Drinking Together: Implications of Drinking Partners for Negative Marital Quality

Objective: Concordant and discordant alcohol use has significant implications for negative marital quality among married couples. Yet, we know little about the frequency with which individuals drink with their spouse versus with other social partners, or the implications of drinking with one's spouse and with others for negative marital quality.

Method: Participants were from the third wave of the Social Relations and Health Study, in which 312 (59% women; ages 22-87) married/cohabitating respondents completed a baseline telephone survey followed by monthly web surveys regarding their alcohol use, drinking partners, and negative marital quality.

Results: Multilevel models revealed that men and women drink more often with their spouse than with others. Drinking any amount of alcohol with one's spouse for a greater proportion of months was associated with lower negative marital quality by gender such that more frequent drinking with others (family and nonfamily) was associated with lower negative marital quality (e.g., less criticism and fewer demands) among men and women. The effects of drinking with others varied among women and higher negative marital quality among men in the next month.

Conclusions: These findings reveal that drinking with one's spouse may partly explain why concordant drinking spouses report lower negative marital quality. Furthermore, drinking with others may be beneficial for women's marriages but harmful for men's. The findings are consistent with the concept of the drinking partnership, which suggests that drinking with one's spouse is often linked to positive outcomes, including lower negative marital quality.