THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MARITAL SATISFACTION, FAMILY RELATION AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS
It is often believed that when an individual is married, it is an opportunity to share life’s problems with someone, and have that someone help you get back on your feet in times where you seem to be at your lowest ebb. After all, the vows exchanged at the wedding have a certain phrase that reads “for better for worse, in sickness and health”, and it is expected that the couple will provide much needed solace for each other in time of difficulty. But is this really the case in contemporary society today? Granted, in the African context, the institution of marriage is one which cannot be broken easily, with a lot of expectation being set for the new family by friends, well-wishers and society in general. According to Abraham Maslow (1957), one primary need of man, is the need for love and belongingness, without which, according to him, the individual cannot continue on to the path of self-actualization. It is sometimes because of this and the need for attention, that drive most people to seek the comfort of the other mate and in the process, shield the individual from psychological distress, which could take many forms which will be discussed in details later on. However, it is becoming increasing evident that this is no longer the case.
Reports have shown that due to many factors, such as violence in relationships, family relations and in some extreme cases, the use of technology could play a significant role in causing psychological distress to any one (Sharaievska. I 2012). As a result, a lot of research has gone into finding out if there are any correlates between satisfaction in marital life, and psychological distress. Research has shown that the quality of an individual’s marital relationship could be a determinant in diagnosing depression in married couples (Mamun, A., Clavarino, A., Najman, J., Williams, G., O’ Callaghan, J, Bor, W., 2009). Psychological stress could be any emotional turmoil which directly interferes with the individual’s capacity of function at optimal level at all times. It is therefore important to find out if the marriage can also be a source of such problems for the individual. As mentioned earlier, reports have shown in both longitudinal and cross sectional studies that directional relationships between relationship quality and stress tends to be strong. Recent studies show that individuals with more supportive partners are more likely to report lower levels of depression and individuals with a problematic spouse are likely to report higher levels of stress (Horwitz, Mclaughlin & White, 1998).
Relationship with family members also plays a role in how an individual handles stress before it becomes problematic for them. Good relations with in-laws, is thought to go a long way in helping people find satisfaction and joy in a marriage. As any Nigerian couple can testify, it bodes well for the family if all members are well placated and peace reigns within the family. However, reasons such as the inability to procreate, or financial strains could also be a major reason why psychological distress is on the rise today. In an American study on black Americans and marital satisfaction within the home, individuals who are married tend to report more happiness, life satisfaction, and fewer emotional problems than unmarried people. However, economic strains and unfair treatment are leading causes of problems in the marriage and often leads to couples experiencing significant amount of distress in the home which invariably affects marital satisfaction. As of result of increasing reports of psychological problems reported by individuals who are married, this research has been undertaken to attempt to identify if marital satisfaction, or contentment in the marriage, alongside family relations are related to and can predict psychological distress amongst Nigerian married couples.
1.1 Background to the study
Psychological distress is a problem that can affect anyone regardless of age, social status and means of livelihood. However, marital issues also seem to be related to psychological distress. Renne (1970) pointed out that marital satisfaction was an essential and important component of emotional and psychological wellbeing, and has a positive association with general happiness and perception of overall individual health. In Nigeria, psychological problems abound in the society with experts looking for various reasons and solutions to the myriads of problems out there. Depression, aggression and violent behaviour are just some of the symptoms of psychological distress. But the question is, why focus on the marriage as a means of understanding distress?
Research has shown that within the marriage, there is a strong possibility that satisfaction within the marriage is a very important predictor of if psychological distress will be experienced by an individual or not. Horwitz and colleagues (1993) showed that negative marital quality is more strongly associated with depressive symptoms and also demonstrated that relationship quality and satisfaction may have a strong impact on wives compared to husbands. Other research has also shown that marital quality is a more significant influence on the psychological health of married women, while the status of the marriage is an important factor in predicting men’s mental well-being. Overall, these two factors affect the marriage scene in most families. Other factors that may affect the marital satisfaction of certain families also include use of drugs and alcohol. Horwitz (1996) found that depression and alcohol declined for individuals that were unmarried, but generally increased over time as these individuals got married; pointing to the fact these symptoms could be a means of trying to escape the problems attached to marriage, and by extension, psychological distress. There are also observed gender differences in the way couples react to stress within the marriage, as reports show that women tend to react negatively to stress within the marriage compared to men (Horwitz et al., 1998).
