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J Sex Marital Ther. 2011;37(2):94-103. doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2011.547352.

Marital satisfaction and communication behaviors during sexual and nonsexual conflict discussions in newlywed couples: a pilot study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. rehman@uwaterloo.ca


The way couples communicate during conflict discussions has been found to be a reliable predictor of marital satisfaction. However, in previous research, there has been little experimental control over the selection of topics. The present study examined, in a sample of 15 newlywed couples, whether affective displays during the discussion of a sexual and a nonsexual conflict topic differentially predict current marital satisfaction. Communication behaviors were coded using an adaptation of the Specific Affect Coding System, resulting in composite "negative behavior" and "positive behavior" categories. Data were analyzed using multilevel modeling. Negative behaviors displayed during the nonsexual conflict discussions were not significantly related to concurrent self-reported relationship satisfaction. In contrast, for wives, negative behaviors displayed during the discussion of a sexual problem were significantly related to lower levels of relationship satisfaction. For the sexual and nonsexual conflict discussions, positive behaviors were positively associated with relationship satisfaction, although this effect did not reach statistical significance. Overall, the authors' findings emphasize the importance of incorporating sexual variables in the study of marriage. Furthermore, their study represents an important step in recognizing that marital research benefits from an examination of specific topics of conflict as a factor to consider in studies of marital functioning.

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