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Components and mechanisms of the marital satifaction

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Marital satisfaction can also be defined as a mental state that reflects the perceived benefits and costs of marriage to a particular person. The more costs a marriage partner inflicts on a person, the less satisfied one generally is with the marriage and with the partner.

Similarly, the greater the perceived benefits are, the most satisfied one is with the marriage and with the partner. Beyond the intercultural differences in the way marital relationships are evaluated, there are also difference within the same culture that mat bring spouses to adopt different criteria for marital satisfaction, influenced by the sociopolitical and cultural contexts of the countries they live in (Lucas et al, 2008) and probably related to the culturally established sexual roles.

By observing the differences pointed out, we seem to have some universal factors that contribute to marital satisfaction. According to Evolutionary psychology, these factors interact with the cultural and ecological conditions of the individuals.

Evolutionary psychology suggests our behavioral repertoire is influenced by the evolution of psychological mechanisms that facilitated the survival and reproduction of our ancestors, in response to problems faced in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (Tooby&Cosmides, 1992)

Love, jealousy, attachment and the observation of relationship satisfaction itself, are examples of mechanisms which is considered essential for the maintenance of marriage. Love would be the key to long-term relationships and its presence among the spouses would be the best way of assuring the endurance of the relationship. In this context, love is considered to provide sexual access to the partner, while ensuring his or her sexual fidelity and promoting exclusively in the relationship by means of mate guarding like, for example, monopolizing the partner’s time and employing sexual jealousy. future more, love would indicate relevant resources for reproduction, like signs of parental investment and sexual and emotional satisfaction(Buss,2007) Fisher(2004) explain love as a complex set of adaptations that can be found in the brain circuitry. A view shared by some other studies of neuroscience like those from Carter(1998 ), Bartels and Zecki(2000) and Diamond(2003). This circuitry is supposed to be made up of three neural systems, all related to human reproduction: lust, romantic love and attachment. The first neural system would have motivated our ancestors to look for sexual gratification by means of sexual intercourse with any partner (Fisher, Aron, Mashek, Li, Strong & Brown, 2002) and Fisher (2004).

The second system, named romantic-love, commonly known as passion, is characterized, according to Tennov (1979), by obsessive thinking of loved one (intrusive thinking) and desire of emotional union with the partner or potential partner. Both of these trials are associated with the rising of the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the nervous system, while diminishing the level of serotonin (Bartels &Zecki, 2000; Fisher, 1998). Tennov (1979), Narazziti, Rossi &Cassano (1999) and Fisher (1998,2004). The system would have enabled our ancestors to concentrate their energy, time and resources on one individual at a time, safeguarding against eventual wastes in the mating effort.

The third system, named attachment, is characterized by the defense of the territory, food-sharing, keeping closed to the loved ones, fear of getting separated from the object of attachment, family ties and other such affiliate behaviors (Fisher, 2000, 2004; Fisher et al., 2002). The attachment system between men and women made us develop enduring affiliate bonds, which are at the origin of what we know today as family ties, contributed to keep partners together for the minimum period of time necessary for generating and rising the children resulting of an affective partnership (Fisher, 2000, 2004; Fisher et al., 2002). This system is supposed to be related to the sensations of peace, security and stability, associated with neuropeptides like oxytocin and vasopressin, both present in long-term relationships. Hazan and Zeifman (1999) and Diamond (2003) believe that the attachment system was assimilated by our psyche because it contributes to maintain effective partners together, facilitating parental care and maximizing their chances of reproductive success. Selcuk , Zayas and Hazan (2010) state that attachment produces physical and psychological benefits, as much as or beyond the benefits provided by marital satisfaction.

Being so, our tendency as hominids to pair bonding and attaching ourselves affectively to our partners, could be seen as an expatiation of the relation infant-caretaker (Diamond, 2003). The role of oxytocin played in the sensations of security and peace from the constitution of the relation mother-child up to the establishment of adult love relationship, could be considered a good argument in favor of this proposition.

