the Relationship Between
and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction
Saint Anselm College
Department of Psychology
Class of 2004
Thank you for showing interest in my
I hope you enjoy the areas of social psychology that I have explored.
Hopefully my research will inspire future studies in the areas of
adolescent romantic relationships and self-concept.
Special thanks to :
- The faculty of the Saint Anselm College psychology
department. This work could not have been completed without their loyal support and encouragement.
- Presque Isle High School faculty and students, for
cooperation and support in allowing this study to take place.
- My family and friends
who were inspirations for this topic.
Poor relationship satisfaction and low self-concept are
highly correlated in adult romantic relationships. Early research
on this topic suggests many relationships between
these two factors, but fails to assess early adolescent romances.
Participants in this study were high school
sophomores, juniors and seniors who are currently involved in a
relationship. They were asked to
complete several questionnaires pertaining to self concept, level of
the relationship, and relationship satisfaction. Relationship
satisfaction was assessed using a trust scale and a general
relationship assessment questionnaire; self-concept was assessed using
a self-description questionnaire.
It was predicted that poor
relationship satisfaction and low
self-concept will be positively correlated. The results suggested a
positive correlation between relationship satisfaction and trust in
relationships as well as bewteen relationship satisfaction and
These findings may help us identify people who are at risk for
relationship problems as well as reasons why they are unhappy in their
current relationship; detecting these risks early may in turn help
relationships survive with proper support and treatment.
all the forms of caution, caution in love
perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”
to the 2002 Marriage Project at Rutgers University, 40-50% of today’s
(contracted romantic relationships) are projected to end in divorce. This statistic has improved since the 1980’s
when the divorce rate was around 60%. (Popenoe 2002) Currently, one of
reasons for divorce is “irreconcilable differences,” which has been
in a number of ways. The Family Law Manual defines irreconcilable
as “...serious, permanent differences between the spouses that have led
breakdown in the marriage.” (1999) It implies a lack of cooperation and
commitment in the partnership, as well as unwillingness to resolve the
problem. In other words, many married
couples are not getting along. Happy partners who are satisfied in
their relationships are much less likely to divorce (Popenoe 2002). Why
so many couples unhappy in their marriages?
people, and especially young women, are not confident
that they will marry and remain married for life. This
lack of confidence may play a part in marital dissatisfaction (Popenoe
studies by Vaillant and
Vaillant (1993) suggest that even though most couples struggle at some
a marriage, prolonging satisfaction means being mutually dedicated to
marriage and commitment to “making it work” and not succumbing to the
negativity of stressful times and disagreements. However,
sometimes no matter how dedicated the couple is,
underlying factors may threaten relationship satisfaction from the
Hendrick developed an “RAS” Relationship Assessment Scale (1988) that
specifically tests the level of satisfaction in relationships. Within the scale are measurements of love,
sexual attitudes, self-disclosure, commitment, and investment. It was also found to be effective in
discriminating couples who stayed together from couples who terminated
relationships. From this study, Hendrick
found evidence that couples who perceive high satisfaction in their
relationship are less likely to break up than couples who are unhappy
dissatisfied with their current relationship status.
is another important quality of a satisfactory relationship. Presumably, without trust in a close
romantic relationship, there can not be security. Early
research by Rempel, Holmes, and Zanna (1985) found validity
in a theoretical model of interpersonal trust in close relationships
nearly 50 dating, cohabiting, or married couples. The study established
main stages of trust: dependability, predictability, and faith. To have
dependability in a partner is to be able
to rely on and count on the partner in good times and in bad
times. The predictability of a partner is based
past experiences and knowledge of one's partner and how he or she will
different situations. Finally, faith
is most important because it assumes a level of risk; relying more on
feelings about a partner helps the person move further into the
It is believed that once a strong sense of trust is developed between
in a relationship it enables a person to view their partner's
addition to their own.
