Stress resilience in early marriage : does practice make perfect?



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As all couples experience stressful life events, understanding how couples adapt to stress is imperative for understanding marital development. Drawing from theories of stress inoculation, which suggest that the successful adaptation to mild stressors may help individuals develop a resilience to future stress, this project examined whether couples who have more experience effectively coping with minor stressors early in the marriage would be most resilient to declines in marital satisfaction when faced with future, larger stressors. Study 1 examined whether couples who enter marriage with good relationship skills and some experience coping with minor stressors exhibit the most stress resilience during the first two years of marriage. Study 2 examined whether couples who enter marriage with good skills and some experience with stress exhibit a greater resilience to the declines in marital satisfaction that often follow the transition to parenthood. Both studies revealed that spouses who have both good relationship skills and early stress experience exhibit better marital outcomes than spouses who have good skills, but little or no experience with stress. Thus, simply possessing good relationship skills may not be sufficient to shield marital satisfaction from stress. Rather, couples also may need practice applying those skills to minor stressors.