Evaluating Benevolent Cognitions as a Strategy of Relationship Maintenance: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … But It’s NOT All Small Stuff.”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
To maintain intimate relationships in the face of negative experiences, many recommend cognitive strategies that minimize the implications of those experiences for global evaluations of the relationship. But are such strategies always adaptive? Suggesting otherwise, 2 longitudinal studies spanning the 1st 4 years of 251 new marriages revealed that the effects of benevolent cognitions on relationship development depended on the initial levels of negativity in the relationship. Cross-sectionally, the tendency to make positive attributions or otherwise disengage global evaluations of the relationship from negative experiences was associated with higher levels of satisfaction in marriages characterized by more frequent negative behavior and more severe problems. Longitudinally, in contrast, such strategies only demonstrated benefits to healthier marriages, whereas they predicted steeper declines in satisfaction among spouses in more troubled marriages by allowing marital problems to worsen over time. These findings highlight the limits of purely cognitive theories of relationship maintenance and suggest that widely recommended strategies for improving relationships may harm vulnerable couples by weakening their motivations to address their problems directly.
American Psychological Association
attributions, marriage, longitudinal, positive illusions, enhancement
McNulty, James K.; O'Mara, Erin M.; and Karney, Benjamin R., "Evaluating Benevolent Cognitions as a Strategy of Relationship Maintenance: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … But It’s NOT All Small Stuff.”" (2008). Psychology Faculty Publications. 48.