In today’s society it is important to understand the
a satisfactory (and presumably successful) relationship because it may
psychologists and relationship counselors better understand the causes
unsatisfactory relationships and therefore be better prepared to advise
couples. Self-esteem is one important
satisfaction in romantic relationships; similarly, positive models of
to play a critical role in sustaining relationship well-being
Hendrick & Adler 1988; Baldwin & Sinclair 1996). Since
been associated with relationship well-being and overall satisfaction,
important to explore the nature of self-esteem.
Leary, Tambor, Terdal, and Downs (1995), self-esteem is defined as an
-- specifically an attitude toward oneself -- that has cognitive and
components. People do not simply think
favorable or unfavorable self-relevant thoughts; they feel
good or bad about themselves. Self-concept has been confused
with self-esteem, although their relationship is overlapping.
Self-concept is the belief about the self
and self-esteem is evaluation of oneself in light of those beliefs.
Therefore, self-esteem is a small component
of self-concept. In other words,
self-esteem is a fluctuating feeling or attitude while self-concept is
a broad evaluation of different concepts including worth, success,
achievement, and attractiveness. In much of the research done on
and self-concept, this is the most popular construct (Leary, Tambor,
& Downs, 1995).
study by Trzesniewski, Donnellan, and Robins (2003) looked at
across the life span from age six to 83 and found evidence that
self-esteem stability was low during childhood,
increased through adolescence and young adulthood, and declined during
and old age. If self-esteem indeed
declines during mid-life, and divorces (which are most often terminated
irreconcilable differences and overall marital dissatisfaction) often
this time, it is possible that there is a correlation with these two
factors. Furthermore, as childhood and
adolescence is also characterized by “lower” self-esteem, it would be
to assume that poor romantic relationship satisfaction in adolescents
be affected by lower self-esteem.
and O’Neill (1984) tested a multidimensional self-concept and found the
following components substantially correlated with measures of
self-concepts: emotional stability, honesty and trustworthiness,
values and religion, opposite and same sex relations, physical
abilities, and academic efficacy. The Self-Description Questionnaires
and III (Marsh, 1999) were designed to test all these aspects of
self-concept. For the purpose of this
study, the concepts of emotional stability, physical appearance,
relations, and overall self-concept will be tested using the Self
Questionnaire III. Along
with these aforementioned correlates, evidence has been found
theory that dating and married individuals with lower self-esteem
fewer virtues in their romantic partners. (Murray, Holmes, &
This low self-perception often reflects a low perception of the
partner, inevitably leading to deficiency and relationship
Murray’s studies have shown that the partners of low-self-esteem
report less positive perceptions of their partners, less satisfaction,
conflict, and greater ambivalence as their romance progresses (Murray,
& Griffin 1996b).
aforementioned studies, it has been implied that low
self-concept may predict poor relationship satisfaction.
If an individual is found to have poor
overall self-concept, it is possible that their relationship may also
unstable. However, although early research in this area suggests many
relationships between these two factors, it only focuses on serious adult
relationships and marriages and fails to assess early adolescent
romances. Since this prior research
suggests a pattern
in partner’s attitudes and self-perceptions in direct relationship with
couple’s overall satisfaction, there is reason to believe that this
also applicable in late adolescents in the beginning stages of
relationships, especially since the stability of self-esteem across the
span is said to be lower at this time (Trzesniewski, Donnellan, and
2003). The negative influence poor
self-concept has on relationship satisfaction has been studied in
adult romances a great deal – but never in adolescents.
the causal factors of unsatisfactory relationships has social and
importance. Lack of relationship
satisfaction can lead to long-term depression, drug and alcohol use and
or even suicide and may affect school performance as well.
The damage potential in a poor relationship
is far reaching at all ages, especially adolescence. Adolescence
is a time to seek acceptance and discover the self, and romantic
are central in most adolescents’ lives.
