Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Romantic disengagement is a disturbingly prevalent yet understudied cause of marital distress and dissolution. Existing research on disengagement has been primarily descriptive and limited by reliance on retrospective reports from already disengaged spouses. Theoretically informed prospective research to elucidate the process through which some spouses become increasingly disengaged from their partners over time is necessary to facilitate clinical intervention efforts. Thus the purpose of this research was to propose a theoretically informed model of the process of romantic disengagement and then to perform preliminary tests of pieces of the model. The model was tested in a sample of 103 married couples assessed six times over their first seven years of marriage.
Pieces of the model that were tested included (1) the implication that avoidant and disengaging behaviors toward one's partner, particularly during times of need or increased stress (such as marital conflict interactions), are indicators of a process of romantic disengagement, (2) that predispositional and contextual factors interact to predict a spouse's greater tendency to behave avoidantly during couple interactions, and (3) that spouses tendency to be more avoidant with his or her partner later in marriage will be greater to the extent that avoidance is reinforced early in marriage. First, I examined whether avoidant behavior during marital conflict contributes to a process of romantic disengagement as evidenced by declines in trust and intimacy and declines in marital satisfaction. Consistent with hypotheses, I found higher conflict avoidance was associated with declines in trust and intimacy and declines in marital satisfaction. Second, I tested two predispositional (i.e., spouses' attachment avoidance and avoidant coping style) and two contextual factors (spouses' role during support interactions, and the partner's negative affect) that were expected to interact to predict whether spouses behave avoidantly during specific couple interactions. I found mixed support for hypotheses depending on spouse and interaction type. Specifically, during conflict interactions, husbands and wives with higher attachment avoidance, and wives with more avoidant coping styles, behaved more avoidantly to the extent that their partners were higher in negative affect. During supportive transactions, husbands with more avoidant coping styles were more disengaged to the extent that their wives were higher in negative affect. Third, I tested my hypothesis that a spouse will be more avoidant with his or her partner later in marriage to the extent that avoidance is reinforced early in marriage. I found partial support for this hypothesis. Husbands' disengagement during conflict interactions interacted with improved mood post-interaction to predict husbands' disengagement across interactions at 7 years of marriage. In summary, this research presents an integrated theoretical model of romantic disengagement and provides preliminary support for aspects of the model.
Copyright 2010 Robin Ann Barry
Barry, Robin Ann. "Romantic disengagement as a developmental process that contributes to marital distress and decline." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.