In addition to all these, it is also pertinent to understand that psychological distress is also a leading cause of divorces in most homes today (martins 2004). In most homes, when dissatisfaction arises in the marital process, it is usually a foreseen occurrence in families around the world today. When the husband or the wife is unable to bridge a perceived communication gap, or is limited in providing for essentials within the family, such as finances by the husband, emotional and physical support by the wife, then marital dissatisfaction can ensue resulting in one or both couples feeling sad, depressed, anxious and aggressive. All these can be described as psychological distress which can be quite visible in the marriage. In addition, research has shown that the older a couple are, the less marital dissatisfaction they will likely experience (Bookwala & Jacobs, 2004; Henry, Berg, Smith, & Florsheim, 2007). This is probably because they tend to argue less often, and with the children preparing to leave the home, there may be little or no disputes about child raising strategies and issues, in addition to decreased financial burden which could be a major stressor in the family.
With all these in mind, an empirical investigation into how satisfaction within the marriage and family relations are related to psychological distress. Also, due to the dearth of research in this part of the world on the aforementioned topic, it has been deemed necessary to carry out this research for the furtherance of empirical knowledge and also to provide insight on contemporary issues on family life and how both spouses can contribute to psychological stability of the other and what ensues forth where this isn’t observed. As seen in the preceding paragraphs, it is a problem that deserves the scientific community’s attention as proper address of the problem could lead to prevention and cure of psychological distress among Nigerian couples.
1.2 Statement of the problem.
In typical Nigerian homes, it is rather difficult to pinpoint where the cause of psychological distress emanates from. Some may attribute it to spiritual problems, external factors such as financial strain, or strained relationship with other family members. Current research however, has pointed to marital satisfaction among the leading causes of psychological distress among married couples in many parts of the world (Horwitz et al 1998, Mamun, A., Clavarino, A., Najman, J., Williams, G., O’ Callaghan, J, Bor, W., 2009). In addition, younger couples are seen to experience lesser marital satisfaction compared to their older counterparts, with many indicators being pinpointed as leading causes.
Therefore the problem which will be given much consideration is to understand the intricate relationship between marital satisfaction, family relations and psychological distress, and to understand the influence of age of the couple or spouse on ability to reports either higher or lower levels of marital satisfaction. In the world today, women are generally assumed to be the “weaker vessel” and are more susceptible to stress, while the men are seen as strong and being able to withstand any discomfort that come their way and provide assurance and solace for the woman in time of need whenever, wherever and however that may be. This study will try to investigate and find out just how different men are from women in the way they handle psychological stress. Also the way married couples relate to one another is also seen as a predictor of distress, as little or no cordial relations between parents and their children, has been shown to increase the likelihood of psychological distress for one or both couples. As there are different forms and contexts in which psychological distress can be diagnosed, these will also be looked into to give better insight into which forms are peculiar to the marriage setting and which ones are not and also to determine if gender differences on susceptibility to psychological distress really exists as supported by literature.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The ‘general objective of this study is to investigate into marital satisfaction and family relation as likely predictors of psychological stress. With the aid of objectives measures which will be used to obtain responses from participants, it will be determined if there truly is any distinct relationship among the aforementioned variables and how the interrelation works. However, the study does not seek or wish to identify and label couples who are psychologically distressed or not, but wishes to investigate if a link actually exists between marital satisfaction and distress experienced by individuals. The study will focus on married couples within some selected areas of Lagos State with the aim of achieving the following
A brief summary of the salient and secondary objectives will be as follows;
1. To determine the relationship between marital satisfaction. Family relations and psychological distress
2. To ascertain if there are any gender differences on perceived psychological stress among married couples
3. To determine what form of psychological distress is peculiar to the marriage and how these can be solved using psychological techniques and methods.
1.4 Purpose of the study
The research work will attempt to investigate the following and reach viable conclusions on the following as
i. Investigate the relationship between marital satisfaction, family relations, and psychological distress.
ii. Effect of age and gender on psychological stress and marital satisfaction among married adults.
iii. Forms of psychological distress which are peculiar to married couples.
1.5 Scope of the study
As known in the realm of social sciences, humans tend to be unpredictable in certain areas or aspects of their lives, and it is not possible to engage in experimental procedures where participants will be exposed to harmful stressors which may be detrimental to their health as this is unethical (APA, 2012). Therefore it is the wish of the researcher to see if any relationship can be observed within the variables of study and see how they affect one another,
For this reasons, the scope of this study will include;
i. Establishing a relationship between marital satisfaction and psychological distress among married couples within Lagos metropolis and its environs as well
ii. To see if males and females differ in the susceptibility to psychological distress
iii. Determine if age of married couples also play a key role in the onset of psychological distress
iv. Determine if family relations and psychological distress are correlated to one another.
