Attributional flexibility and relationship functioning in African-American married couples
Dreifuss, Jessica Anne
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Decades of research on attributions in marriage have found that responding to negative partner behavior by making negative, conflict-promoting attributions is associated with marital distress, while making benign or benevolent attributions is associated with marital satisfaction. Although true for minor problems that occur in a relationship, blindly making benign attributions may be maladaptive in responding to recurrent, severe negative partner behavior. These attributions are unresponsive to context and may lead couples to fail to address severe problems, allowing them to grow worse over time. Rather, flexibility in assigning attributions may be important in establishing and maintaining marital satisfaction. In the current study, 430 married African-American couples completed various self-report questionnaires, and results demonstrated that both linear and quadratic components of attributional flexibility significantly predicted aspects of relationship functioning, including marital satisfaction, forgiveness, and ineffective arguing, although many findings were in the direction opposite to that hypothesized. As hypothesized regarding the quadratic relationship, better relationship outcomes were associated with those highest or lowest in attributional flexibility. Additionally, higher attributional flexibility was associated with greater situation-specific, but not dispositional, forgiveness. The results are discussed in the context of contextual cognitive processing in marital interaction.