For spouses who tend to make these sorts of charitable explanations for their partner’s disappointing or irritating behaviors, global evaluations of the marriage remain relatively stable from day to day even when perceptions of specific aspects of the relationship are fluctuating.
For spouses who make less charitable explanations, blaming each other for faults and missteps, specific perceptions and global evaluations are more closely linked, such that the entire marriage seems less rewarding on days when specific elements are bad and the entire marriage seems more rewarding on days when specific elements are good (Mc Nulty & Karney, 2001).
Second, maintaining a relationship takes energy, and in some contexts that energy is in short supply.
It is not enough that couples have the ability to address problems effectively if they lack the capacity to exercise those abilities in the moment. The dynamic structure of relationship perceptions: Differential importance as a strategy of relationship maintenance.
Unfortunately, in the context of stress, even couples who are normally effective at maintaining their relationships may find it difficult to do so. APA maintains an archive of our published material throughout our websites.
To evaluate this possibility, recently married couples were asked about the kinds of explanations they made for each other’s negative behaviors every six months for the first four years of their marriages (Neff & Karney, 2004). Attributions in marriage: Integrating specific and global evaluations of a relationship. From time to time, you may come across a page that includes outdated science or missing details that could be improved.Over time, as specific aspects of the relationship change, with some parts becoming more positive and some becoming more negative, the couples who stay happiest overall are the ones who change their beliefs about what is important in their relationships accordingly, deciding that whatever aspects of the marriage have declined must not be so important after all (Neff & Karney, 2003).As a consequence of this continued process of selective attention, global evaluations of a marriage tend to be pretty stable from day to day, as these are the evaluations we are motivated to protect, but perceptions of specific aspects of the marriage tend to vary, more positive on good days and less positive on bad days (Mc Nulty & Karney, 2001).One way spouses can do this is by generating explanations for a spouse’s failings that limit any broader implications those failings may have.For example, if my spouse is distant and withdrawn one evening, deciding that my spouse’s behavior is a symptom of a difficult day at work (rather than a sign of a lack of interest in me) means that the behavior has no global implications for my marriage.In most cases, this represents a drastic and unwanted change in a highly valued belief, a change that is emotionally and financially costly to both members of the couple.Even in marriages that remain intact, newlyweds’ initially high levels of marital satisfaction tend to decline over time (Van Laningham, Johnson, & Amato, 2001). How is it that marital satisfaction declines so frequently, despite our best efforts to hold on to the positive feelings that motivate marriage in the first place?In other words, making charitable explanations severs the link between specific negative perceptions and global evaluation of the marriage, leaving the global evaluations more resilient.Couples who are able to acknowledge their partner’s faults while maintaining positive views of their marriage overall have more stable satisfaction over time (Karney & Bradbury, 2000) and they are less likely to divorce in the early years of marriage (Neff & Karney, 2005). If this sort of integration is so beneficial, and if happy newlyweds are already doing it, why do newlyweds’ initially high levels of marital satisfaction nevertheless decline so frequently?So what happens to those less positive specific perceptions? Even happy newlyweds readily acknowledge that their partners are not perfect in every way (Neff & Karney, 2005).Staying positive about the relationship requires that spouses find ways to integrate their perceptions of specific problems and disappointments within an overall positive view of the marriage.