Applied Research in Quality of Life

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 37–58 | Cite as

The Dyadic Nature of Relationships: Relationship Satisfaction among Married and Cohabiting Couples

  • Deniz YucelEmail author


Using data from the 2010 Married and Cohabiting Couples survey, this study tests the correlates of relationship satisfaction among 752 married couples and 323 cohabiting couples, using the social exchange framework and the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM). Specifically, it considers how conflict in work-family balance, fairness in the division of paid and unpaid work at home, and prior relationship history are associated with relationship satisfaction. Dyadic data analysis with structural equation modeling is used to determine the respective contributions of each respondent’s predictors (i.e., actor effects) and his/her spouse’s or partner’s predictors (i.e., partner effects). No gender differences in actor and partner effects emerge, yet the actor and partner effects remain distinct for both groups. Fairness in the division of paid and unpaid work at home, as well as less conflict in balancing work and family responsibilities, act as rewards for both married and cohabiting couples. Prior relationship history does not have any significant actor effects for either group, but the partner effects are significant for cohabiting couples. Some of these results suggest that relationship dynamics differ between married and cohabiting couples. Specifically, the negative partner effects of both prior relationship history and conflict in work-family balance on relationship satisfaction are significantly stronger among cohabiting couples than among married couples.


Relationship satisfaction Dyadic data analysis Married couples Cohabiting couples 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Allen, T. D., Herst, D. E., Bruck, C. S., & Sutton, M. (2000). Consequences associated with work–to–family conflict: a review and agenda for future research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 278–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison, P. D. (2002). Missing data. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Axinn, W. G., & Thornton, A. (1992). The relationship between cohabitation and divorce: Selectivity or causality? Demography, 29(3), 357–374.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1976). Social learning theory. In J. T. Spence, R. C. Carson, & J. W. Thibaut (Eds.), Behavioral approaches to therapy (pp. 1–46). Morristown: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blackwell, D. L., & Lichter, D. T. (2000). Mate selection among married and cohabiting couples. Journal of Family Issues, 21, 275–302.Google Scholar
  6. Blackwell, D. L., & Lichter, D. T. (2004). Homogamy among dating, cohabiting, and married couples. Sociological Quarterly, 45, 719–737.Google Scholar
  7. Blair, S. L. (1998). Work roles, domestic roles and marital quality: perceptions of fairness among dual-earner couples. Social Justice Research, 11, 313–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples: Money, work, sex. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  10. Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: a decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 964–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brines, J., & Joyner, K. (1999). The ties that bind: principles of cohesion in cohabitation and marriage. American Sociological Review, 64, 333–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, S. L. (2000). Union transitions among cohabitors: The significance of relationship assessments and expectations. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 833–846.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, S. L. (2003). Relationship quality dynamics of cohabiting unions. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 583–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, S. L. (2004). Moving from cohabitation to marriage: effects on relationship quality. Social Science Research, 33, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brown, S. L., & Booth, A. (1996). Cohabitation versus marriage: a comparison of relationship quality. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 668–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Brown, S. L., & Bulanda, J. R. (2008). Relationship violence in young adulthood: a comparison of daters, cohabitors, and marrieds. Social Science Research, 37, 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Brown, S. L., & Kawamura, S. (2010). Relationship quality among cohabitors and marrieds in older adulthood. Social Science Research, 39(5), 777–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, S. L., Manning, W. D., & Payne, K. K. (2015). Relationship quality among cohabiting versus married couples. Journal of Family Issues. doi: 10.1177/0192513X15622236.Google Scholar
  19. Byrne, B. M. (2013). Structural equation modeling with AMOS: basic concepts, applications, and programming. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Carroll, S. J., Hill, E. J., Yorgason, J. B., Larson, J. H., & Sandberg, J. G. (2013). Couple communication as a mediator between work-family conflict and marital satisfaction. Contemporary Family Therapy, 35, 530–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Casper, L., & Bianchi, S. (2002). Continuity and change in the American family. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Cherlin, A. (2004). The deinstitutionalisation of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 848–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Christopher, F. S., & Sprecher, S. (2000). Sexuality in marriage, dating, and other relationships: a decade review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 999–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Clements, M. L., Cordova, A. D., Markman, H. J., & Laurenceau, J. (1997). The erosion of marital satisfaction over time and how to prevent it. In R. J. Sternberg & M. Hojjat (Eds.), Satisfaction in close relationships (pp. 335–355). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  25. Cook, W. L., & Kenny, D. A. (2005). The actor–partner interdependence model: a model of bidirectional effects in developmental studies. International Journal of Behavior Development, 29, 101–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Couper, M. P. (2000). Web surveys: a review of issues and approaches. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64, 464–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Croyle, K. L., & Waltz, J. (2002). Emotional awareness and couples’ relationship satisfaction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28, 435–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Davila, J., Karney, B. R., Hall, T. W., & Bradbury, T. N. (2003). Depressive symptoms and marital satisfaction: within–subject associations and the moderating effects of gender and neuroticism. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 557–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2009). Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: the tailored design method (3rd ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  30. Dush, C. M. K., Taylor, M. G., & Kroeger, R. A. (2008). Marital happiness and psychological well-being across the life course. Family Relations, 57, 211–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (2001). The Christchurch health and development study: review of findings on child and adolescent mental health. Australian and New Zealand. Journal of Psychiatry, 35, 287–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ford, M., Heinen, B., & Langkamer, K. (2007). Work and family satisfaction and conflict: a meta-analysis of cross-domain relations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 57–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fowers, B. J., & Olson, D. H. (1993). ENRICH marital satisfaction scale: a brief research and clinical tool. Journal of Family Psychology, 7, 176–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Frisco, M., & Williams, K. (2003). Perceived housework equity, marital happiness, and divorce in dual–earner households. Journal of Family Issues, 24(1), 51–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gonzalez, R., & Griffin, D. (1997). On the statistics of interdependence: treating dyadic data with respect. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships (pp. 271–302). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  36. Gonzalez, R., & Griffin, D. (1999). The correlational analysis of dyad-level data in the distinguishable case. Personal Relationships, 6, 449–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Greenstein, T. (1996). Gender ideology and perceptions of the fairness of the division of household labor: effects on marital quality. Social Forces, 74, 1029–1042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Halpern-Meekin, S., Manning, W. D., Giordano, P. C., & Longmore, M. A. (2013). Relationship churning, physical violence, and verbal abuse in young adult relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 2–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hansen, T., Moum, T., & Shapiro, A. (2007). Relational and individual well-being among cohabitors and married individuals in midlife: recent trends from Norway. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 910–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hardie, J. H., & Lucas, A. (2010). Economic factors and relationship quality among young couples: comparing cohabitation and marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(5), 1141–1154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hawkins, D. N., & Booth, A. (2005). Unhappily ever after: effects of long-term, low-quality marriages on well-being. Social Forces, 84(1), 451–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Heuveline, P., & Timberlake, J. M. (2004). The role of cohabitation in family formation: the United States in comparative perspective. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 66, 1214–1230.Google Scholar
  43. Hohmann-Marriott, B. E., & Amato, P. (2008). Relationship quality in interethnic marriages and cohabitations. Social Forces, 87, 825–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Johnson, H. A., Zabriskie, R. B., & Hill, B. (2006). The contribution of couple leisure involvement, leisure time, and leisure satisfaction to marital satisfaction. Marriage and Family Review, 40(1), 69–91.Google Scholar
  45. Kaufman, G. (2000). Do gender role attitudes matter? Family formation and dissolution among traditional and egalitarian men and women. Journal of Family Issues, 21, 128–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kenny, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (1999). Partner effects in relationship research: conceptual issues, analytic difficulties, and illustrations. Personal Relationships, 6, 433–448.Google Scholar
  47. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (2006). Dyadic data analysis. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  48. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Newton, T. L. (2001). Marriage and health: his and hers. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 472–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kiernan, K. (2001). The rise of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage in Western Europe. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 15(1), 1–21.Google Scholar
  50. Kiernan, K. (2002). Cohabitation in Western Europe: Trends, issues, and implications. In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Just living together: Implications of cohabitation on families, children, and social policy (pp. 3–31). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  51. Knowledge Networks. (2008). KnowledgePanel. .Retrieved from
  52. Kurdek, L. A. (1998). Relationship outcomes and their predictors: longitudinal evidence from heterosexual married, gay cohabiting, and lesbian cohabiting couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60, 553–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kurdek, L. A. (2004). Are gay and lesbian cohabiting couples really different from heterosexual married couples? Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 880–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kurdek, L. A. (2007). The allocation of household labor by partners in gay and lesbian couples. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 132–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kurdek, L. A., & Schmitt, J. P. (1986). Relationship quality of partners in heterosexual married, heterosexual cohabiting, and gay and lesbian relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 711–720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lamb, K. A., Lee, G. R., & DeMaris, A. (2003). Union formation and depression: selection and relationship effects. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 953–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Leiblum, S. R. (2004). Gay marriage: notes from North America. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19, 361–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Levinger, G., & Snoek, J. D. (1972). Attraction relationship: a new look at interpersonal attraction. Morristown: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  59. Lichter, D. T., & Carmalt, J. H. (2009). Religion and marital quality among low-income couples. Social Science Research, 38, 186–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Little, R. J. A. (1992). Regression with missing X’s: a review. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 87, 1227–1237.Google Scholar
  61. Lofquist, D., Lugaila, T., O’Connell, M., & Feliz, S. (2012). Households and families: 2010: 2010 Census briefs (C2010BR-14). Retrieved from cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf.