Between the ages of fourteen and nineteen relationships have the
potential to affect development positively but also place adolescents
for problems. Romantic experiences
change substantially over the course of adolescence; the peer context
critical role as heterosexual adolescents initially interact with the
in a group context, then begin group dating, and finally have dyadic
relationships. (Furman 2002)
study intends to support the theory that satisfaction in adolescent
relationships is affected by self-concept, just as in adult romantic
relationships. Affirmative findings
will help encourage healthy solutions to individual insecurities, which
turn reflect positively on that person’s romantic relationship
promote healthy relationships in the future.
were 22 volunteer sophomores, juniors and seniors with parental
consent. After IRB approval and written permission from the high school
administration, I was able to gather participants for this study by
pretests to everyone in each study hall classroom. In
order to participate, the invited
students had to complete and return the form to the high school before
of the study. Once a group of
willing participants was identified and all forms were passed in, a
test times was made and reviewed with the administration for approval. All students were tested during a study hall
or otherwise most convenient time. Each participant
received a packet containing the SDQIII, Trust Scale and RAS. Each packet was arranged in reversed orders
to assure randomness and reduce biases. Participants were instructed to
all questions to the best of their ability and to take as much time as
necessary to do so. Once all
information had been collected from the participants, a debriefing form
(Appendix C) was distributed for the participants to read at their
explaining the hypothesis of the study and thank them for participating.
interview administered to all volunteer participants was designed by
author. (See Appendix A for sample pretest) The purpose of this
to determine the age of the students and identify who was currently
a romantic relationship. Five random questions were asked with only one
relevant question, the romantic relationship question (#2). All
students who answered “true” to question #2 were given an
invitation (See Appendix B for sample invitation) to participate in the
phase of the study. The invitation
was accompanied by an informed consent form
for the parents to sign.
The Self-Description Questionnaire III (Marsh 1999)
is used to determine the quality of self-concept in each participant.
The original SDQIII is a 136-item inventory
that measures self-concept in a series of areas using a five-point
ranging from true to false.
consistency = .80 to .92.; test-retest reliability = .50
to .70; convergent validity ranging in
each subsection from .30 to .74; no discriminant validity (Robinson,
& Wrightsman 1991).
The Rempel and Holmes Trust Scale (1986) was
used to assess the level of trust in a close or romantic relationship
three factors: predictability, dependability, and faith. It
uses a seven-point likert scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to
agree (7); the higher the score on this test, the higher the level of
trust. The trust scale has high
internal consistency: .81 for the total scale, .70 for predictability,
dependability, and .80 for faith (Robinson, Shaver and Wrightsman 1991). In addition, the Relationship Assessment
Scale (RAS) created by Susan Hendrick (1988) was used as a basic
for quality of the relationship. The
RAS uses a five-point likert scale and is only seven questions,
time. Scores can range from seven (low
satisfaction) to 35 (high satisfaction) and has a reliability of .86
A bivariate correlation was performed to assess the
relationship between scores. A composite score was obtained for
the SDQ by averaging the scores of the four subscales of the
questionnaire. Comparisons were made based on the total score of each
scale. As expected, results show a statistically significant
positive correlation between the scores of the Trust Scale and the
scores of the Relationship Assessment Scale. As a total score, the SDQ
did not show significant correlation with either the RAS or the Trust
Scale. These results contradict the hypothesis. However, an
unexpected significant correlation was found between the Emotional
Stability subscale of the SDQ and the Relationship Assessment
Scale. Table 1 presents the significant correlations:
TABLE 1: correlational
data showing significant findings
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was proposed that low self-concept can predict low relationship
as high self concept can predict high relationship satisfaction,
the length of relationship, background information of the couple,
status, psychological profile, sexual orientation, and age. Findings did not show statistical
significance to support this theory. However, a significant correlation
the Relationship Assessment Scale and the Emotional Stability portion
Self-Description Questionnaire was found, suggesting that one's
may affect the quality of one's romantic relationship. If
stability represents one’s self-concept, then indeed this may be an
statistic that indirectly supports the hypothesis.