Components and Mechanisms


Cognitions or thoughts about the behavior, are important in perceiving whether a spouse’s behavior is costly or beneficial. If one’s spouse performs a negative (costly) behavior, this may be attributed either to characteristics of the spouse (for example, he or she is lazy), or instead to circumstances surrounding the spouse’s behavior (for example, it was an especially busy day at work, and he or she doesn’t feel like making dinner). In the case of marital satisfaction, attributing costly behavior to characteristics of one’s spouse, rather than to circumstances surrounding his or her behavior, is associated with decreased marital satisfaction, as well as marital deterioration. These maladaptive attributions occur more offers with negative behaviors in marital problem-solving discussions, and these attributions do not appear to be a result of either partner being depressed, having a neurotic personality, or tending toward physical aggression. The way people interpret behavior appears to be related to how satisfied they are with their marriage. Intimately related to an individual’s thoughts about behaviors are the individual’s feelings about behaviors, or affect. Research on affect and marital satisfaction is not conclusive yet; some studies have shown that negative affect is related to decreased marital satisfaction, whereas others have shown it has no effect or even increases it. Future research needs to clarify more specifically how negative affect is related to marital satisfaction.


There is a well-established relationship between being married and maintaining physical well-being. This, in the most immediate sense, is established by the physiological functioning of the two married individuals. Recent research has indicated that married couples who are more satisfied with their relationship also exhibit greater synchrony among their physiological systems compared with those married couples who are less satisfied. That is, martially satisfied couples are more likely to maintain synchrony among each partner’s electro dermal (or electrical resistance of the skin) and the heart rate systems, which may be a mechanism by which married couples maintain greater physical wellbeing than unmarried individuals.

Interaction Patterns

Patterns of interaction between spouses can affect how satisfied they are with their marriage. The pattern most often related to marital dissatisfaction is one of demand/withdrawal. In this pattern, one partner (often the wife ) criticizes or nags the other about change, while the other partner(usually the husband) evades the confrontation and discussion. It operates such that initial criticism leads to disengagement, which leads to further confrontation and even further disengagement. This pattern has clear implications for marital satisfaction, with both parties developing dissatisfaction.

Social Support

Another component of satisfaction within a marriage is the degree of social support for each of the partners and for the relationship. Support process are reliably associated with good marital functioning, as well as healthful outcomes within families. A marriage partner who provides good social support for his or her spouse contributes to the spouse’s marital satisfaction.


Physical violence also is closely linked with marital satisfaction. Individuals involved in physical abusive relationships are more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage than are individuals not involved in abusive relationships. Escalation to physical violence can result from many factors, one of which is alcohol use. And somewhat surprisingly, some form of physical aggression is present in 57% of newlywed marriages, indicating that the relationship between violence and marital satisfaction may not be as straightforward as is often presumed.

Contextual Factors

Many factors enter into assessments of marital satisfaction: a spouse’s personality, his or her performance of mate-guarding behaviors, his or her likelihood of infidelity, the desirability of each partner, the presence of children, and others. If one partner perceives that the other is inflicting costs (or being troublesome) in these domains, he or she may move to address them through discussions with the partner, or by seeking a new or additional partner who may better suit the person.

Spousal Personality Characteristics

How satisfied a person is with his or her marriage seems to be related to, in part, the personality characteristics of his or her spouse. Personality is often gauged by five dimensions, including Extraversion (urgency, dominance, extraversion vs. submissiveness, introversion), Agreeableness (warm, trusting vs. cold, suspicious), Conscientiousness (reliable, well organized vs. undependable, disorganized), Neuroticism (emotional stability, secure, even-tempered vs. nervous, temperamental) and Openness to Experience (intellect, perceptive, curious vs. imperceptive). Marital dissatisfaction is most often related to a spouse’s emotional instability, but dissatisfaction also related to having a partner who is low in Conscientiousness, low in Agreeableness, and low in Opennessintellect. People married to those with these personality characteristics often complain that their spouses are neglectful, possessive, condescending, jealous, unfaithful, unreliable, emotionally constricted, self- centered, sexualizing of others and abusive of alcohol. Thus, the personality characteristics of each spouse contribute greatly to the relationship, culminating in satisfying marriage or its ending in divorce.

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