1.6 Significance of the study
This study will contribute significantly in the following ways
i. To the married individual; a better understanding of marriage and its dynamics and how they can adversely affect an individual if ignored. A better understanding of the marriage partner and how to have cordial relations with such ones is also a significant contribution of the study
ii. To the family; members of the family will be able to appreciate family dynamics better and to have a clearer view of various psychological problems that could arise as a result of negative relations with family members. Findings will be beneficial to aid everyone realize just how the family relationship can help to create a positive atmosphere outside the home.
iii. To the society; ignorance of psychological issues is a bane in our society that has done a lot of damage as a result of misguided information, and groundless suspicion. With the aid of this study, it is hoped that members of the society will understand that there are different reasons for psychological distress, with family relations and marital satisfaction probably contributing more than originally thought
1.6 Operational definitions of variables
Marital satisfaction is a mental state that reflects the perceived benefits and costs of marriage to a particular person (Bradley, 2000) . As a direct result, the more costs a marriage partner inflicts on a person, the less satisfied one generally is with the marriage and with the marriage partner. Similarly, the greater the perceived benefits are, the more satisfied one is with the marriage and with the marriage partner.
Psychological distress is a general term that is used to describe unpleasant feelings and emotions that impact an individual’s level of functioning. In other words, it is psychological discomfort that interferes with an individual’s activities of daily living. This can result in negative views of the environment, others, and the self. Manifestations of psychological distress include sadness, anxiety, distraction, and some symptoms of mental illness.
It can also be simply defined as a state of emotional suffering characterized by symptoms of depression (Mirowsky & Ross 2002). As a result, no two people can experience one event exactly the same way. This is because psychological distress is a subjective experience, and is dependent upon the situation and how one perceives it. Causes of psychological distress include traumatic experiences such as the death of loved ones, job constraints and marital dissatisfaction (Bookwala & Jacobs, 2004).
Major life transitions such as moving to a new area or graduating from the university can be sources of psychological stress if one is unable to cope with the demands such transitions place on you or inability to adjust to the situation.
As used in this context, family relations can be used to describe the way each member of the family relates to the other in the perspective of one member of the family. The family is seen as the primary agent of socialization and also the “home” from which charity begins. Therefore it Is increasingly important to understand how each member of the family relates with the other and how this can have an impact of the married couple. A research on parental strain and psychological distress showed that the way children and parents relate with one another plays a very big role in how stress is managed (Borowski 2003.). when the mother of father relates well with the kids, it helps to alleviate the day to day stress encountered by them, but if otherwise is the case, where one has truant and unruly children, and the other spouse is not helping matters, psychological stress may occur and this will have a negative impact upon the family regardless of which person in the marriage has the problem.
1.7 Literature review
Gender differences in psychological distress Gender differences in psychological distress is a topic that has been subject to a lot of research, with most of them pointing out that women eventually seem to have a higher levels of psychological distress compared to men and this ca be accounted for by their greater exposure and vulnerability to role related stress (Gove 1972). Epidemiological research has found consistently that women have a higher rate of psychological distress than men (Al-Issa 1982; Dohrenwend et.al 1980; Meyers. 1984). Stress researcher often attribute the differential distribution and etiology of mental illness to women’s greater emotional exposure to role-related stress. In addition, studies have documented the pronounced sex differences in distress among the married (Fox 2004; Radloff 2006) and the greater emotional costs of parenthood for mothers, especially those with dependent children qhoaw parental role demands are the greatest (Aneshensel, frerichs and Clarks 1990). Though mixed, results generally indicate that employment does not benefit women as much as men due to the strain of meeting family and woek role obligations (Cleary and Mechanic 1983; Kessler and McRae 1982). These finding suggest that women’s psychological distress susceptibility seem to be higer than that of men.
Stress researchers have also emphasized the greater vulnerability of women to ongoing family role strain than men. In a study conducted by Pearlin and Lieberman (1979) found that marital strains have a greater impact on women that on men. Kessler and McLeod (1997) showed that women are more affected by network events such as undesirable events that occur to others .Although some have argued that women’s vulnerability stems from their inadequate stress-buffering resources (Belle 2006; Pearlin and Schooler 2003), others have documented the fact that sex differences are not explained fully by social support and coping resources (Kessler, Essex, 1987; Thoits 1999).
The inability to account successfully for gender differences in distress has led some authors to acknowledge potential differences in the salience of role domains to males and females (Aneshensel, Pearlin 1987; Bielby & Bielby 1989). Thus, to the extent that strains in salient role domain are more threatening to well-being, women’s greater response to family role strain may reflect the importance they attach to these roles relative to men.
