While it's the husband among newlywed couples who has more influence on whether the couple engages in heavy drinking, it's the wife who appears to be in the driver's seat when it comes to determining her husband's marijuana use, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).
Results showed that in the first year of marriage for 20-somethings, husbands are more likely to start or resume smoking marijuana if their wives smoke marijuana. Husbands also are more likely to stop smoking marijuana if their spouses do not smoke. The reverse is not true in either case; husbands do not seem to influence their wives' marijuana smoking.
Kenneth E. Leonard, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study, is a senior research scientist at RIA as well as a research professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Since 1990, he has studied couples recruited while applying for marriage licenses at Buffalo City Hall.
Gregory G. Homish, Ph.D., RIA research associate, is Leonard's co-investigator. The research is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The researchers collected data from 634 couples, 471 of whom provided data before marriage, at their first anniversary and at their second anniversary. The current study revealing a wife's influence on her husband's marijuana use was based on couples in which the average age of husbands was 29 and that of wives was 27.
Leonard noted that the first year of marriage, which can be viewed as a transition into marriage, has been found to have unique characteristics in the primary relationship between husband and wife, the couples' relationships with friends and their substance use. "Substance use tends to decline as individuals progress through their 20s," Leonard added. "This may be a part of the maturing process, but it also reflects periods of transition in life, such as marriage with its increased responsibilities."
"In this study, we found that the prevalence of marijuana use decreased for both men and women over the first year of marriage. For men, use decreased from about 25 percent to 21 percent from the year before marriage through the first year of marriage, and for women over the same period, from 20 percent to 14 percent."
In addition, they found it was common that individuals who smoked marijuana were married to other marijuana users.
"We identified one direction of influence, that is, wives influenced their husbands' initiation of marijuana use, but husbands did not influence wives' use," Leonard noted.
One potential explanation for this is that marriage alters the relationship dynamic in couples, providing more influence to women after marriage than before. According to Leonard, this raises the possibility that after marriage, wives press for changes in their husbands' behavior, and husbands, in the interest of maintaining harmony and avoiding conflict, may change in response to their wives' expectations.
Although wives appear to influence husbands' marijuana use, wives do not necessarily have that influence in other areas of the relationship. Previous research by Leonard and colleagues found that husbands' drinking influenced wives' drinking during the first year of marriage. However, from the first to second year, wives' drinking influenced husbands' drinking.
Another explanation for the gender difference with marijuana may be the patterns of socializing before and after marriage. Leonard suggests that social patterns before marriage may be more influenced by husbands and patterns after marriage more influenced by wives. Consequently, availability, opportunities and norms regarding marijuana use that are present in the social network may impact on the members of the couples.
"For both social drinking and smoking marijuana, wives influence husbands' use from the first to second anniversary," Leonard said. "Although wives influence husbands' marijuana use from before marriage to the first anniversary, they did not influence husbands' heavy alcohol use during that period."
Leonard concluded that smoking marijuana may be viewed as less acceptable and, therefore, wives may seek to exert an influence earlier in the relationship. Determining when the line has been crossed from social drinking (generally considered acceptable) into heavy drinking (considered less acceptable) on the other hand, may be more difficult. This interpretation suggests that wives may tend to provide the limits for acceptable behavior in the relationship and the timing for that influence is early in the development of the marriage.