The impact of the Canterbury, New Zealand earthquakes on couples’ relationship quality : a dyadic and longitudinal investigation
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Canterbury, New Zealand, was struck by two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Using a dyadic and developmental perspective, the current thesis first aimed to determine how the experience of earthquake-related stressors (including loss of material resources, trauma exposure, and ongoing earthquake-related stressors) and stress (posttraumatic stress symptoms) impacted individuals’ intimate relationship quality (Part 1). Data were collected from a sample of 99 couples at four time points over a period of approximately 15 months, with Time 1 completed 14 months after the 2010 earthquake (eight months post the 2011 earthquake). Data were analysed using moderated growth curve modelling in an Actor-Partner Interdependence Model framework. In line with expectations, posttraumatic stress symptoms were the strongest predictors of relationship quality. More specifically, individuals’ (actor) posttraumatic stress symptoms and their partner’s posttraumatic stress symptoms had an adverse effect on their relationship quality at Time 1. Demonstrating the importance of taking a developmental perspective, the effect of partner posttraumatic stress symptoms changed over time. Although higher partner posttraumatic stress symptoms were associated with worse relationship quality in individuals (actors) at Time 1, this was no longer the case at Time 4. Differences were also found between men and women’s actor posttraumatic stress symptom slopes across time. Using the same data and analyses, Part 2 built on these findings by investigating the role of a possible posttrauma resource available within the relationship – support exchanges. Overall, results showed that individuals were protected from any adverse effects that posttraumatic stress symptoms had on relationship quality if they had more frequent support exchanges in the relationship, however, differences between men and women and slopes across time were found. Although not the case initially, individuals’ relationship quality was worse in the longer-term if their partner reported receiving lower support from them when they were experiencing high posttraumatic stress symptoms. Results also suggested that although women coped better (as evidenced through slightly better relationship quality) with higher symptoms and lower support than men initially, these efforts diminished over time. Furthermore, men appeared to be less able to cope (i.e., had worse relationship quality) with their partner’s stress when they were not receiving frequent support. Contrary to expectations, negative exchanges in the relationship did not exacerbate any adverse effects that posttraumatic stress symptoms (experienced by either individuals or their partner) had on an individuals’ relationship quality. The theoretical and practical implications and applications of these findings are discussed.