Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Owen, Jesse

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Possel, Patrick

Committee Member

Possel, Patrick

Committee Member

Budge, Stephanie

Committee Member

Antle, Becky


Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal conflict; Couples


Romantic relationships are a strong source of personal well being for many individuals, with unhealthy partnerships promoting greater distress and dissatisfaction. Several variables have been identified in the literature as “danger signs” which seem to predict current and/or future relational discord. These danger signs are expressed within couple communication (such as invalidation or escalation) and behaviors (such as physical violence and controlling actions). However, little is known about individual variability in the ability and willingness to accurately identify these danger signs. The current study explores this gap in the literature. Specifically, seven video vignettes of interactions between two partners (actors) were presented to participants, which depicted specific danger signs. Participants were then asked what they noticed, and responses were coded for identification of danger signs. Further more, participants also indicated their hypothetical level of commitment to the relationship following each clip. Participants provided responses for measures of adult attachment, experiences of intimate partner violence and emotional control in romantic relationships, engagement in negative relational maintenance behaviors, level of relational thoughtfulness and relational unawareness, past traumatic experiences, and global coping style. Generally, it was hypothesized that physical violence would be recognized at higher rates as compared to negative relational maintenance behavior danger signs, and these would be recognized at greater rates as compared to communication danger signs. It was predicted that those with greater insecure attachment would recognize danger signs more quickly (as compared to those with higher ratings of secure attachment) as the videos were presented with greater overt expression. It was also hypothesized that those with anxious attachment would report consistent commitment across videos, whereas those with greater avoidant attachment ratings would endorse lower levels of commitment. In addition, mediation models were proposed, wherein attachment would predict commitment ratings through coping strategy (active or passive coping). Lastly, it was predicted that higher ratings of relational awareness would be associated with greater danger sign recognition and lower levels of commitment. Results of the study supported the broad hypothesis that physical violence was recognized at a higher rate as compared to negative relational maintenance behaviors, and communication danger signs were recognized at the lowest level. However, no other significant associations were found within the proposed models. Still, intimate partner violence experiences were related to higher rates of danger sign recognition, as was relational thoughtfulness. Conclusions and implications are offered for improved methods of data collection, and possible explanations for the non-significant findings.