe the factors that result in marital satisfaction, Li and Wickrama (2014) adopt a different perspective to the concept of satisfaction in marriage. In their study, Li and Wickrama examined 372 Taiwanese couples to help them identify the factors contributing to marital satisfaction. From their findings, spouses must possess certain marital management skills which foster marital satisfaction.  Such skills include; tolerance and sacrifice, empathy or consideration, and alleviation of soothing. Each person in a marriage has to know what the skills are and to be able to apply them where necessary to make their spouses satisfied in the marriage. Li and Wickrama opine that factors which limit the capacity of spouses to demonstrate these skills result in marital dissatisfaction. Bagwell (2006), after a review of various past literatures founded on interview methodologies, also adds that marital satisfaction is a function of several factors both within and without the spouses in the marriage. According to Bagwell, factors such as demographics; alcoholism or antisocial behaviors; social comparison; economic factors and individual security levels all affect marital satisfaction. Bagwell further purports that these factors directly affect marital satisfaction as they change personal perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes towards marriage. The level of commitment and the passion developed for a marriage. This brings about the different perspective of marital coping in the determination of marital satisfaction.

From the synthesis of these pieces of literature, the following hypotheses are derived:

H1: Marital satisfaction is a function of several factors and is influenced by various factors too.

H3: The internal factors affecting marital satisfaction include tolerance, empathy, and alleviation while the external factors include demographics, stress, and social practices.

Effects of Stress on Marital Satisfaction

From the descriptions given by many of the authors in the first section of the literature review, answering the second research question would depend more on the responses from the primary research than on the secondary study. It has been established that marital satisfaction is a function of several factors, both internal and external. The combination of external and internal factors implies that stress can affect the level of marital satisfaction indirectly through its effects on those factors that define marital satisfaction. By reviewing articles on this subject, however, it will be possible to obtain some starting information on the influence of stress on the marital relationship. This information and the hypothesis generated from it will be instrumental in formulating the interview tool as well as in developing a literature-based expectation for explaining how stress impacts on marital satisfaction.

Randall and Bodenmann (2009) assert that stress is a threat to the longevity and satisfaction. The two authors also trained their research on past literatures whichmay be limited as they have no depiction of first- hand information unless where the past literatures used them.According to Randall and Bodenmann, stress affects the stability of close relationships and can also determine the quality of those relationships. Based on the definition of satisfaction according to Randall and Bodenmann, this description of stress is acceptable. Stress would affect the ability of one individual to meet the expectations on another in the marriage resulting in marital dissatisfaction. A similar opinion is shared by Li and Wickrama (2014). These authors also suggest that stressful events can reduce the level of marital satisfaction. According to Li and Wickrama (2014), the soothing or alleviation skills are closely related to stressful life events and subsequently to marital satisfaction. During stressful periods, the ability of spouses to empathize or soothe others minimizes, hence reducing the level of satisfaction in the marriage.

Jahani et al. (2016) have also recognized the role played by stress in reducing marital satisfaction. According to Jahani et al. (2016), stress occurs due to poor quality of life in any given aspect of living. This implies that for marital satisfaction levels to be raised, there has to be a significant improvement in the quality of life and, subsequently, a reduction in the stress levels. Villa (2013) also posits that marital relationships affect and are influenced by several factors including spirituality, professional performance, and interpersonal elements such as goals and social abilities. These factors are measured through the interactions between partners; the physical and emotional health of partners in the marriage will reflect the same. The absence of peace of mind implies a negative outcome in most of these factors which are associated with marital satisfaction.

Social skills are cited by many scholars as capable of affecting marital statuses regarding their impacts, particularly during stressful moments. For instance, Adib- Hajbaghery, Lofti, and Hosseini (2014) established that there is a significant positive correlation between job stress and marital satisfaction. In the case of nurses, being capable of managing job-related stress effectively can be one of the ways to improve marital satisfaction. Villa (2013) adds that social skills contribute to the ability to manage stress both in the workplace and in the home setting. Practices such as self-assertiveness, reactive self-control, expressionism, and empathy can all help to reduce the stress levels among spouses and thus improve their level of satisfaction in the marriage. Gana and Jakubowska (2016), on the other hand, addressed the aspect of marriage generated stress such as that which results from infertility. According to Gana and Jakubowska, this secondary stress type has a greater impact on the emotional stability of spouses than directly on marital satisfaction. While this may be true, combining this with the description of marital satisfaction as a function of intimacy, commitment, and passion reveal that it may be impossible to achieve these elements without emotional stability.

