A dynamic systems approach to understanding emotion communication processes during romantic relationship conflict
Loucks, Laura Alexander
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The present study examined relations among romantic relationship functioning and couple emotion communication processes, including 1) observed emotion disclosure, and 2) dyadic observed affect (i.e., positive, negative, neutral affect for each partner across time), as measured by State Space Grids (SSG), a dynamic systems analysis (Hollenstein, 2013). Observational and self-report data were collected for 60 heterosexual dating couples. Results indicated that negative reciprocity as an attractor state was negatively related to both self-reported and observed indicators of romantic relationship functioning. Emotion disclosure was not related to either dyadic observed affect, or dyadic observed affect depending on the level of support/validation during conflict. Another goal was to examine whether childhood emotional maltreatment was associated with problematic dyadic observed affect, depending on levels of emotion disclosure and support/validation during conflict; hypotheses were not supported. Results build upon literature with married couples (e.g., Gottman & Levenson, 1992), finding that a negative reciprocity attractor state increases risk for relationship distress within young adult couples. Programs designed to promote adaptive affective expression within young couples have potential to mitigate risk for recurrent problematic relationships and associated distress.