The Rempel and Holmes Trust scale
and the Relationship Assessment Scale were chosen because they have
positive correlation in the aforementioned studies (Murray et al 1998,
et al 1996). This significance strengthens measurement validity and
reliability. As expected, the results
of these two scales were significantly correlated in this study as well.
Therefore it is reinforced that high trust
is an important component in satisfactory relationships.
stability was positively correlated with relationship satisfaction, and
imply that the other subscales of the SDQ correlate with relationship
satisfaction as well. These subscales assessed general esteem, peer
and physical esteem. Since each
subscale of the Self-Description Questionnaire correlate with each
since emotional stability and the RAS were positively correlated, it is
possible that these three subscales of the SDQ have potential to show
significance in a study that controls for confounding variables.
This study intended to further
explore these findings with a young demographic. The questionnaires
selected based on this evidence, assuming that relationship
trust in relationships was correlated (which was shown to be
this and other studies) as well as self-concept based on the four
the Self-Description Questionnaire III.
It is possible the SDQ III did not measure the same aspects of self
Sandra Murray’s research (1996, 2001) more accurately represented in
of this study follow the inconsistency of research done by Rempel,
Ross (2001). Their findings found evidence that communicated
(views) of one’s partner were correlated with the level of trust in a
relationship, but could not be predicted by the partner’s reported
satisfaction. This is interesting
because Downey, Freitas, Michaelis, and Khouri (1998) found evidence
impoverished sense of self (or poor self-image) often fosters
and doubts about a partner’s love. From
these studies it can be conjectured that these inaccurate views and
what Rempel, Holmes and Ross consider “communicated attributions,” can
predicted by relationship satisfaction. However, according to Downey
colleagues, they do affect the sense of security in a relationship
lead to relationship problems.
The findings of
no significance in this study could be due to methodological effects.
There may have been some confusion in the
Rempel and Holmes Trust scale as many participants had inquiries
meaning of several questions. The
wording was ambiguous and confusing with at least two questions, which
have thrown the scores off and consequently affect the mean score of
Scale. As a measurement
tool, the RAS provides reliability and validity, but is likely not
enough for this type of study. The seven questions presented in the RAS
either too general or not specific enough to distinguish between
Strength was added by using it in conjunction with the Trust Scale in
scoring process, but with only twenty two participants, it still proved
too weak to show statistical significance overall.
The students who
participated in the study were from the same rural high school in a
conservative, close-knit community with mostly white, Christian, middle
lower class families. No major
environmental or natural cohort effects are known that may have
emotional or mental state of the subjects. All participants were
their study halls to complete the questionnaires and it took less than
minutes for most to finish answering the questions when it was
take at least thirty minutes. Some
students may have been motivated to return to study halls to finish
work or be
with friends, making honesty and accuracy an area of potential error.
the nature of this study, participants were selected based on
relationship status only. Future
studies may have more success by using a reward system for volunteer
participants or a larger demographic of students.
Finding that self-concept did not predict
relationship satisfaction may imply that these two variables are not as
as one may assume. The previous studies did not specifically test these
variables, but instead tested correlates or similar concepts and made
assumptions based on these findings (Rempel et al 2001, Hendrick et al
Baldwin & Sinclair 1996, Murray et al 1996a,b).
relationships found between emotional stability and relationship
may also be due to negative attributional styles, self-criticism, and
levels of self-worth. By studying 247
young adults in college, Morrison et al (1998) found that
associated with global relationship distress and sexual
used a Depressive Experiences Questionnaire to assess the levels of
self-criticism in students. Likewise, Hagborg (1993) compared females
in grades eight through twelve in their baselines for self-worth by
Harter’s Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents. Interestingly
enough, their perceptions did not differ as much as
was predicted. It was found that scholastic achievement and physical
were the most important factors of self-worth in this age group.