While most of the authors have mentioned stress as capable of reducing the marital satisfaction of the victim, Bagwell (2006) opines that the impacts of stress on marital satisfaction depend to a large extent on the response accorded to it by the other partner. The quality of the marital relationship during a stressful moment will depend on how the non- stressed partner addresses the stress in their spouse. When the non- stressed individual is maladjusted to the stressful condition, feelings of isolation are bound to arise. The level of depression correlates positively with strategies of avoidance, and this negatively impacts   the relationship (Bagwell, 2006). The latter indicates that as much as people may not recognize the stress in their lives, it ultimately affects the quality and stability of the relationship. The situation leads to the following hypothesis.

H2: The level of stress in a relationship affects the marital satisfaction either directly through its impacts on marital elements or indirectly by affecting the spouse who is not stressed.

The literature review section provides details on what is currently known on the topic and also gives a general perception of the gaps that still exist in literature. For instance, while most of the publications describe the indicators of marital satisfaction and how these are affected by stress, none of them clearly delves into the definition of satisfaction based on the primary experiences of spouses. Consequently, there is a literature gap, which the present study explores to find a clearer description of the problem and to help in emphasizing the cause effect relationship between stress and marital satisfaction.Apart from the existing gap, most of the reviewed literature also focus on the use of a singular study method i.e. some focus entirely on secondary literature review while others focus on primary research methods yet there is need to use a combination of methodologies. This limits the scope of information that would be gained.

Research Methodologies

Research Design and Rationale

The objective of the present study was mainly to determine whether stress resulted in lower marital satisfaction. The latter was to be accomplished by first creating an understanding of what marital satisfaction constituted and what did not contribute to it. Based on the kind of information required to answer the research questions, an exploratory study would be the best fit. For this reason, the study was designed based on a qualitative study approach. The qualitative approach has been confirmed effective where the study is exploratory and based on grounded theory (McLeod, 2008). Qualitative studies provide the researcher with an opportunity to obtain information directly from the first-hand sources. The qualitative approach is non- objective, and if conducted without biases, can result in a depth of information that cannot be obtained from secondary sources.

To make the qualitative study even more beneficial, the data collection approach was selected to be performed through interviews. Interviews, especially the semi-structured interviews as the kind used in the present study, are effective in digging for information from the sources. The semi-structured interviews provide the respondents with the opportunity to use their own words, giving responses in narratives. Consequently, the researcher gains a deep insight into the phenomenon being explored. In comparison with conventional quantitative studies and other approaches to qualitative research, the interview technique also allows the researcher to note ambiguities and contradictions in the data collected from respondents, hence gaining a perception of what the reality is. In the present study, this is an instrumental quality since marriages are quite different as are the people in them. The descriptions may also enable the researcher to understand trends, relationships, and cause-effect connections which would otherwise not be comprehensible from other sources of information (McLeod, 2008).

Participants

The participants for the study will be randomly sampled from the general population within two weeks. A total of 25 people participated, including 12 women and 13 men. This group was considered to be representative of the general married couples’ population due to its diversity regarding ethnicity, age, and gender. The rationale behind this characterization of the sample population is that such sampling will help gain access to as diverse perspectives as possible. While the initial contact to request for participation will be conducted randomly, the main inclusion criteria is that the participants should have been married for at least three years by the time of the interview. To achieve this cut-off, the researcher will focus on approaching individuals who looked at least 30 years of age. The first contact will result in an introduction and explanation of the objective of the study. This will then be followed by the question that will help to determine whether the respondents are married or not. The potential participants will be randomly contacted until the targeted population is achieved. There will be ten white participants out of the total, five blacks, 3 Indians and 7 Hispanics making the total of 25 participants. Each of the individuals should have been married for at least 5 years and they should be of diverse races as possible to be considered credible sources of information on marital satisfaction. The younger population could provide a skewed perception about marital satisfaction as they are more likely to be influenced by infatuation. Those who have stayed   in marriages for quite a long period could also give false hope to younger generations as they have taken longer to learn and have probably accepted most of the flaws of their spouses or resigned to fate.

