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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2004 Feb;30(2):134-48.

How does context affect intimate relationships? linking external stress and cognitive processes within marriage.

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Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-2250, USA.


Stressors external to the marriage frequently affect the way spouses evaluate their marital quality. To date, however, understanding of the interplay between external stress and internal relationship processes has been limited in two ways. First, research has generally examined only the short-term consequences of stress. Second, the mechanisms through which external stressors influence relationship outcomes are unclear. This study addressed both limitations by examining relationship cognitions that may mediate the effects of external stress throughout 4 years of marriage. Analyses confirmed that stressful experiences were associated with the trajectory of marital quality overtime. Furthermore, both the content and the organization of spouses' specific relationship cognitions mediated this effect. That is, stress negatively influenced the nature of spouses' marital perceptions as well as the way spouses interpreted and processed those perceptions. These findings draw attention to ways that the context of relationships shapes and constrains relationship processes.

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