Hagborg (1993) also found that overall,
students were less self-assured in romantic relations and looks than
factors tested. This suggests that
although physical appearance was not positively correlated with
satisfaction in the current study, it may in fact influence the overall
of adolescent relationships.
it is difficult to disregard the hypothesis all together because of the
confounding variables including relationship history, length of
sexual orientation, family history, age of participant, time of day,
psychological profile. It would be
beneficial to control for these variables in a future study and build
significant relationship between emotional stability and relationship
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Please answer the following questions honestly. Circle YES or NO.
1. I listen to my favorite music on a daily basis. YES
2. I am currently involved in a romantic
3. I am currently a member of an athletics team.
4. I have worked more than 6 hrs/wk at a regular job.
have a religious
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contingencies of interpersonal
acceptance. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology
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(1998) The self-fulfilling prophecy in close relationship: rejection
sensitivity and rejection by romantic partners. Journal of
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Furman, W. (2002) The emerging field of adolescent
relationships. Current Directions in Psychological
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Galliher, R. V., Rostosky, S. S., Welsh, D. P. &
M. C. (1999) Power and psychological well-being in late adolescent
relationships. Sex Roles (40)9-10 689-710.
Hendrick, Susan S., Hendrick, Clyde & Adler,
(1988) Romantic relationships: Love, satisfaction, and staying
of Personality and Social Psychology (54)6 980-988.
Hendrick, Susan S., Dicke, Amy, Hendrick, Clyde
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Hendrick, Susan S. (1988) A generic measure of
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Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K. &
L. (1995) Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer
hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Marsh, Herbert W. & O’Neill, Rosalie. (1984)
Description Questionnaire III: The construct validity of
self-concept ratings by late adolescents. Journal of Educational
Marsh, H. W. (1999). Self Description Questionnaire
(SDQ III). University of Western Sydney: Self-concept Enhancement and
Facilitation Research Center.
Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., Griffin, D. W.,
& Rose, P. (2001) The mismeasure of love: how self-doubt
relationship beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Murray, S. L., Rose, P., Bellavia, G. M., Kusche, A.
& Holmes, J. G. (2002) When rejection stings: How self-esteem
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Murray, Sandra L. & Holmes, John G. (1997) A
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Appendix A: Pre-test
Appendix B: Invitation
You have been invited to take part in a study
pertaining to social
psychology. You will be asked to
complete a few questionnaires regarding adolescent relationships and
perception. The entire process should take approximately 30-45 minutes.
will not be asked to write your name on any of the tests and you will
identified as all questionnaires will be collected anonymously and
The study will
take place on .
Please be advised that participation in this study is completely
voluntary and that you have the right to cease participation at any
time. All research conducted at Saint
is in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the American
Association. If you are satisfied with
the above description of what is required of you in this study and
the rights as a participant, please sign your name below and check the
periods for you to participate.
Note: Study halls are best. If class time is the only option, it will
need to be approved by the teacher and administration.
See me for details. If no times are
free for you, an after
school or lunchtime arrangement can be made. The parental permission
also be signed and returned with this invitation. Thank you for your
I ____________________________ certify that I have
read the above
description of the study which I will participate in and understand the
requirements. I am willing to act as a
participant in this study and realize that if at any time I decide to
from participation in the study, I have the right to do so as well as
all information that I have provided.
Appendix C: Debriefing form
your participation in this study. Past
research has demonstrated a relationship between self-concept and
relationship satisfaction and this study is looking to investigate how
adolescents are involved with this theory.
All of your information will be kept strictly confidential and
group results will be made available to you upon request.
Your further participation is asked in that
you will not discuss this study with anyone until it is completed in
2003. If you have any questions about
the study please ask me now or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
relationship, self-concept, self-esteem, self-description,
satisfaction, romance, correlation, adolescence, trust, social
psychology, teens, emotional stability