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Emotion. 2014 Feb;14(1):130-44. doi: 10.1037/a0034272. Epub 2013 Nov 4.

Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: more than a wives' tale.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University.
School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.


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 behavior, and physiological arousal) after negative emotion events. Data were analyzed using actor-partner interdependence modeling. Findings showed that (a) greater downregulation of wives' negative experience and behavior predicted greater marital satisfaction for wives and husbands concurrently and (b) greater downregulation of wives' negative behavior 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.

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