Emotion differentiation, the extent to which same-valenced emotions are experienced as distinct, has been found to be associated with various positive outcomes. However, little is known about its role in relational contexts. The present work examines couples in the transition to parenthood, a particularly emotionally demanding period, and explores the associations between emotion differentiation and both concurrent (3-month post-partum) and prospective (6-month post-partum) relationship quality adjusting for pre-partum relationship quality. Both negative emotion differentiation (NED) and positive emotion differentiation (PED) were computed from daily affect ratings completed over 21 days by both partners in 88 couples. They were then examined as predictors of relationship quality (relationship satisfaction and perceived partner responsiveness) using actor–partner interdependence models. NED was found to be concurrently associated with elevated perceived partner responsiveness for one’s self and for one’s partner, and with elevated relationship satisfaction when the partner’s NED was low. Positive emotion differentiation was found to be concurrently associated with relationship satisfaction for one’s self and one’s partner. Prospectively, partner NED and partner PED were associated with greater relationship satisfaction. The findings suggest that NED may function as a compensatory or shared dyadic resource, and that PED, whose effects in previous studies have been mixed, may also be constructive. Individuals undergoing emotionally demanding periods (such as the transition to parenthood) may benefit from developing more nuanced emotional experiences.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Binational Science Foundation grant (BSF #2013324) awarded to MG and ER, and by the John Templeton Foundation grant awarded to ER. GL is grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for the award of an Azrieli Fellowship supporting his work.
© The Author(s) 2021.
- Emotion differentiation
- actor–partner interdependence models
- relationship quality
- transition to parenthood