Category: Couples / Close Relationships


Distress Tolerance in the Daily Lives of Romantic Couples

Sunday, November 19
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Sapphire 400, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Couples / Close Relationships | Distress Tolerance | Transdiagnostic
Presentation Type: Symposium

The ability to tolerate negative affect – commonly referred to as distress tolerance (DT) – has been proposed to be a transdiagnostic risk and resiliency factor. DT hinges on the presence of distress, yet existing studies routinely fail to include distress in conceptual and empirical models. To our knowledge, there are no published studies on the association between DT and romantic relationship quality in daily life and the role of psychological distress in this association.

To address these gaps, we conducted a one-week, daily diary study with 130 community adults in romantic relationships (65 heterosexual couples). We explored between- and within-person variability in DT and examined the effects of DT on daily relationship quality in three models: only DT as a predictor, daily distress as a covariate of DT, and daily distress as a moderator of DT.

The majority of the variance in men and women’s DT over the course of a week was attributable to within- rather than between-person variability (ICC = .75). DT predicted relationship quality for men (b = .10, t[275] = 2.68, p = .008) but not women. This effect disappeared after controlling for distress. Men’s distress predicted women’s relationship quality (b = -.28, t[274] = -3.41, p < .001), but women’s distress did not predict men’s relationship quality. Distress failed to significantly moderate any DT effects.

To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of DT on the quality of romantic relationships, much less at the daily level from the perspective of both partners. Our findings shed light on the importance of examining distress concurrently with DT and exploring the effects of DT on different facets of romantic relationships and other interpersonal domains. Our results challenge a growing body of research that has neglected essential methodological and analytic strategies - that explicitly address distress - in studying the causes, correlates, and consequences of DT. The value of DT to meaningful life outcomes has yet to be determined, pending future investigations addressing the confounding influence of psychological distress.

James D. Doorley

Graduate Student
George Mason University


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Distress Tolerance in the Daily Lives of Romantic Couples

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