Marriage gets happier over time: Couples argue less and laugh more as the years go by, study finds
- Rows that are typical of the early and middle years of a marriage
- Children and finances cause a lot of strain, but they are only temporary
- American psychologists, who tracked couples for 13 years, concluded people relaxed over time
Bickering decreases the longer a couple are married and is replaced by humor and understanding, scientists have found.
Rows that are typical of the early and middle years of a marriage, when children and finances cause a lot of strain, are only temporary, American psychologists concluded.
And as the husband and wife age, they crack jokes more and understand each other, ushering in a more forgiving time in their relationship.
The findings upend the stereotypical portrait of an older married couple as becoming set in their ways and arguing more with their partners.
Negative emotions like defensiveness decreased as the years went by, researchers found
TV series like One Foot in the Grave have portrayed older couples as barely able to stand each other with the flame of passion having long been extinguished.
The study involved tracking couples over a 13-year period who had been married between 15 and 35 years.
Couples were either in the middle-aged group, 40-50 years old and married at least 15 years, or the older group, 60-70 years old and married at least 35 years.
Each couple was analyzed in three sessions, each of which was five or six years apart.
During each session the couples engaged in 15 minutes of unrehearsed conversations about an area of disagreement in their marriage which was videotaped an analysed.
Their listening and speaking was rated according to their facial expressions, body language, verbal content and tone of voice.
Emotions were put into the categories of anger, contempt, disgust, domineering behavior, defensiveness, fear, tension, sadness, whining, interest, affection, humor, enthusiasm and validation.
The study, which was published in the journal Emotion, showed a rise in positive behaviors such as affection and humor.
Negative emotions like defensiveness decreased as the years went by.
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Women were emotionally more expressive than their husbands, who tended to be less affectionate and more domineering, but that did not contradict the overall positive trend.
Study author Robert Levenson, a University of California Berkeley psychology professor, said: ‘Our findings shed light on one of the great paradoxes of late life.
‘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.’
Alice Verstaen, a pHD student who also carried out the study, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
The results are the latest to emerge from a 25-year UC Berkeley study headed by professor 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 they began tracking in 1989.
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