Category: Couples / Close Relationships


Empathic Accuracy and Emotion Dysregulation on Relationship Satisfaction in Couples: A Daily Diary Study

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

Keywords: Couples / Close Relationships | Emotion | Ecological Momentary Assessment
Presentation Type: Symposium

Empathic accuracy (EA) is the ability to correctly infer the thoughts and feelings of another person. Couples tend to have higher EA than friends and strangers; however, studies have reported both positive and negative correlations between EA and relationship functioning. To address this paradox, Ickes and Simpson developed the empathic accuracy model (1997), which posits that while people typically try to accurately perceive their partners, they may experience motivated inaccuracy in relationship-threatening contexts.

Recent studies have used daily dairy methods to assess participants’ (perceivers’) daily affect and their inferences about their partners’ (targets’) affect. EA is operationalized as the discrepancy between the perceiver’s estimate and the target’s actual self-reported affect (usually reported in terms of accuracy and bias). Research using daily diaries has shown a link between depression and poorer EA and between attachment insecurity and overestimation of partners’ negative emotion. The findings suggest that person-level traits and possibly state-level affect impact EA abilities or motives; however, these studies did not report on relationship functioning.

The current study used a daily diary method to explore the impact of trait emotion dysregulation, daily affect, and interpersonal events on empathic accuracy and relationship satisfaction in a community sample of 84 cohabitating couples. Participants completed baseline measures of relationship satisfaction and emotional dysregulation and daily diaries over 3 weeks assessing participants’ relationship conflict and satisfaction, affect, and perceptions of their partners’ affect.

Results suggest that lower emotional closeness and relationship satisfaction was reported on days when individuals overestimated partner negative affect (NA). However, when individuals underestimated partner NA or overestimated partner positive affect (PA), both partners reported increased emotional closeness and relationship satisfaction. Individuals with higher trait emotion dysregulation tended to report more “false positives” and fewer “true negatives” for partner NA, particularly on days with higher conflict. These findings may have practical implications for couples-based interventions, as couples may benefit from strategies to increase communication of PA and the absence of NA. These findings also suggest there may be a need for strategies to protect against the negative relational consequences associated with expressing NA in a relational context.

Evelyn P. Meier

Doctoral Student
American University


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Empathic Accuracy and Emotion Dysregulation on Relationship Satisfaction in Couples: A Daily Diary Study

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