Marital satisfaction was defined as “an individual’s subjective evaluation of the overall nature of marriage” (Gelles, 1995, p. 232) that reflects the degree to which an individual’s expectations towards marriage are reflected in his/her own marriage (Bahr, 1989; Gelles). Researchers who study marital satisfaction face several difficulties, including the fluid and subjective nature of the concept of marital satisfaction itself. According to Popenoe and Whitehead (1999), for many people in contemporary society marriage is no longer a social structure existing for the purpose of successful upbringing of children (Smock, 2000). It is now seen more as an “intimate relationship” (p. 4) in which sexual intimacy and close friendship of soul-mates are the most valued dimensions. Recent studies support the importance of these factors. For example, Meltzer and McNulty (2010) found that sexual frequency and satisfaction of partners, as well as wife’s perception of her attractiveness had positive effect on marital satisfaction of both partners.
As a result of cultural and societal changes, the number of women working outside of the home as well as their level of independence has significantly increased in recent decades. These changes influenced women’s attitudes toward responsibilities associated with marriage. Popenoe and Whitehead (1999) claimed that many contemporary women prefer not to get married due to the amount of housework that would be required of them. Those who do marry, evaluate their marital satisfaction based on their ability to pursue a career outside of home and expect to share household responsibilities with their spouse. In support of this assertion, Helms, Walls, Crouter, and McHale (2010) found that in marital dyads where both spouses worked, the level of marital satisfaction and the equality in sharing housework were closely related.
The perception and the meaning of marriage may change not only as a result of societal and cultural changes, but also due to personal development of each partner, context of the relationship and different stages in marriage. While it is generally believed that marital satisfaction follows a U-shape pattern over the lifespan, with a decline after the birth of the first child (Hirschberger, Srivastava, Marsh, Cowan, & Cowan, 2009) and an increase after the last child leaves the house (Anderson, Russell, & Schuman, 1983; Gelles, 1995), other studies have questioned such development in marital satisfaction. VanLaningham, Johnson, and Amato (2001) found that marital satisfaction follows a more linear declining trajectory, with steep declines in the earliest and the latest years of marriage. On the other hand, the research by Lavner and Bradbury (2010) showed that not all couples follow the same pattern in marital satisfaction. In their study, couples who had an initially higher level of satisfaction were able to preserve it on a relatively high level, while those couples who had a lower level of marital satisfaction were more likely to experience even further declines in satisfaction over a 10 year period. The former and the latter types of couples differed on personality traits, stress, aggression, and communication behavior.
Along with its changing nature, the subjectivity of the concept of marital satisfaction is another difficulty faced by the researchers. It is almost impossible to identify a set of characteristics of spouses or relationships that would make marriage satisfying for every individual: what works for one couple might be unacceptable for the other. There were many attempts to find what factors contribute to marital satisfaction. While an exhaustive list of those characteristics would be impossible to develop, Rosen-Grandon, Myers, and Hattie (2004) named love, loyalty, and shared values among the most influential characteristics of relationships. Among other factors contributing to happy marriage Rosen-Grandon et al. listed respect, forgiveness, romance, support, sexuality/intimacy, and “open communication and agreement on expression of affection” (p. 65).
In their review of literature on marital quality, Larson and Holman (1994) identified a variety of factors that influence marital satisfaction, marital stability and marital quality. Among factors that were found to be associated with quality of marriage were background and contextual factors, individual traits and behaviors of spouses and couples' interactional processes. Each spouse brings into a newly created union a legacy of his or her background, including family of origin and relationships in this family; socio-cultural factors such as age at marriage, income and education; as well as current contexts of relationships with friends (Larson & Holman, 1994), family members (Reczek, Liu, & Umberson, 2010), and other people. Individual traits and behaviors also affect spouse’s satisfaction with marriage (Larson & Holman, 1994). Among these traits are personality and the physical and mental health of the spouse. For example, depression (Whisman, Uebelacker, & Weinstock, 2004), neuroticism, chronic stress, low self-esteem, trait anger (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010) and impulsivity (Kelly & Conley, 1987) income and education; as well as current contexts of relationships with friends (Larson & Holman, 1994), family members (Reczek, Liu, & Umberson, 2010), and other people. Individual traits and behaviors also affect spouse’s satisfaction with marriage (Larson & Holman, 1994).
Among these traits are personality and the physical and mental health of the spouse. For example, depression (Whisman, Uebelacker, & Weinstock, 2004), neuroticism, chronic stress, low self-esteem, trait anger (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010) and impulsivity (Kelly & Conley, 1987) were found to negatively affect marital stability. Individual behaviors such as substance abuse, specifically heavy alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking, were also shown to have a negative effect on marital satisfaction (Homish, Leonard, Kozlowski, & Cornelius, 2009). On the other hand, sociability was found to positively influence marital stability and quality (Bentler & Newcomb, 1978).
