Predicting relationship stability among midlife African American couples
Published on Oct 17, 2011in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
· DOI :10.1037/A0025874
Relatively little is known about factors that contribute to relationship satisfaction and stability among African American couples. Most studies of African American couples have been comparative across racial and ethnic groups. Notably lacking are studies examining predictors of relationship stability within samples of African Americans (Bryant et al., 2010). An understanding of factors that promote relationship stability among African American couples is important for guiding policies and intervention strategies to avoid the pain of dissolution for adults and to maximize the continuity of child-rearing contexts for African American children (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Approximately 40% of cohabitating couples have children in the home; among African Americans, this figure is approximately 54% (Simmons & O’Connell, 2003). Thus, cohabitation has become a particularly important context for child rearing among African American families. The current study investigated predictors of relationship stability among heterosexual married and cohabiting African American couples with at least one elementary-school-age child in the home. The vulnerability–stress–adaptation model of marriage (Karney & Bradbury, 1995) posits three major influences on relationship quality and stability: enduring vulnerabilities, stressful events, and adaptive processes. Enduring vulnerabilities are characteristics (e.g., low education level) that influence people’s susceptibility to stressful life events and their ability to interact effectively in their relationships. Stressful events comprise the challenges of the current context in which couples live their daily lives, such as unemployment or steep medical bills. Enduring vulnerabilities multiply the impact of adverse events in daily life because the resources to cope effectively are not available. Adaptive processes are the ways that individuals function in their relationships, including, for example, their approaches to resolving conflict (Karney & Bradbury, 1995). These processes emerge in the daily interactions of couples and influence how successfully they deal with the stressors and contextual strains of their lives. Of particular interest in the current study was the cascading influence of enduring vulnerability factors. In our previous work, we showed a significant link between neighborhood-level economic disadvantage, couples’ financial strain, and marital quality (Cutrona et al., 2003). In our broad theoretical framework, we emphasize the impact of societal and community contexts on relationships and health (Cutrona et al., 2003, 2005). In the current study, we did not explicitly include community characteristics in our model but examined the impact on relationship stability of education and income, which are closely tied to neighborhood economic disadvantage (Vartanian & Buck, 2005). We examined the associations over time of education and income on (a) family structure, (b) financial strain (a current stressor), (c) relationship quality (adaptive processes), and (d) relationship stability. We also investigated the potential protective effects of religiosity, an enduring resource of particular importance to African American families (Shorter-Gooden, 2004). The model we tested is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 Theoretical model.