Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 3 » Marital Relationships - Gender Differences In Marriage, Changes In Marital Relationships Over The Life Course, Factors Affecting Marital Relationships In Later Life

Marital Relationships - Changes In Marital Relationships Over The Life Course

social couples quality marriage suggest

Marital quality is among the most heavily studied aspects of marital relationships, which is not surprising given its strong association with the stability of marital unions. Measures of marital quality are most often based on reports of the level of happiness or satisfaction with one's marriage. Social scientists once generally believed that marital quality followed a U-shaped pattern over the life course, declining in the early years of marriage and then rising again at midlife. This pattern was thought to result from a reduction in the compatibility of spouses over time or from changes in the marital relationship associated with the shifting demands of child rearing and other social roles over the life course. The evidence for such a pattern, however, was based largely on cross-sectional samples, which infer rather than demonstrate change over the course of individual marriages. Analyses of longitudinal data conducted in the 1990s support the notion that marital quality declines early in marriage, but do not suggest that marital quality recovers again in midlife (Glenn; Vaillant and Vaillant). Instead, these studies suggest that marital quality remains relatively stable during the later years of marriage.

Despite this apparent lack of improvement in marital quality beyond midlife, and evidence of a general decline in the level of marital happiness in the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century, the majority of people still in their marriages in later life report these relationships as being happy or very happy. Of course, it is likely that many unhappily married couples end their unions through divorce earlier in life. Studies of long-lasting marriages suggest that commitment to one's spouse and to the institution of marriage, viewing one's spouse as a best friend, and sharing similar life goals and a sense of humor characterize these durable relationships (Lauer, Lauer, and Kerr). Although more research has been conducted on the content of marital interaction among young couples than among relatively older couples, there is some evidence that the interactions of older couples are less emotional but more affectionate than the interactions of middle-aged couples (Cartensen, Gottman, and Levenson). Older couples have also been found to display lower levels of anger, disgust, belligerence, and whining in their interactions than middle-aged couples.

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