Instruments

A tentative questionnaire was chosen to be the most relevant instrument for the interview. The questions themselves will be mostly open-ended and informal; hence a semi-structured approach will be utilized. The template contains only eleven questions, yet each question will be used only to initiate communication about a particular subject with the respondents. The first question is meant to be the determinant between inclusion and exclusion, and it is meant to verify how many years the potential respondent had been married. The other questions focus on the impacts of stress on the indicators of marital satisfaction including commitment, passion, and intimacy. The questions also seek information on how stress impacts communication skills in the marital context, how different sources of stress affect the response of the respondent towards the marriage and how they help their spouses deal with stress from outside and from inside. In general, the interviews will attempt to define the boundaries of stress impacts on relationships and the extent to which such stress affects the victims and their spouses.

The interviews will be conducted based on the series of ethical considerations highlighted by McLeod (2008). While conducting the interviews, the data will be recorded only after seeking the permission of the respondent and explaining to them why it was important for the data to be recorded. The potential respondents will also be approached honestly and with politeness and will not be coerced in any way to participate in the interviews. During the actual interviews, respondents will be provided with all the necessary features to feel at ease in the interview environment. They will also be treated with dignity and assured that confidential information, such as their concerns about their marriages, their names or area of residence, would not be revealed to the public. Moreover, the respondents will be given the freedom to avoid answering any questions they deem obtrusive and to report their unwillingness to do so as soon as they decide not to continue with the interview. It will be required that the respondents give information that is objective and non- intrusive.

Measures of Analysis

First Measure: marital satisfaction

The independent variable for the study will, therefore be stress, while the dependent variable will be marital satisfaction. The independent variable would be measured qualitatively based on the definitions provided by the respondents.

Second Measure: Stress

The dependent variable on the other hand will be evaluated based on the summative effects of the different indicators already identified through the literature review. This method of data analysis is referred to as recursive abstraction, and has been confirmed to be effective whereby the study or data collected is based on grounded theory as in the case of the present study (McLeod, 2008).

Data Analysis Plan

After data collection, the next stage in the research will be the data analysis phase. Data analysis in this regard involved making sense of the information obtained from the primary and secondary sources. The information will be analyzed based on themes which were founded in the research questions.  However, the impacts of stress on marital satisfaction will not be examined directly but rather through the interactions between stress and other factors contributing to marital satisfaction including commitment, problem-solving, goal setting and marital management skills. From the interview records, the information will be abstracted into themes which will help to describe the concept of marital satisfaction as per the reports of the participants and also the effects of stress on the quality and stability of marriages from the respondents’ point of view. The data collected will be qualitative and thus will help to obtain exploratory affirmations of the grounded theory that stress results in marital dissatisfaction.

Discussion and Expected Results

The primary research which will be conducted among the 25 respondents is expected to show diverse outcomes relative to what has been presented as per the past works of literature. The hypotheses, though correct to some extent, may not provide specific details about what to expect from the respondents, especially given that the interviews will be open-ended and deep.

H1: Marital satisfaction is a function of several factors and is indicated by various factors too.

The first hypothesis is expected to be true to a large extent. For instance, many of the respondents are bound to include factors such as finances and children as indicators of marital satisfaction. This also depends on the cultural background of the respondents. For instance, in societies characterized by a collectivist culture, it is probable that the respondents would report that communism and care for others constitutes an important element of marital satisfaction. On the other hand, families from individualistic societies would tend to be more inclined towards factors that result in individual gratification such as finances and the ability to take care of others. At a more personal level, however, the respondents are expected to attribute marital satisfaction to factors such as interactions between spouses, communication skills, and social behaviors. It is also unexpected of the respondents to specifically mention elements such as intimacy, passion, and commitment. It is expected that romance would come up in the responses, particularly among the younger couples. This would be basically in response to being asked to explain practices that made them feel more secure in their marriages. In response to indicators, the respondents are expected to mention factors such as irritability, reduced commitment and reduced response to hurt as factors that indicated low marital satisfaction. It will be expected that respondents who feel satisfied with their marriages would have high commitment levels and would choose the same spouse if given a second opportunity. If these responses are received from the respondents, it would imply that the hypothesis that marital satisfaction is a function of several factors and is indicated by several factors is true. It is also expected that the responses would vary widely depending on factors such as cultural backgrounds given the ethnicities of the respondents picked.

