Table provides the descriptive statistics for husbands and wives and a comparison of their means for all variables relevant to this investigation.
Means, standard deviations (in brackets), and pairwise comparison of husbands and wives scores on all assessed variables
On average, both husbands and wives were very satisfied with their relationship, and did not differ in their level of satisfaction. In line with earlier findings, husbands report more autistic traits than wives (Baron-Cohen et al. 2001
). Furthermore, husbands scored higher on self-esteem than wives, and wives scored higher on self-disclosure than husbands, which is consistent with the existing literature (Kling et al. 1999
; Finkenauer et al. 2004
). No other differences were found between husbands and wives.
Table provides the intercorrelations of the AQ-short, relationship satisfaction, and the assessed mediators for husbands and for wives. As can be seen, the score on the AQ-short is significantly negatively related to relationship satisfaction for husbands but not for wives. For both husbands and wives the AQ score is significantly related to all the possible mediators in the expected directions at a significance level of at least p < .05. Although not corrected for the number of tests performed, these correlations are a first indication that autistic traits may reduce relationship satisfaction, at least for husbands, and that the proposed mediators may play a role in this link. Moreover, although not directly related to our research question, it may be noteworthy that we find positive correlations between partners’ scores on all variables except the AQ-short scores and self-esteem.
Intercorrelations of the AQ-short score, relationship satisfaction, and the possible mediators
Are Autistic Traits Related to Relationship Satisfaction?
To investigate whether people with more autistic traits are less satisfied with their relationship, we used hierarchical linear modeling because the data from two spouses of a couple are non-independent. We included gender into the model as possible moderator of the effect, because husbands’ and wives’ AQ-short scores differed significantly, and controlled for relationship duration. The analysis revealed a negative relation between autistic traits and relationship satisfaction, β = −.48, t = 2.40, p < .05, and a significant interaction with gender, β = .19, t = 1.98, p < .05. In order to identify the nature of this interaction we performed separate regression analyses for husband and wives, controlling for relationship duration. For husbands, the link between autistic traits and satisfaction was significant and negative, β = −.29, t = 4.22, p < .001, whereas for wives, the link was non-significant, β = −.09, t = 1.17, p > .05. Thus, husbands who report more autistic traits are less satisfied with their relationship than husbands who posses fewer autistic traits. Wives with more autistic traits, however, are not less satisfied with their relationship than wives with fewer autistic traits.
To investigate whether autistic traits of one partner influence the relationship satisfaction of the other partner (i.e. partner effects), we designed a hierarchical linear model with the AQ-short score of one partner predicting the other partner’s relationship satisfaction, again controlling for gender and relationship duration. We found no main effect of AQ-short score on the partner’s relationship satisfaction, β = −.18, t = 0.97, p > .05, nor an interaction effect with gender, β = .10, t = 1.05, p > .05. Thus, partners of both men and women with more autistic traits do not report lower relationship satisfaction than partners of people with fewer autistic traits.
Mediators of the Link between Autistic Traits and Relationship satisfaction
To investigate why
husbands with more autistic traits report lower relationship satisfaction, we performed a multiple mediator analysis that allows us to compare the strength of the six mediators included in the present investigation (Preacher and Hayes 2008
). This bootstrapping analysis does not rely on the assumption of a normal sampling distribution and reduces the likelihood of Type 1 error by minimizing the number of inferential tests (Preacher and Hayes 2008
). This analysis disentangles the total effect
—the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable, not considering the mediators—into the direct effect
—the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable, controlled for the mediators—and the indirect effect
—the effect via the mediators.
Because there was no link between AQ-short and relationship satisfaction for wives, we conducted this mediation analysis for husbands only. Figure provides an overview of the effects of the AQ-short and the mediators on husbands’ relationship satisfaction.
Fig. 1 Multiple mediation analysis of AQ and relationship satisfaction for husbands. The top diagram displays the total effect of the AQ on relationship satisfaction. The bottom diagram displays the direct effect of the AQ and the indirect effect through all (more ...)
First, a significant total effect of autistic traits on relationship satisfaction emerged, β = −.34, t
= 4.73, p
< .01. When dividing this total effect into the direct effect of the autistic traits and the total indirect effects of all mediators combined, the direct effect of the autistic traits is no longer significant, β = −.09, t
= 1.57, p
> .05, but the total indirect effect is significant, β = −.25, t
= 4.37, p
< .01. Because the difference between the total effect and the direct effect of the autistic traits is different from zero, we can conclude that the effect of autistic traits on relationship satisfaction is mediated by the proposed mediators (Preacher and Hayes 2008
). The total indirect effect can be further divided into the indirect effects of each of the mediators. The mediators that significantly contributed to the indirect effect were responsiveness, intimacy, and partner-specific trust (Fig. ). More autistic traits among men thus seem to hamper relationship-specific behavior and feelings which, in turn, reduce their relationship satisfaction.