Implications of Relationship Power Processes for Future Psychopathology and Partner Violence

Miga, Erin Marie, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Allen, Joseph, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

One mechanism that has been consistently linked with relationship distress is power discrepancy in intimate relationships. However, conceptualizations of power in the extant literature are often confusing, inconsistent, and lack direct implications for couple intervention. The current study examined relations between videotaped observations of Christensen's Demand-Withdraw and Gottman's Rejection of Influence patterns during partner conflict and partner aggression and depressive symptoms one year later, across two distinct community samples. Sample 1 is comprised of 87 dating couples (mean age: 21, 43% minority). Sample 2 is comprised of 114 newlywed couples (mean age: 27.19, 72% minority). It was hypothesized that power struggles would be associated with increases in depressive symptoms, greater partner aggression, and relationship separation. Results indicated that engaging in either role in each power sequence (demander/withdrawer; attempter/rejecter) is associated with intrapsychic and relationship distress over time, across both dating and marital relationships. While main effects between power dynamics and psychopathological outcomes were rarely found, significant moderating effects indicate that links between power patterns and aggression are strongest for the African American dating couples, and individuals with high attachment anxiety. Further, female attempt-male rejection of influence predicted increases in female and male internalizing distress, and male aggressive behaviors. Associations between observed power dynamics and increases in both aggression and depression over time were found for Caucasian, and not Latino, husbands. Finally, expressed positive affect in the context of conflict was generally found to exacerbate the relation between power dynamics and pathology, rather than serve as a buffer, as  3 predicted. Future directions include gaining an understanding of the underlying function and intent of the expressed affect, as differences in cultural interpretation and relationship expectations may help to explain why expressed power dynamics put some sub-groups more at risk for pathological outcomes than others. Findings suggest the importance of updating current, female-centered models of depression to include factors such as male power negotiation, anxious attachment styles, and ethnic minority status.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
relationship distress, aggression, depression
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