A year-long study of newlywed couples showed that individuals with more pronounced social anhedonia (disinterest in social interactions and poor relationship functioning) tended to be less satisfied with their marriages. Spouses of such individuals also tended to be less satisfied with their marriage. In addition, their interaction was characterized by less constructive and more destructive communication. The study was published in the Journal of Personality.
Social anhedonia is seen as a reduced need to belong and the lack of pleasure from social interactions. People with social anhedonia are less sensitive to social rewards. It is a feature of numerous psychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and schizotypy. It is considered a general risk factor for mental health issues.
Persons with social anhedonia tend to spend more time alone and to not experience positive emotions during social situations. Previous studies linked social anhedonia with lower satisfaction in romantic relationships, perceptions that their partner is less satisfied with the relationship, lower commitment and care, but also less social support and more conflict.
Study author Kenneth Tan and his colleagues wanted to examine the effects of social anhedonia on overall marital satisfaction, communication between marital partners, and to determine whether these communication patterns mediate the link between social anhedonia and marital satisfaction. Noting that most of the previous studies used cross-sectional data, they devised a longitudinal study in three waves – data were collected at the start of the study, 6 months later (2nd wave) and 12 months later (3rd wave).
Participants were 100 couples, married up to 12 months before the beginning of the study. The study was conducted between 2011 and 2013. Although 100 couples entered the study, only 83 couples participated in the final wave of the study.
Participants completed assessments of social anhedonia (the Revised Social Anhedonia Scale), communication between partners and conflict in the relationship (the Communication Patterns Questionnaire), and marital satisfaction (the Dyadic Adjustment Scale).
Results showed that couples were relatively satisfied with their relationships. Mean anhedonia levels were comparable to samples from other studies that examined social anhedonia and romantic relationships. Participants who had more pronounced social anhedonia reported lower marital satisfaction. Partners of individuals with more pronounced social anhedonia also reported lower marital satisfaction.
When data from different waves were compared, results showed that social anhedonia at the beginning of the study was not associated with marital satisfaction a year later, when marital satisfaction at the beginning of the study was controlled for. In other words, social anhedonia did not lead to the change of marital satisfaction of the individual over time. However, one’s own social anhedonia at the beginning of the study was very slightly associated with marital satisfaction of the partner a year later.
Individuals higher in social anhedonia reported lower constructive communication and higher demand/withdraw and avoidance/withholding communication. The last two are unfavorable communication patterns. These associations were not present with marital communication assessments given by the partner. Statistical analysis showed that one’s own communication patterns with the spouse might be mediators of the link between social anhedonia and marital satisfaction.
“Taken together, our results support that social anhedonia has negative impact on both partners in a newlywed marriage, and that self-reported communication styles partially mediated these effects but only for the actor,” the study authors concluded.
The study sheds light on the role of social anhedonia in intimate relationships. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, the study sample consisted of relatively healthy newlywed different-sex couples with generally high levels of relationship satisfaction and low levels of social anhedonia. It is possible that results on persons with high levels of social anhedonia or differing in other characteristics might not yield equal results.
The study, “Social anhedonia, communication, and marital satisfaction in newlywed couples”, was authored by Kenneth Tan, Amber M. Jarnecke, and Susan C. South.