Emotion regulation is generally thought to be a critical ingredient for successful interpersonal relationships. Ironically, few studies have investigated the link between how well spouses regulate emotion and how satisfied they are with their marriages. We utilized data from a 13-year, 3-wave longitudinal study of middle-aged (40-50 years old) and older (60-70 years old) long-term married couples, focusing on the associations between downregulation of negative emotion (measured during discussions of an area of marital conflict at Wave 1) and marital satisfaction (measured at all 3 waves). Downregulation of negative emotion was assessed by determining how quickly spouses reduced signs of negative emotion (in emotional experience, emotional behaviour, and physiological arousal) after negative emotion events. Data were analyzed using actor-partner interdependence modelling. Findings showed that (a) greater downregulation of wives’ negative experience and behaviour predicted greater marital satisfaction for wives and husbands concurrently and (b) greater downregulation of wives’ negative behaviour predicted increases in wives’ marital satisfaction longitudinally. Wives’ use of constructive communication (measured between Waves 1 and 2) mediated the longitudinal associations. These results show the benefits of wives’ downregulation of negative emotion during conflict for marital satisfaction and point to wives’ constructive communication as a mediating pathway. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
On one level, this study’s very existence is basically silly — like a Ph.D. level researcher, after years of study, finally concluding that water is wet and fish swim.
The study simply states that marriages where spouses feel their negative emotions and then say to themselves, “Yes, I do feel like strangling him/her but that feeling in no way has to determine my actions. I can calm down and express my emotions rather than acting them out (screaming, yelling, threats, cold war tactics, mannerisms, facial expressions etc) on the other person,” are marriages where both persons end up much happier.
But, on another level, it absolutely needed to be done. And, that it needed to be done is one of the most severe indictments our relational culture could ever experience.
If you step back and think about it, its very existence questions whether we, any longer, have any idea how to relate to ourselves.