The study reveals new details about how friendship structures are linked to marriage quality in heterosexual couples

The study reveals new details about how friendship structures are linked to marriage quality in heterosexual couples

The study reveals new details about how friendship structures are linked to marriage quality in heterosexual couples

A study of heterosexual married couples in Switzerland examined the relationship between a person’s friend networks and the quality of their marriage. The results suggest that having friends who have no contact with the spouse and do not know each other tends to negatively affect the marriage quality of women, but not men. The study was published in Personal relationships.

The factors that affect the quality of a marriage go far beyond the relationship between marriage partners. Relationships between marriage partners are typically embedded in different social structures that influence how partners interact. Friends networks represent one such structure.

However, while the role of friendship networks in the psychological dynamics of romantic couples is well known, most research has focused on kin relationships, emphasizing the social support that family relationships provide, but also the influences that are detrimental to the married couple.

If the friendship networks of romantic couples are considered, these contacts may be such that romantic partners see their friends together or separately. Seeing friends together as a couple (common contacts) can strengthen the relationship with friends, but also strengthen the social identity of the couple, thus strengthening their relationship.

Another factor to consider is “transitivity of friendship,”, which is the degree to which online friends know each other. Researchers expect that networks of friends who know each other (high transitivity of friendship) have a beneficial effect on the quality of the relationship between the couple, because such networks can more easily coordinate providing support to partners when needed (friends who know each other can communicate easily) .

It is also a factor to consider friendship overlap i.e. whether online friends are mutual friends of both romantic partners, or whether they are exclusively friends of one member of the romantic couple. Previous research has found that “this biased support in marital conflict is more likely to be found among spouses’ friends with little overlap, and detractors are more likely to be found among spouses’ separate contacts.” On the other hand, mutual friends are more likely to act as mediators and encourage couple members to compromise.

To investigate the relationship between the properties of friendship networks and the quality of marriage, study author Julia Sauter and her colleagues analyzed data from the Stratification, Cohesion and Conflict in Contemporary Families Survey, a national survey of heterosexual couples in Switzerland.

The current study used data collected in 2011 and 2017, “in which both partners were asked separately about their personal networks, the quality of their marriage, and the extent to which they spent time together with friends.” The researchers analyzed the responses of 634 couples where both partners completed questionnaires in 2017, 534 couples who first took part in this study in 1998, aged 20 to 88.

Marriage quality assessments included four indicators – quality of marriage (“In general, how would you rate your relationship (in terms of mutual understanding, intimate life, way of communicating…)?”), marital instability (“Many couples have considered separating after experiencing some difficulties. Have you experienced moments like this and considered separating?”), Problems with comunication and coordination problems (both calculated from a list of difficulties couples were asked to list if they experienced any).

Friendship networks were assessed in terms of the frequency of common contacts with friends, the degree of friendship overlap, and the transitivity of friendships.

Women were more likely to report dissatisfaction with their marital relationship (56% of women vs. 48% of men), reported more problems with communication and coordination than men (49% of women vs. 40% of men) and considered divorce more often than men (35% of women vs. 21% of men) ).

When friendship structures were considered, having separate, low-transitivity friendship networks negatively affected women’s marriage quality. There was no effect on men. When analyzing the couple’s life stages, women with preschool children reported higher levels of communication problems than women in the “empty nest” phase (when the children grew up and left to live on their own). On the other hand, men who had children after school age reported fewer coordination problems than men in the empty nest stage.

The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of the relationship between marriage quality and friendship networks. However, it also has limitations that must be taken into account. It is worth noting that the measures used did not allow the researchers to detect whether the partners mentioned the same friends. For this reason, they were unable to establish a common measure of friendship network structure for a couple as an individual. In addition, all participants come from one country (Switzerland) and the results of research into other cultures may not yield equal results.

The study “The Impact of Friendship Structures on the Marriage Quality of Heterosexual Couples” was authored by Julia Sauter, Olga Ganjour, Rita Gouveia, and Eric D. Widmer.

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