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How Bringing Stress Home Can Hurt Relationships

Researchers used an assessment to measure perceptions about relationship.

Key points

  • The Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS) measures participants’ satisfaction with their own relationships.
  • Using an assessment to measure this construct can provide valuable information about the relationship, as well as provide direction for therapy.
  • The test cannot, and should not, be used as a measure of compatibility.
Courtesy of Pexels, Leah Kelley
Source: Courtesy of Pexels, Leah Kelley

Marital satisfaction has been equated to interest, stability, quality, adjustment, and happiness in many studies (Heyman, Sayers, & Bellack, 1994, as cited in Vaughn & Baier, 1999). Additionally, when trying to define the construct of marital satisfaction, it often relies on subjective evaluations of a relationship. It is often grounded in theories such as social exchange theory, which assumes “that one is satisfied if he or she evaluates the relationship as meeting or exceeding the set of internal standards for a good relationship and does not perceive any other relationships that meet those standards as well” (Vaughn & Baier, 1999, p. 138). Additionally, couples that perceive their relationship to be more egalitarian are likely to report higher levels of satisfaction (Vaughn & Baier, 1999).

The Relationship Assessment Scale

The Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS; Hendrick, 1988) is often used to assess this construct. It specifically measures participants’ satisfaction with their own relationships. It consists of seven statements, each with a 5-point Likert-type response. A sample statement is, “How well does your partner meet your needs?” (1 = poorly, 5 = extremely well).

Being that the RAS provides a picture of peoples’ perceptions of relationships, it may be helpful in enabling partners to have a better understanding of one another, and/or greater self-awareness. Additionally, comparing partners’ responses to individual items may indicate differences that can potentially lead to conflict (Hendrick, 19888, as cited in Vaughn & Baier, 1999).

The RAS has also been used in studies in conjunction with attachment and marital satisfaction measures. Butzer and Campbell (2008) examined a Canadian sample of 116 married couples between the ages of 21 and 75 who completed self-report measures about themselves and their relationships. The researchers found that the relationship between sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction (as measured by the RAS) was stronger for anxiously attached individuals and respondents with anxiously attached spouses (Butzer & Campbell, 2008). This is likely the case because sex can be used by some couples to foster marital closeness, which can lead to satisfaction. Butzer and Campbell (2008) posit that “anxious individuals appear to receive an extra ‘boost’ in marital satisfaction when they experience positive and satisfying sexual encounters with their spouses, which may help to satisfy anxious individuals’ needs for intimacy and closeness” (p. 151). Therefore, satisfaction can be tied to behaviors within the relationship.

This measure has also been used to assess the satisfaction of couples exposed to stress, both within and outside of their relationship. Falconier, Nussbeck, Bodenmann, Schneider, and Bradbury (2015) examined 110 heterosexual couples from the German-speaking part of Switzerland that experienced both extradyadic stress (life hassles outside the relationship) and intradyadic stress from problems within their relationships.

They were given the German version of measures to assess extradyadic stress, intradyadic stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, physical well-being, and the RAS to examine relationship satisfaction. Their results demonstrated that there was no direct link between daily hassles and relationship satisfaction, however, intradyadic stress mediated a relationship between the two. The stress of the day, for both partners, led to stress within the relationship, which led to lowered relationship satisfaction (Falconier et al., 2015). This is not only important as a research finding, but it also underscores the importance of couples working with counselors to learn how to cope with daily stresses so that they don’t indirectly impact their relationship.

Implications for Therapy

Using an assessment to measure this construct can provide valuable information about the relationship, as well as provide direction for therapeutic work with the couple. Assessments such as the RAS enable practitioners to gain a more in-depth look at a client and the relationship. By providing a couple with information regarding the satisfaction both derive from their relationship, a therapist may be able to touch on important issues and ideas during the course of discussion that will serve to enhance the overall strength of their relationship.

One note of caution is that while the RAS can be used to examine an individual’s perception of the satisfaction derived from his/her relationship, it cannot, and should not, be used as a measure of compatibility, and, as such, decisions about the relationship cannot be made based on that measure alone.


Butzer, B., & Campbell, L. (2008). Adult attachment, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction: A study of married couples. Personal Relationships, 15(1), 141-154.

Falconier, M. K., Nussbeck, F., Bodenmann, G., Schneider, H., & Bradbury, T. (2015). Stress from daily hassles in couples: Its effects on intradyadic stress, relationship satisfaction, and physical and psychological well‐being. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(2), 221-235.

Hendrick, S. S. (1988). A generic measure of relationship satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 50, 93-98.

Vaughn, M. J., & Matyastik Baier, M. E. (1999). Reliability and validity of the relationship assessment scale. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27(2), 137-147.

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