Does good communication make a happy marriage, or are satisfied couples simply more likely to communicate better?
It’s a chicken-or-egg question that researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) recently attempted to crack.
In attempting to determine the specific correlation between communication and marital satisfaction, the team unearthed a more complicated relationship than previously thought.
Satisfaction leads to communication
Sitting on a couch opposite a therapist, couples might insist that poor communication is to blame for their lack of marital satisfaction. What UGA researchers discovered, however, is that satisfaction tends to lead to better communication, not the other way around.
“It’s absolutely right to say more satisfied couples do communicate more positively, as well as to say couples who communicate better on average are more satisfied,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Justin Lavner, an assistant professor in UGA’s clinical psychology program in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
But, adds Lavner of the three-year study of 400 low-income newlywed couples, it wouldn’t necessarily be safe to assume that one causes the other one.
Correlation, not causation
The study showed no strong causal link between communication and satisfaction; neither event predicted the other. It was more common, however, for satisfaction to predict good communication.
“I think what this leaves us wondering is what are some of the other factors that matter for couples’ relationships and how these factors predict how couples do over time," Lavner said in a statement.
Previously, the link between communication and marital satisfaction had only been studied from the perspective of communication leading to satisfaction.
In addition to showing that satisfaction is usually the driving force behind good communication, the team also discovered that satisfied couples also demonstrated higher levels of positivity, lower levels of negativity, and more effectiveness.
The findings are published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.