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Californian researchers examined, in a couple’s relationship, whether the stress of a partner might affect the stress of the other partner. Thirty married couples, who were in a relationship for 13 years on average, were recruited and asked to provide saliva samples 4 times a day for 3 days, in order to measure cortisol levels.  The results of the study revealed that the cortisol levels of the woman and man in the couple were positively correlated, above all when they were physically together. This association was still found when controlling for the time of day. This means that a high level of cortisol in one partner was associated with a high level of cortisol in the other. This association is even stronger when the woman reported a stronger dissatisfaction in the couple. We can now ask whether this synchrony reveals marital empathy or marital discord.

Title: For better or worse? Coregulation of couples’ cortisol levels and mood states.

Authors: Darby Saxbe, Rena L. Repetti.


Journal: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010) vol. 98 pp. 92-103