A comprehensive psychological framework can be useful for understanding how marital relationship dynamics impact sexual satisfaction, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
“Sometimes, researchers or practitioners approach sexual satisfaction from a limited viewpoint, only focusing on one factor that affects couples’ sexual satisfaction,” said David B. Allsop of Dalhousie University, the corresponding author of the new study.
“So, my co-authors and I wanted to demonstrate how approaching the study of sexual satisfaction from a comprehensive framework can provide better understanding than focusing on one factor alone. In our case, we used a framework called the developmental model of marital competence, and three variables that corresponded to the three domains in that theory, to predict and understand sexual satisfaction.”
The developmental model of marital competence holds that three domains — communication skills, interpersonal virtues, and intrapersonal identities — play a key role in the ability to maintain a healthy long-term relationship. The framework has previously been used to examine relationship satisfaction, couple formation, and relational aggression.
Using data from the CREATE study, a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of newly married couples in the United States, Allsop and his colleagues were able to analyze how conflict resolution quality, forgiveness, and attachment styles were related to sexual satisfaction. The data included responses from 2,114 mixed-sex couples.
The researchers found higher levels of conflict resolution quality were associated with higher levels of sexual satisfaction. In other words, couples who reported that they commonly could “come to an understanding” after a conflict tended to also agree with statements such as “Our sexual relationship is an important source of strength and connection in our relationship”
Husbands who were more forgiving also tended to have higher levels of sexual satisfaction, as did husbands and wives who were less anxiously and avoidantly attached.
“Couples who strive to improve three key areas of themselves and their relationships — their communication, their ability to love themselves, and their ability to love others — may see their sexual satisfaction improve,” Allsop told PsyPost. “Specifically in our study, we found couples with higher levels of sexual satisfaction compared to couples with lower levels of sexual satisfaction tended to have better conflict resolution ability, be more forgiving, and know they could securely rely on their partner.”
The researchers controlled for wives’ and husbands’ orgasm frequency, sexual frequency, age, education, race, whether the wife was pregnant, and the number of children in the household. But like all research, the study includes some limitations.
“Our sample was composed of recently married, mixed-sex couples from the United States,” Allsop explained. “So, we don’t know for sure that the associations we found would apply to couples who have been in relationships for a longer period of time, couples in different relational types, same-sex couples, etc. One question that needs to be addressed is to what degree adopting a comprehensive framework, like the developmental model of marital competence, can help improve couple sexual outcomes in therapy and educational interventions.”
“I think that using comprehensive frameworks in research and practice on sexual relationships, like the developmental model of marital competence, can really help improve couple sexual relationships,” Allsop added. “There is a place for looking at how just one variable predicts sexual satisfaction. But to really understand what contributes to sexual satisfaction and be best positioned to improve it substantially, I think we need to use and apply comprehensive frameworks such as the one we used and other great ones out there.”
The study, “Applying the developmental model of marital competence to sexual satisfaction: Associations between conflict resolution quality, forgiveness, attachment, and sexual satisfaction“, David B. Allsop, Chelom E. Leavitt, Matthew T. Saxey, Joshua E. Timmons, and Jason S. Carroll.