Category: Couples / Close Relationships

PS8- #A2 - Relationship Functioning in Couples With Discrepant Alcohol Use: The Mediating Role of Conflict Resolution

Saturday, Nov 18
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Couple Therapy | Alcohol | Couples / Close Relationships

Discrepant drinking patterns in romantic relationships have been shown to be associated with poor relationship functioning, over and above heavy drinking (Mudar et al., 2001). When both partners have an alcohol use disorder, couples demonstrate less conflict (Floyd et al., 2006), report fewer relationship problems (Leadley et al., 2000) and greater marital satisfaction (McLeod, 1993) than couples in which only one partner has an alcohol use disorder. Discrepant drinking patterns have also been shown to be predictive of decreased marital satisfaction at two-year follow-up (Homish & Leonard, 2007) and are a better predictor of divorce than heavy drinking (Ostermann et al., 2005).


 Unsuccessful conflict resolution has been found to be the most important predictor for divorce (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). Alcohol increases conflict and aggressive verbalizations among men and women (Eckhardt & Crane, 2008). Haber and Jacob (1977) found that while concordant alcoholics displayed greater negativity in their relationship, discordant alcoholics actually have more problematic conflict. Therefore, couples with discrepant drinking patterns may be less successful at recovering from conflict, which in turn contributes to decreased relationship functioning. Though couples with discrepant drinking patterns are at higher risk for conflict, no research has sought to investigate how these couples handle conflict in their relationships and whether successful conflict resolution buffers against these negative outcomes.


 The current study investigates conflict resolution as a mediator of the relationship between discrepant drinking patterns and diminished relationship functioning in a sample of married (23.3%) and/or cohabiting, young adults (n = 222, average age = 28 years). Participants are a subsample of a larger project, Project Alliance. Participants completed a videotaped interaction with their romantic partner, and interactions were coded for global observations using the Coder Impressions (COIMPS) for young adults (Panza, Ha, & Dishion, 2014). A coercion score was created for each partner based on participants' criticism and any demeaning or invalidating behaviors towards their partner.


Although preliminary, results of this study will illuminate mediating mechanisms of this established relationship. This may highlight a resiliency factor against negative outcomes associated with discrepant drinking behaviors, such as divorce and aggressive interactions. Moreover, improving conflict resolution among couples dealing with substance use concerns may be an impactful point of intervention and suggest an area of improvement for couples CBT interventions.

Charlie Champion

Graduate Student
Arizona State University
Scottsdale, Arizona

Amanda Bruening

Graduate Student
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Thomas Dishion

Arizona State University