Job stress and dyadic synchrony in police marriages: A preliminary investigation

Nicole A. Roberts, Rachel C. Leonard, Emily A. Butler, Robert W. Levenson, Jonathan W. Kanter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Despite reports documenting adverse effects of stress on police marriages, few empirical studies focus on actual emotional behaviors of officers and spouses. In this preliminary investigation, 17 male police officers and their nonpolice wives completed daily stress diaries for 1 week and then participated in a laboratory-based discussion about their respective days. Conversations were video-recorded and coded for specific emotional behaviors reflecting hostility and affection, which are strong predictors of marital outcomes. We examined associations between officers' job stress (per diaries and the Police Stress Survey) and couples' emotional behavior (mean levels and behavioral synchrony) using a dyadic repeated measures design capitalizing on the large number of observations available for each couple (1020 observations). When officers reported more job stress, they showed less hostility, less synchrony with their wives' hostility, and more synchrony with their wives' affection; their wives showed greater synchrony with officers' hostility and less synchrony with officers' affection. Therefore, for officers, greater job stress was associated with less behavioral negativity, potentially less attunement to wives' negativity, but potentially greater attunement to wives' affection-perhaps a compensatory strategy or attempt to buffer their marriage from stress. These attempts may be less effective, however, if, as our synchrony findings may suggest, wives are focusing on officers' hostility rather than affection. Although it will be important to replicate these results given the small sample, our findings reveal that patterns of behavioral synchrony may be a key means to better understand how job stress exacts a toll on police marriages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-283
Number of pages13
JournalFamily Process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Dyadic Synchrony
  • Emotional Behavior
  • Job Stress
  • Marital Interaction
  • Marriage
  • Police

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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