Emotion Regulation and Perceptions of Hostile and Constructive Criticism in Romantic Relationships

Sarah Klein

Major Professor: Keith D Renshaw, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, Timothy Curby

Research Hall, #92
April 08, 2015, 02:45 PM to 11:45 AM


Perceptions of hostile criticism (PHC) from close others in relationships are associated with poor relationship and individual functioning, whereas perceptions of constructive criticism (PCC) are associated with better relationship satisfaction. To date, however, there is little empirical knowledge regarding the factors that contribute to perceptions of hostile vs. constructive criticism. Emotion regulation skills and strategies are related to social and communication outcomes and, thus, may be important perdictors of PHC and PCC. The present study examined associations of overall difficulties in emotion regulation, as well as the specific use of expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal strategies, with PHC and PCC in the context of romantic relationships. Both partners of 63 community couples provided self-reports of emotion regulation, PCC, and PHC via global questionnaires. Sixty-one of these couples then attended a laboratory session and completed similar measures immediately following each of three discussions about relationship and individual problems. Multilevel modeling was used to account for the nesting of individual ratings within couples for global mesures and for the nesting of discussion ratings within couples for discussion measures. Individuals' global reports of PHC were higher when both they and their partners reported greater difficulty in emotion regulation and when they used more suppression. Participants reported higher PHC in discussions when both they and their partners reported using more suppression and when they had more difficulties in emotion regulation during the discussions. Individuals reported higher levels of global PCC when their partners reported using less suppression. Finally, participants reported higher levels of PCC in discussions when they reported using more appraisal and when their partners reported using less suppression. Results suggest that couples interventions may be more effective in reducing PHC if they aim to enhance partners' overall skill in emotion regulation and specifically reduce reliance on expressive suppression. Cognitive reappraisal also may be a useful strategy to enhance couples' PCC in appropriate contexts, such as discussions of problems. Finally, therapies may help couples by increasing awareness that one's own emotion regulation strategies are connected to one's partner's PCC and PHC.