Nav: Home

As married couples age, humor replaces bickering

December 03, 2018

Honeymoon long over? Hang in there. A new University of California, Berkeley, study shows those prickly disagreements that can mark the early and middle years of marriage mellow with age as conflicts give way to humor and acceptance.

Researchers analyzed videotaped conversations between 87 middle-aged and older husbands and wives who had been married for 15 to 35 years, and tracked their emotional interactions over the course of 13 years. They found that as couples aged, they showed more humor and tenderness towards another.

Overall, the findings, just published in the journal Emotion, showed an increase in such positive behaviors as humor and affection and a decrease in negative behaviors such as defensiveness and criticism. The results challenge long-held theories that emotions flatten or deteriorate in old age and point instead to an emotionally positive trajectory for long-term marrried couples.

"Our findings shed light on one of the great paradoxes of late life," said study senior author Robert Levenson, a UC Berkeley psychology professor. "Despite experiencing the loss of friends and family, older people in stable marriages are relatively happy and experience low rates of depression and anxiety. Marriage has been good for their mental health."

Consistent with previous findings from Levenson's Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory, the longitudinal study found that wives were more emotionally expressive than their husbands, and as they grew older they tended toward more domineering behavior and less affection. But generally, across all the study's age and gender cohorts, negative behaviors decreased with age.

"Given the links between positive emotion and health, these findings underscore the importance of intimate relationships as people age, and the potential health benefits associated with marriage," said co-lead author Alice Verstaen, who conducted the study as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

The results are the latest to emerge from a 25-year UC Berkeley study headed by Levenson of more than 150 long-term marriages. The participants, now mostly in their 70s, 80s and 90s, are heterosexual couples from the San Francisco Bay Area whose relationships Levenson and fellow researchers began tracking in 1989.

In their investigation of marital relationships, researchers viewed 15-minute interactions between spouses in a laboratory setting as they discussed shared experiences and areas of conflict. They tracked the emotional changes every few years.

The spouses' listening and speaking behaviors were coded and rated according to their facial expressions, body language, verbal content and tone of voice. Emotions were coded into the categories of anger, contempt, disgust, domineering behavior, defensiveness, fear, tension, sadness, whining, interest, affection, humor, enthusiasm and validation.

Researchers found that both middle-aged and older couples, regardless of their satisfaction with their relationship, experienced increases in overall positive emotional behaviors with age, while experiencing a decrease in overall negative emotional behaviors.

"These results provide behavioral evidence that is consistent with research suggesting that, as we age, we become more focused on the positives in our lives," Verstaen said.
-end-
In addition to Levenson and Verstaen, co-lead authors of the study are Sandy Lwi, a researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

University of California - Berkeley

Related Marriage Articles:

Do unmarried women face shortages of partners in the US marriage market?
One explanation for declines in marriage is a shortage of economically-attractive men for unmarried women to marry.
Could marriage stave off dementia?
Dementia and marital status could be linked, according to a new Michigan State University study that found married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.
Happy in marriage? Genetics may play a role
People fall in love for many reasons -- similar interests, physical attraction, and shared values among them.
Your genes could impact the quality of your marriage
The quality of your marriage could be affected by your genes, according to new research conducted at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Ideal marriage partners drive Waorani warriors to war
In a new study, a team of researchers examined the social composition of raiding parties and their relationship to marriage alliances in an Amazonian tribal society, the Waorani of Ecuador.
Is student debt keeping Americans away from marriage?
Having a student loan could influence whether America's young adults first union after college is marriage or cohabitation.
Recent trends of marriage in Iran
Data about marriages in Iran points to the declining number of formal (arranged) marriages in recent decades despite strong cultural and religious traditions favoring such marriages.
Marriage name game: What kind of guy would take his wife's last name?
The study looked at whether a man's level of education -- both his own and relative to his wife's -- influences the likelihood that he chooses a nontraditional surname in marriage.
Get a grip: What your hand strength says about your marriage prospects and mortality
Researchers found men with a stronger grip were more likely to be married than men with weaker grips.
'Marriage diversity' a must-have for rock bands to businesses
The rock n' roll lore says that once a bandmate gets married, the party's over for the group.
More Marriage News and Marriage Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.