Positive marital illusions: An examination of the plausibility of a cognitive dissonance explanation

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Blaine J. Fowers - Committee Chair


Various approaches to marital research have illustrated the presence of "positive marital illusions," or overly favorable impressions of one's marriage (Fowers, Lyons, & Montel, 1996). Several psychological accounts have not yet proved helpful in explaining the cause and mechanism responsible for the existence of these unrealistically positive perspectives (Fowers & Pomerantz, 1992). However, cognitive dissonance had never been examined in this manner.The goal of the current study was to therefore examine the plausibility of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) as an explanation of positive marital illusions. Various cognitive dissonance paradigms suggest that one will positively evaluate a choice after it is made, especially if that choice is difficult to change (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 199). A marriage in which one experiences "constraint from divorce," such that divorce is a less attractive or more difficult option to obtain, illustrates just such a situation. A cognitive dissonance line of reasoning suggests that the experience of being trapped in a marriage may result in one developing highly positive views of that marriage.In addressing the research questions, the current study examined the relationships between one potential component of a cognitive dissonance conceptualization (constraint from divorce) and two types of marital outlook variables (positive marital illusions as represented by predictions of divorce, and marital satisfaction). Ten types of "constraint from divorce" were represented. Principal axis factor analysis and internal consistency analysis were utilized for data reduction to identify scales that were used as independent and dependent variables.The current study utilized a large, prospective, nationally representative sample of women who were married at the time of the initial assessment. Pearson product-moment correlation and multiple regression analyses were utilized for hypothesis testing purposes. Results were examined in terms of statistical significance as well as practical significance (effect size). Results indicate that divorce constraints were, at best, weakly related to divorce likelihood predictions and marital satisfaction. These results therefore do not provide support for cognitive dissonance as a plausible explanation of positive marital illusions. Alternate avenues of future examination are discussed.


Psychology, Social; Psychology, Clinical

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