, Volume 15, Issue 1-2, pp 1-20

The impact of gender and sex-role orientation on responses to dissatisfaction in close relationships

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Three studies were designed to examine the relationships among gender, sex role orientation, and responses to dissatisfaction in close relationships. Four ways of reacting to dissatisfaction were explored: (a) exit — ending or threatening to end the relationship; (b) voice — activity and constructively attempting to improve conditions; (c) loyalty — passively but optimistically waiting for conditions to improve; and (d) neglect — passively allowing conditions to deteriorate. Study 1 assessed generalized responses among university students; Study 2 assessed generalized responses among adults residing in the local community; and Study 3 assessed response tendencies among lesbian, gay male, and heterosexual women and men. Greater psychological femininity was consistently associated with greater tendencies to respond to relationship problems with voice and loyalty. However, there was little evidence of a link between level of femininity and tendencies to respond with exit and neglect. Greater psychological masculinity was associated with lesser tendencies toward voice and loyalty, and there was some evidence of a link between high psychological masculinity and tendencies toward exit and neglect. Gender was not consistently related to response tendencies, though there was very weak evidence that in comparison to females, males may be more likely to engage in exit and neglect responses.

The authors wish to express their gratitude to Randall James, Chip Mainous, and Leisa Maxwell for their help in conducting these studies, and to the Gay and Lesbian University Students Organization for their help in conducting Study 3. We also thank Dr. David Lowery for useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.