By Justin Dubé

This blog is a summary of our published article: Dubé, J. P., Corsini-Munt, S., Muise, A., & Rosen, N. O. (2019). Emotion regulation in couples affected by female sexual interest/arousal disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(8), 2491-2506.

Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD) is characterized by significant and prolonged distress regarding one’s experience of low sexual interest and/or arousal. Both members of couples affected by FSIAD report poorer sexual and relational well-being, and women with FSIAD report higher levels of depression and anxiety than controls [1]. Given these costs, it is important to understand what factors might contribute to FSIAD and its associated consequences for couples. 

We sought to determine whether emotion regulation–abilities and strategies for changing emotional experience and expression–was linked to couples’ adjustment to FSIAD. Prior research suggests that women with FSIAD report more difficulties regulating negative emotion than controls [2], and that differences in emotion regulation strategies are associated with relationship quality [3]. Specifically, whereas greater emotional suppression, the strategy of inhibiting an emotional response, has been linked to lower relationship satisfaction [4], use of emotional reappraisal, the strategy of positively reframing an emotionally-provoking event, protected against declines in marital quality [5]. Therefore, we predicted that poorer emotion regulation (i.e., more difficulties regulating negative emotion, greater use of emotional suppression, and lower use of reappraisal) would be linked to poorer psychological, relational, and sexual well-being of couples affected by FSIAD.  

The goal of this study was to examine whether emotion regulation was linked to couples’ adjustment to FSIAD.

What did we do?

We asked 87 women diagnosed with FSIAD and their male partners to complete measures assessing their emotion regulation abilities and the strategies they use to regulate their emotions in sexual contexts. We assessed couples’ psychological (depression and anxiety), relational (satisfaction and conflict), and sexual (desire and distress) adjustment.

What did we find?

In terms of emotion regulation abilities, greater difficulty regulating negative emotion was related to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety for both women with FSIAD and their partners. It was also linked to greater sexual distress in men.

In terms of emotion regulation strategies, greater use of suppression to regulate one’s emotions was linked to lower relationship satisfaction, and greater symptoms of depression for both members of the couple. The use of emotional reappraisal by both men and women, on the other hand, was linked to lower depression, lower anxiety, and lower perceived conflict. Men’s greater use of emotional reappraisal was also linked to their own higher partner-focused sexual desire and women’s higher relationship satisfaction.   

What does it mean?

The main takeaway of our study is that emotion regulation is linked to the adjustment of both members of couples coping with clinically low sexual interest/arousal. Emotion regulation abilities and strategies may therefore be an important target for interventions to help couples cope with FSIAD.

Couples who are better able to manage their emotions may experience greater psychological, relational, and sexual well-being. One way this can be achieved is by relying less on emotional suppression (i.e., concealing emotions) and more on emotional reappraisal (i.e., reframing a situation) in sexual contexts.

For further reading, check out Justin’s interview with the psychology news website PsyPost.org where he talks about his interest in emotion regulation, caveats of the current study, and future directions:  https://www.psypost.org/2019/10/study-highlights-the-role-of-emotion-regulation-in-couples-coping-with-clinically-low-sexual-interest-54719

References

[1] Rosen, N. O., Dubé, J. P., Corsini-Munt, S., & Muise, A. (2019). Partners experience consequences, too: A comparison of the sexual, relational, and psychological adjustment of women with sexual interest/arousal disorder and their partners to control couples. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16, 83-95.

[2] Sarin, S., Amsel, R., & Binik, Y. M. (2016). A streetcar named “derousal”? A psychophysiological examination of the desire–arousal distinction in sexually functional and dysfunctional women. The Journal of Sex Research, 53, 711-729.

[3] Vater, A., & Schröder‐Abé, M. (2015). Explaining the link between personality and relationship satisfaction: Emotion regulation and interpersonal behaviour in conflict discussions. European Journal of Personality, 29, 201-215.

[4] Chervonsky, E., & Hunt, C. (2017). Suppression and expression of emotion in social and interpersonal outcomes: A meta-analysis. Emotion, 17, 669-683.

[5] Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. B., Walton, G. M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). A brief intervention to promote conflict reappraisal preserves marital quality over time. Psychological Science, 24, 1595-1601. doi:10.1177/0956797612474938

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