Ego identity status in stably and unstably married couples
Schaut, George B.
Master of Arts
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The present study examined the association between ego identity status and the maintenance and success of long-term, intimate, heterosexual relationships. This was guided in part by Erik Erikson*s (1959, 1968) notion that identity achievement was a necessary prerequisite for the attainment of intimacy- In particular, the "similarity versus complementarity" (i.e., "birds of a feather flock together" vs. "opposites attract") of ego identity status as a possible determinant of the maintenance and quality of such relationships was assessed. The sample for this study consisted of 78 volunteer married couples obtained from a variety of settings, primarily in the Thunder Bay area. Of these 78 couples, 40 were designated as "stable," and 38 as "unstable," on the basis of whether or not the couple had reported some recent step towards dissolution in their relationship (usually separation) and/or some recent involvement in marital counselling. All couples were tested on Grotevant and Adams' (1984) self-report measure of ego identity status, as well as on self-report measures of relationship satisfaction, psychosocial intimacy, passionate love, and spousal attitude similarity. Overall, it was noted that spousal similarity in terms of ego identity status, as expected, did tend to be related to the patterns of mate choice and marital stability among the couples. Specifically, significant correlations emerged between the spouses in the stable group on their moratorium and diffusion subscale scores, while such significant correlations were not seen in the unstable group nor in two randomly-paired control groups* In addition to this modest similarity factor, it was also suggested by the data that the "absolute levels of identity" may have played a key role in influencing the marital satisfaction and stability of the couples. As an example of this, the unstable marital group was found to have significantly higher moratorium scores in comparison to the stable group, while having lower identity achievement and psychosocial intimacy scores. These latter two differences, however, appeared to be largely associated with just the husbands in the sample. Similar trends were also observed when expressing the identity data in terms of J. E. Marcia's (1966) popular "identity status" classification scheme, or when correlating the identity/intimacy subscales with a continuous, paper-and-penci1 measure of marital satisfaction. As far as passionate love and spousal identity content similarity were concerned, these were also examined within the context of marital stability and found to be strongly related—as expected. However, contrary to expectations, these two variables did not appear to be particularly important in terms of "masking" or "suppressing" the complex relationship which may exist between identity achievement and marital satisfaction. Thus, it was tentatively concluded that the chances of a marriage being successful may be enhanced to some extent if neither partner is currently experiencing the "identity crisis," and if the husband in particular, has achieved a secure sense of his own identity and is capable of being intimate. Possible clinical implications of the study and numerous directions for future research are also thoroughly discussed.