  62. Manning, W. D. (2015). Cohabitation and child well-being. Future of Children, 25, 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Michel, J. S., Mitchelson, J. K., Kotrba, L. M., LeBreton, J. L., & Baltes, B. B. (2009). A comparative test of work–family conflict models and critical examination of work-family linkages. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74, 199–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mirecki, R. M., Brimhall, A. S., & Bramesfeld, K. D. (2013). Communication during conflict: differences between individuals in first and second marriages. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 54, 197–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nakonezny, P., & Denton, W. (2008). Marital relationships: a social exchange theory perspective. American Journal of Family Therapy, 36(5), 402–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nock, S. L. (1995). A comparison of marriages and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Previti, D., & Amato, P. R. (2003). Why stay married? Rewards, barriers, and marital stability. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 561–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Proulx, C., Helms, H., & Buehler, C. (2007). Marital quality and personal well–being: a Meta–analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(3), 576–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Qian, Z. (2013). Divergent paths of American families. Retrieved from Projects/Diversity/Data/Report/report09112013.pdf.
  70. Rosenfeld, M. J., & Kim, B.-S. (2005). The independence of young adults and the rise of interracial and same-sex unions. American Sociological Review, 70, 541–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sassler, S., & Goldscheider, F. (2004). Revisiting Jane Austen's theory of marriage timing: changes in union formation among American men in the late twentieth century. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 139–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sassler, S., & McNally, J. (2003). Cohabiting couples' economic circumstances and union transitions: a re–examination using multiple imputation methods. Social Science Research, 32, 553–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. (2012). The tempo of sexual activity and later relationship quality. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 708–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schoen, R., & Weinick, R. M. (1993). Partner choice in marriages and cohabitations. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 408–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schwartz, C. R. (2010). Pathways to educational homogamy in marital and cohabiting unions. Demography, 47, 735–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Simon, R. W. (2002). Revisiting the relationships among gender, marital status, and mental health. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 1065–1098.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Skinner, K. B., Bahr, S. J., Crane, D. R., & Call, V. R. A. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, and remarriage: a comparison of relationship quality over time. Journal of Family Issues, 23, 74–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Smock, P. J., & Gupta, S. (2002). Cohabitation in contemporary North America. In A. Booth & A. Crouter (Eds.), Just living together: implications for children, families, and public policy (pp. 53–84). Mahwah: Lawrence–Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  79. Smock, P., & Manning, W. (2004). Living together unmarried in the United States: demographic perspectives and implications for family policy. Law & Policy, 26(1), 87–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Stafford, L., Kline, S. L., & Rankin, C. T. (2004). Married individuals, cohabitors, and cohabitors who marry: a longitudinal study of relational and individual well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 231–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Whitton, S. (2002). Communication, conflict, and commitment: insights on the foundations of relationship success from a national survey. Family Process, 41, 659–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., & Markman, H. J. (2004). Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or nonmarital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 496–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Stevens, D., Kiger, G., & Riley, P. J. (2001). Working hard and hardly working: domestic labor and marital satisfaction among dual earner couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 514–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Stevens, D. P., Kiger, G., & Riley, P. J. (2002). Coming unglued? Workplace characteristics, work satisfaction, and family cohesion. Social Behavior and Personality, 30, 289–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tach, L., & Halpern-Meekin, S. (2009). How does premarital cohabitation affect trajectories of marital quality? Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 298–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Taylor, R. J., Brown, E., Chatters, L. M., & Lincoln, K. D. (2012). Extended family support and relationship satisfaction among married, cohabitating and romantically involved African Americans and black Caribbeans. Journal of African American Studies, 16, 373–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Teachman, J. D., Polonko, K. A., & Scanzoni, J. (1999). Demography and families. In M. B. Sussman, S. K. Steinmertz, & G. W. Peterson (Eds.), Handbook of marriage and the family (pp. 37–77). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  88. Testa, M., & Leonard, K. E. (2001). The impact of marital aggression on women’s psychological and marital functioning in a newlywed sample. Journal of Family Violence, 16, 115–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  90. Thomson, E., & Colella, U. (1992). Cohabitation and marital stability: Quality or commitment? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54(2), 259–267.Google Scholar
  91. Vespa, J. (2014). Historical trends in the marital intentions of one-time and serial cohabitors. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 207–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wiik, K. A., Bernhardt, E., & Noack, T. (2009). A study of commitment and relationship quality in Sweden and Norway. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 465–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wilcox, W. B., & Nock, S. L. (2006). What’s love got to do with it? Equality, equity, commitment and women’s marital quality. Social Forces, 84, 1321–1345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wilcox, W. B., Doherty, W. J., Fisher, H., Galston, W., Glenn, N. D., Gottman, J., et al. (2005). Why marriage matters: twenty-six conclusions from the social sciences. New York: Institute for American Values.Google Scholar
  95. Woods, L. N., & Emery, R. E. (2002). The cohabitation effect on divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 37, 101–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Yabiku, S. T., & Gager, C. T. (2009). Sexual frequency and the stability of marital and cohabiting unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 983–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Yucel, D., & Gassanov, M. A. (2010). Exploring actor and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction among married couples. Social Science Research, 39(5), 725–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Yucel, D., & Koydemir, S. (2015). Predictors of marital satisfaction in North Cyprus: exploring the gender effects. Journal of Family Studies, 21(2), 120–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWilliam Paterson University of New JerseyWayneUSA

Personalised recommendations