“I love you” (but I can’t look you in the eyes): Explicit and implicit self-esteem predict verbal and nonverbal response to relationship threat
Research has revealed the value of studying communication patterns, both verbal and nonverbal, in couple conflict discussions (Gottman & Levenson, 2000; Noller, Feeney, Bonnell, & Callan, 1994). In fact, the study of behavioral reactions to relationship conflict has been central to predicting important relationship outcomes, such as relationship satisfaction and breakup (e.g. see Gottman, 1998 for a review). The goal of the current dissertation was to explore how explicit (i.e., conscious, deliberate) and implicit (i.e., unconscious, automatic) self-esteem correspond to people's self-reported approach and avoidance verbal and nonverbal behaviors following a relationship threat manipulation (Study 1) and people's observer-rated approach and avoidance verbal and nonverbal behaviors in an actual conflict discussion (Study 2). Results revealed the importance of both explicit and implicit self-esteem for predicting responses to relationship threat, revealing a pattern of results consistent with the risk regulation model (Murray et al., 2006; 2008). These studies also revealed the value of understanding how perceptions of a partner's commitment moderate the relation between implicit self-esteem and risk regulation dynamics. The results of the current research provide some of the first evidence that implicit self-esteem influences romantic relationship regulation dynamics during relationship conflict.