Cortisol responses to marital conflict depend on marital interaction quality

Abstract

A sample of 80 couples were videotaped discussing a marital conflict and were then grouped in 3 types according to their interaction behavior: both partners displaying predominantly negative behavior (N = 36 couples); both partners showing positive behavior (N = 26); and couples showing a symmetric behavior (one positive, one negative; N = 16). Positive or negative in this context refers to the empirically defined quality of speaker and listener skills by the Kategoriensystem Partnerschaftlicher Interaktion. Psychophysiological responses were measured 5 times, both before and after the conflict discussion. Participants rated their overall marital quality, the number of marital problems, and their actual cognitions and emotions. Overall responses to the conflict revealed a greater cortisol response in women than in men. Couples grouped according to their interaction style showed significant differences in cortisol responses: In couples with positive interaction, cortisol increased markedly, whereas couples with negative interaction showed a nonresponse, that is, a slight decrease expected with diurnal variation, although they rated the actual conflict discussion as “stressful” like the other groups of couples. We conclude that marital interaction directly affects physiological responses to a conflict depending on interaction quality.

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Correspondence to Gabriele Fehm-Wolfsdorf or Thomas Groth or Andrea Kaiser or Kurt Hahlweg.

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Fehm-Wolfsdorf, G., Groth, T., Kaiser, A. et al. Cortisol responses to marital conflict depend on marital interaction quality. Int. J. Behav. Med. 6, 207 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327558ijbm0603_1

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Key words

  • Psychoneuroendocrinology
  • Cortisol
  • blood pressure (BP)
  • couples interaction
  • negative interaction behavior