The relational turbulence model argues that periods of transition in romantic relationships are ripe for upheaval due to heightened relational uncertainty and interference from partners (Solomon & Knobloch, 2004). This research explores communicative and physiological manifestations of relational turbulence during the transition to the empty-nest phase of marriage. Participants completed surveys about their marriage, engaged in a videotaped conflict interaction, and provided saliva samples that were tested for cortisol levels. Multi-level modeling results indicated that relational uncertainty predicts avoidant conflict behaviors but not approach conflict behaviors, and interference from partners predicts indirectness, topic avoidance, withdrawal, and criticism in conflict interaction between empty-nest spouses. Results also revealed that indirectness and withdrawal were positively associated with increased cortisol following conflict. In addition, indirectness, topic avoidance, and withdrawal during conflict interaction corresponded with a more rapid decrease of cortisol following the episode, whereas criticism and demandingness were associated with an increase in cortisol.
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