adaptive expression of positive emotion

rczyk, and Vickie Bhatia Stony Brook University

We examined the association between romantic competence and positive emotional expressions in a relationship-promoting task serving the dual function of (1) furthering our understanding of the skills needed for adaptive expression of positive emotion that can foster intimacy among couples, and (2) further validating the construct of romantic competence.

Eighty-nine emerging adult couples in different-sex relationships were assessed with the Romantic Competence Interview for Emerging Adults and participated in an interaction task, which assessed their ability for adaptive positive emotional expression.

Results indicated that a women’s romantic competence was positively associated with both her and her partner’s ability for positive emotional expression, even controlling for relationship satisfaction.

Implications for understanding positive emotional expression in young couples, as well as the need for increasing romantic competence to facilitate it, are discussed.

Keywords: romantic competence, emerging adults, relationship satisfaction, positive emotion, couples

The ability to express positive emotion to one’s partner is considered an important aspect of what makes relationships succeed (see Gott- man & Gottman, 2015, for a discussion). The- ory and research in a variety of domains support this notion.

For example, research on capitalization indicates that perceiving one’s partner as responding enthusiastically to the sharing of a positive experience or event is associated with greater satisfaction, trust, and intimacy, and less conflict (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004).

Having partners talk about the positive aspects of their relationship, often by reminiscing or telling their story of how they got together, is a common technique used in couple interventions to reduce distress and create a platform for increased relationship satisfaction (Buehlman,

Gottman, & Katz, 1992; Christensen, Dimi- djian, & Martell, 2015; Cordova, 2014). Indeed, satisfied couples are more likely than dissatisfied couples to demonstrate more positive affect and intimacy when positively reminiscing (Osgarby & Halford, 2013), and married couples who tell more positive stories about their relationship are less likely to divorce (Buehlman et al., 1992).

Positive emotions also can serve to undo the physiological arousal effects of negative emotions during couple conflict interactions (Yuan, McCarthy, Holley, & Levenson, 2010).

Despite the apparent importance of positive emotional expression in couples, and as noted by a growing number of researchers (Hershen- berg, Mavandadi, Baddeley, & Libet, 2016; Levenson, Haase, Bloch, Holley, & Seider, 2013; Osgarby & Halford, 2013), the field has largely focused on negative emotion in couples and on interactions that emphasize conflict and problem-solving, and other challenging circum- stances.

These researchers are increasingly calling- ing for a focus on positive emotions and on methods that can elicit them. Recently, Osgarby and Halford (2013) provided a direct examination comparing behavior in a positive reminiscence interaction to that in a typical problem-solving discussion task. They found, among satisfied couples, that positive affect and dyadic

Joanne Davila, Haley Wlodarczyk, and Vickie Bhatia, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University.

Haley Wlodarczyk is now at the Center for Community Independence in Somerville MA. Vickie Bhatia is now at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, Charleston, SC.

We thank Katie Chan, Alexandra Byrne, and Nicole Barle for their assistance with data collection.

Correspondence concerning this article should be ad- dressed to Joanne Davila, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-2500. E-mail: