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Cognitive complexity and marital interaction in newlyweds

Authors

  • BENJAMIN R. KARNEY,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of California, Los Angeles
      Benjamin R. Karney, University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Psychology, 1285 Franz Hall, P.O. Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, e-mail: karney@psych.ucla.edu.
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    • Benjamin R. Karney and Brynna Gauer, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • BRYNNA GAUER

    1. University of California, Los Angeles
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  • Preparation of this article was supported by Grant MH59712 from the National Institute of Mental Health, and by Grant HD061366 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Portions of this work were presented at the 2001 meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The authors thank Jessica Baker, Krista Bernard, Mark DaSilva, Nancy Frye, Katherine Leong, Sacha Lindekens, James McNulty, Giovanni Montrone, Kimberly Mosler, Lisa Neff, Jason Sheppard, Jennifer Smith, and Mark Trujillo for their assistance in data collection and data entry, and Christina Cuomo, Christine D’Angelo, and Melissa Liotti for their assistance in coding complexity paragraphs.

Benjamin R. Karney, University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Psychology, 1285 Franz Hall, P.O. Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, e-mail: karney@psych.ucla.edu.

Abstract

Although newlyweds tend to be satisfied with their marriages, they nevertheless vary in their ability to resolve problems effectively. This study examined whether problem-solving effectiveness was associated with the complexity of spouses' thoughts about their problems. Newlyweds provided open-ended descriptions of marital problems and then engaged in interactions that were coded by independent observers. Results confirmed that the complexity of each spouse's descriptions accounted for unique variance in the quality of their discussions. Moreover, results supported a weak link effect, such that the thoughts of the least complex spouse accounted for additional variance, controlling for the main effects of each spouse. These results suggest that interventions to improve problem solving attend to both the structure and the content of partners' cognitions.

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