Experience and expression of emotions in marital conflict : an attachment theory perspective

Özen, Ayça
The current study aims to explore the potential mediating role of emotional experiences and expression during conflictual situations in marital relationships. Past studies have documented a strong relationship between attachment dimensions and/or styles and relationship satisfaction. It was also shown that negative emotions and dysfunctional and destructive expression of emotions have detrimental effect on marital functioning. The current study aims to empirically tie these two areas of research by exploring the mediating role of emotional experience and expression in the relationship between attachment dimensions (i.e., attachment anxiety and avoidance) and marital adjustment of couples using the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM, Kashy & Kenny, 2000). It was expected that attachment dimensions of wives and husbands would predict the experience of three negative emotions, namely, anger, sadness, and guilt and destructive expression of these emotions, and in turn, these emotions would predict both partners’ marital dissatisfaction. Initially, two pilot studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods were conducted to see whether there were culture-specific ways of emotional experience and expression in Turkish cultural context. The findings confirmed the reliability and validity of the three separate emotional experiences scales assessing anger, sadness, and guilt. Based on the findings of the initial studies, the main study involving a sample of 167 married couples who were in the early years of their marriages was conducted. Couples separately completed multiple measures of adult attachment and experience and expression of emotions, and marital quality. Mediating effects of emotional experience and expression in the relationship between the attachment dimensions and marital adjustment were tested utilizing a series of path analyses using the APIM analyses. The results revealed that attachment avoidance, rather than attachment anxiety, of both wives and husbands was the strongest predictor of own and partners’ marital adjustment in the conflictual situations. In terms of emotional experience, wives’ regret and husbands’ anger were the marker mediating emotions. Regarding anger expression, wives’ and husbands’ distributive aggression styles mediated the relationship between attachment dimensions and marital adjustment. Analyses on sadness expression yielded only one significant actor mediation effect suggesting that avoidant husbands used more solitude/negative behavior, and this in turn, decreased their marital adjustment. However, guilt expression styles of wives and husbands did not mediate the relationship between attachment dimensions and marital adjustment of both partners. The current study extended the previous studies by providing evidence on the influence of the each partner’s attachment orientation on the emotional experience and expression during marital conflict and marital adjustment of both spouses. The implications of the study for theory, practice, and future research were discussed.


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Citation Formats
A. Özen, “Experience and expression of emotions in marital conflict : an attachment theory perspective,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2012.