Marital satisfaction and attributions for conflict among bipolar disordered persons and their spouses
Garrett-Akinsanya, Bravada Mae
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Among the major affective disorders, the bipolar form of depression is one of the least examined in psychological literature. Although a propensity of etiological research currently exists in biomedical areas, a paucity of literature accompanies the investigation of the psychosocial factors that contribute to bipolar disorder. The marriages of bipolar disordered patients and their non-patient spouses are frequently conflict-laden due to the unpredictable behaviors associated with the illness. To date, no study has identified the factors that separate those bipolar depressed patient/spouse couples who successfully maintain a satisfactory relationship from those who do not. Evidence suggests that factors such as knowledge, self-blame, attributional style, and shifts in attributional styles, may differentiate levels of marital satisfaction. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to examine attributional processes related to levels of marital satisfaction among bipolar disordered patients and their healthy spouses. Five hypotheses were investigated using 60 married couples (30 bipolar depressed patient/spouse couples and 30 normal control couples), who were instructed to complete questionnaires probing attributional styles in response to one hypothetical and two actual conflict scenarios. First, it was hypothesized that patient group couples would experience lower levels of marital satisfaction in comparison to non-patient group couples. Secondly, among patient group couples, a positive correlation was postulated to exist between knowledge of bipolar disorder and the degree of marital satisfaction experienced by the couple. Third, among the patient group, couples who were more satisfied with their marriages were expected to exhibit more self-blame in response to conflict scenarios than couples who were not as satisfied. Fourth, among bipolar patients and their spouses, a positive correlation was expected between benevolent attributional styles and marital satisfaction. Finally, bipolar couples were expected to reflect a shift in their attributions according to the mood conditions presented (manic or depressed) in the conflict scenarios. It was hypothesized that larger shifts would be associated with lower levels of marital satisfaction. Results confirmed hypothesis one. Patient group couples were found to exhibit lower levels of marital satisfaction than control group couples. On the other hand, hypothesis two was not substantiated by the data. This study revealed self-blame as being directly related to marital satisfaction, but only among bipolar patients responding to the depressive scenario. In addition, control group couples exhibited more benevolent attributional styles to conflict when compared to patient group couples, yet evidence was found to suggest that being targeted may actually produce different attributional styles. Finally, a shift in attributions occurred according to mood conditions. Patients exhibited larger shifts than controls. The degree to which couples shifted in their perceptions of voluntariness or negativity of behaviors was related to the degree of marital satisfaction experienced. Implications of the findings are highlighted and particular references are made to gender differences and role-expectations.