Couples' interactional processes that have an impact on marital satisfaction arehomogamy and interpersonal similarity (including similarity in socio-economic backgrounds, religious affiliation, values and beliefs), as well as interactional history of the couple (Larson & Holman, 1994). For example, Dew (2007, 2008, 2009) found that spouses’ different views on financial matters have a negative effect on their marital satisfaction. Disagreements related to spending patterns may lead to tension and conflict, decrease in time spouses spend together, as well as increase in the likelihood of divorce.
The interactional history of the couple reflected in acquaintance, cohabitation, premarital sex, premarital pregnancy; as well as interactional processes, such as communication, conflict, and consensus building also have an influence on marital satisfaction (Larson & Holman, 1994). Such interactional processes as “verbal and physical aggression, observed expressions of interest, affection, and humor, and for wives only, observed expressions of anger and contempt” (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010, p. 1183) also were found to be different for satisfied and unsatisfied couples. Equality in sharing household responsibilities is another factor affecting marital satisfaction (Helms et al., 2010; Perrone et al., 2005).
Conflict is one of the most often discussed interactional processes in studies on marital satisfaction. While conflict in relationships may lead to divorce (Booth & Amato, 2001), it does not always result in dissolution of the union. In fact, according to Conflict Theory (White & Klein, 2008), a certain amount of conflict is needed in the family in order to resolve issues and disagreements, as well as to improve communication and interaction between family members. However, what is important is what kind of conflict family engages in (constructive or destructive). Destructive behavior (such as yelling and criticizing) by either husband or wife, as well as withdrawal behavior among husbands, were found to be associated with a decrease in marital satisfaction (Birditt, Brown, Orbuch, & McIlvane, 2010). Interestingly, while constructive behavior (such as active listening) is usually assumed to be beneficial for relationships, Birditt et al. found that constructive behavior worked only when both partners were engaged in it. In cases when one spouse was involved in constructive communication and the other spouse withdrew, the potential for divorce did not decrease. The authors speculated that withdrawal by one spouse may be perceived by the other spouse as indifference and a lack of involvement in the relationships and, thus, be associated with lower marital satisfaction.
Support is another interactional process that predicts marital satisfaction (Lawrence et al., 2008). Studies showed that what spouses consider to be an appropriate expression of support differs by gender. According to Graham, Fischer, Crawford, Fitzpatrick, and Bina (2000), for wives the amount of support affects marital satisfaction more than support adequacy, while for husbands the support adequacy tends to be the more important factor. Moreover, social support was also found to be especially important for the marital adjustment of women with children, but not for their husbands.
Components and mechanisms of marital satisfaction
In trying to understand or perceive whether a spouse’s behaviour is beneficial, cognitions, or in a much simpler term, thoughts about the person’s behaviour is important and is deemed necessary. If one’s spouse performs negatively, this may be attributed either to the internal characteristics of the spouse, or instead to circumstances that are present around the spouse which may have contributed to his/her behaviour (for example, the reason behind his continuous moodiness is because he hasn’t been paid his salary for a long time now( Buss, 2005) . In the marriage and. by extension, marital satisfaction, attributing costly or negative behaviour to the internal characteristics. Rather than to circumstances surrounding his or her behaviour, is often associated with decreased marital satisfaction, as well as marital deterioration. These wrong attributions occur more often with negative behaviours in marital problem-solving discussion, and these attributions do not appear to be as a result of either partner being in a depressed state, having a neurotic or maladaptive personality, of tending towards physical aggression. This is seen in a typical situation where one spouse (moat times the wife) criticizes or nags the other about change, while the other spouse (mostly the husband), evades the confrontation and discussion about a problem. This inevitably leads to disengagement, which leads to further confrontation and even more disagreement and subsequent disengagement, and marital dissatisfaction sets in slowly over time
This is also an important component of satisfaction within the marriage which focuses on the degree of social support each spouse is getting from the partner and the relationship as a whole. Research has shown that support processes are reliably associated with good marital functioning, as well as with beneficial outcomes with the home setting, as a result, strong support usually ensures a happier family and in the larger picture, sustainable marital satisfaction as well (Karney, 1997; Shackleford, T.K & Buss, D. M., 2000).
As unsavory as it sounds, physical violence is also closely linked with marital satisfaction. It goes without saying; nobody would like to become a punching bag to the other and still enjoy a marriage. Individuals involved abusive relationships are more likely to be dissatisfied with their relationship compared to individuals not involved in such. This violent behaviour within marriages can be traced to many factors such as alcohol abuse and financial pressure. Research has show.
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