H3: The internal factors affecting marital satisfaction include tolerance, empathy, and alleviation while the external factors include demographics, stress, and social practices.

Based on the responses to the first hypothesis, it is expected that factors such as tolerance, empathy, and alleviation would turn up as the issues that influence marital satisfaction. While these factors are internal to the spouses, other factors are external, which also affect marital satisfaction to a large extent. The demographics of the population, social expectations, and the stress levels of individuals would affect their marital relationships and their level of marital satisfaction. For instance, given the diverse range of cultural backgrounds of respondents, it is expected that the answers about the effects of cultures on their marriages would also be different. For individuals married to people with the same cultural background, this does not pose a significant strain on marital relationships. However, where the spouses are from different cultures, their beliefs and values may strain the relationship significantly. Another factor that may arise externally is that of religion, whereby religious differences between spouses result in marital stress and strain. Other external sources of stress and hindrances to marital satisfaction include work stress and social links with other people.

From an internal perspective, anti-social behaviors such as alcoholism, lack of interest in the marriage, and poor communication skills can also affect marital satisfaction. When a spouse incessantly shows negative behavior towards their partners or even fails to meet their emotional needs, it is expected that they would reduce the level of satisfaction of their spouses. This would not only increase stress levels in the marriage but also diminish the capacity of the unstressed member to cope with the stress.

H2: The level of stress in a relationship affects the marital satisfaction either directly through its impacts on marital elements or indirectly by affecting the spouse who is not stressed.

From the primary study results, it is also expected that the results would show that stress affects marital satisfaction negatively. According to most of the reviewed studies and the responses of the participants, it is expected that stress originating from different sources would affect marital satisfaction. When the source of the stress is the marriage itself such as where one of the spouses is infertile, it is expected that the marriage would be less than satisfactory. Such factors can diminish commitment to a marriage, especially in the unstressed spouse. They can also result in feelings of insecurity among the affected spouse hence reducing their level of confidence in the marriage, which is an indicator of the level of satisfaction with the marriage. It is also expected that the respondents in the study would indicate that the level of stress associated with the marriage also affects the ability of the affected individual to empathize with others as it reduces their energy and passion. Stress also affects the capacity to be intimate with one’s spouse hence it is expected that the respondents would say that they are unable to demonstrate intimacy or romance to their spouses.

Conclusion

Marital satisfaction is a result of several factors as evidenced from the works of literature reviewed and the respondents questioned. Among the many issues that affect marital satisfaction, the commitment, passion, and intimacy of the spouses have been recognized as the strongest contributors to general satisfaction in marriage. Stress, on the contrary, affects marital satisfaction negatively, based on its potential impacts on the factors that affect marital satisfaction. Stress affects the ability to practice marriage management skills such as tolerance, empathy, and alleviation, hence is an indirect controller of the degree of marital satisfaction. Controlling stress as in the case of nurses and other organizational employees is thus an important strategy towards reducing stress and subsequently improving the quality of life of the participants and the marital satisfaction. The role of the non- stressed individual in maintaining marital stability and quality, lies in their ability to respond effectively to stress. Failure to practice responding to stress with caution, the stressed individual can deviate from the marriage management skills and training, hence making the non- stressed party unable to deliver his/ her duties effectively.

 

References

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Bagwell, E. K. (2006). Factors influencing marital satisfaction with a specific focus on depression. Eastern Michigan University, Senior Honors Theses no. 38.

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Gana, K., & Jakubowska, S. (2016). The relationship between infertility related stress and emotional distress and marital satisfaction. Journal of Health Psychology, 21(6): 1043- 1054.

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McLeod, S. (2008). Qualitative vs. quantitative. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/qualitative-quantitative.html

Randall, A. K., & Bodenmann, G. (2009). The role of stress in close relationships and marital satisfaction.Clinical Psychology Review, 29(2): 105- 115.

Villa, M. B. (2013). Marital satisfaction: The role of social skills of husbands and wives. Paidéia (Ribeirão Preto), 23(56): 379-388.