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J Health Soc Behav. 1998 Jun;39(2):124-36.

How the negative and positive aspects of partner relationships affect the mental health of young married people.

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  • 1Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903-5070, USA.


The relationship between marriage and positive mental health is one of the most established findings in the stress literature. Few studies, however, examine the problematic as well as the supportive impacts of marriage on mental health. This paper uses a cohort of young adults who were sampled at 18, 21, or 24 years of age and resampled seven years later when they were married at 25, 28, or 31. It examines what factors are associated with the quality of marital relationships, the relative impact of and balance between negative and positive partner relationships on mental health, and sex differences in the determinants and outcomes of marital quality. The results indicate that the structural strains of parenthood and financial need and their interaction predict problematic and supportive spousal relationships and the difference in the levels of these two relationships. Problematic relationships with spouses have considerably stronger impacts than supportive relationships on depression. However, the difference between the amounts of supportive and problematic relationships with spouses has a greater impact on mental health than levels of either considered separately. Finally, relational quality has a greater impact on the mental health of wives than husbands. These findings indicate the importance of considering how marriage affects mental health in complex, rather than in straightforward, ways.

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