With the legalization of cannabis in many places in America, marijuana usage has become increasingly widespread in recent years. Cannabis consumption is considered to be calming, but does that extend to dealing with relationship conflict? A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that cannabis users are more likely to avoid conflict and engage negatively.
Substance use can have significant effects on users’ social lives, especially in regard to romantic relationships. While other substances have been studied at length, cannabis use and its relationship with couple functioning has been understudied. This is a significant gap, especially because around 35% of young adults self-report cannabis usage.
Previous research has shown that even though people may use cannabis to regulate their emotions, it can have negative effects on interactions with a partner. This study aims to better understand the relationship between cannabis use and relational conflict.
For their study, Katherine C. Haydon and Jessica E. Salvatore utilized 232 individuals who were cohabitating and in a romantic relationship. The participants were recruited in Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2016. Participants completed an online survey assessing their cannabis use, alcohol use, relationship satisfaction, commitment, parasympathetic withdrawal, conflict behavior, positive conflict recovery, post-conflict perceptions, and analytic strategy.
Couples attended a videotaped laboratory session where they discussed their biggest relationship problems for 10 minutes and areas of agreement in their relationship for 5 minutes.
“We looked at different indicators of relationship functioning: how satisfied and committed people felt about their relationship, their behavior and physiology during a laboratory-based conflict interaction and their perceptions about their conflict discussion and relationship afterward,” said Salvatore, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Results showed that cannabis use was linked with both negative interactions and conflict avoidance, as well as less parasympathetic withdrawal. Partner effects showed the opposite, with partners of cannabis users showing less negative interactions and more parasympathetic withdrawal. This suggests partners of users may be employing more resources to counteract the challenges associated with conflict with a partner who is a cannabis user.
Increased cannabis use was also related to less effective behavioral recovery after conflict. This is significant because the period after a conflict is crucial for repair and recovery of the romantic bond. Cannabis users reported greater levels of satisfaction with conflict resolution, but partners did not, showing that there may be a disconnect between partners on this matter.
“The assessments by the cannabis users were almost the exact opposite of what independent raters found,” said Salvatore. “However, it is important to note that this study’s findings do not mean that cannabis use is wholesale good or bad for relationships. Rather, it gives insight into how couples can better navigate conflict and come to a resolution. When you don’t see problems, you can’t solve them.”
This study took important steps toward understanding the nuances of cannabis use and its effects on romantic relationships. Despite this, there are some limitations to keep in mind. One such limitation is that almost half the sample scored as being at-risk for clinical depression, which could have had an effect on the results.
The study, “Relationship perceptions and conflict behavior among cannabis users“, was published August 1, 2022.