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Abstract

How couples handle marital conflict may depend on what issues they are facing, as some issues may be more difficult to resolve than others. What is unclear, however, is what issues happy couples face and how these issues may be different for couples depending on their developmental stage. To explore this possibility, the current study used both self-reports and observations drawn from two separate samples of happily married couples-one early in middle adulthood (N = 57 couples; average marital duration = 9 years) and one in older adulthood (N = 64 couples; average marital duration = 42 years). Results indicated that all issues were relatively minor, but early middle-aged couples reported more significant problems than did older couples. As to determining the most salient topic for happy couples, it depended on the spouses' gender, developmental stage, and how salience was assessed (i.e., highest rated issue vs. most discussed issue). Only moderate links were found between what happy couples said was their most serious concern and what they actually tried to resolve during observations of marital problem-solving, but there were differences in how spouses behaved based on the proportion of their time discussing certain topics. Findings suggest that more attention should be devoted to understanding what marital issues happy couples discuss and why, as doing so may reveal how couples maintain their marital happiness. © 2019 Family Process Institute.

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... Another study using older couples without children living in the home noted chores, communication, and habits were the most frequently cited topics (Papp, 2018). In one sample comparing age groups, leisure, and emotional closeness was a top concern for younger couples (Rauer et al., 2019). In contrast, older couples designated health as a common conflict topic, while emotional closeness was no longer one of the top five concerns (Rauer et al., 2019). ...
... In one sample comparing age groups, leisure, and emotional closeness was a top concern for younger couples (Rauer et al., 2019). In contrast, older couples designated health as a common conflict topic, while emotional closeness was no longer one of the top five concerns (Rauer et al., 2019). The addition of leisure to the conflict topics, perhaps, demonstrates that couples' problem areas are beginning to evolve as society is changing (Rauer et al., 2019). ...
... In contrast, older couples designated health as a common conflict topic, while emotional closeness was no longer one of the top five concerns (Rauer et al., 2019). The addition of leisure to the conflict topics, perhaps, demonstrates that couples' problem areas are beginning to evolve as society is changing (Rauer et al., 2019). ...
Article
Romantic coupling in the United States is changing (e.g., communication patterns). Research investigating couple conflict topics has not updated with current trends. A large, representative sample (n = 1,013) selected frequent couples conflict topics and reported relationship satisfaction and conflict behaviors. Results suggested communications was the most frequently reported conflict topic for all couples and parenting was the most frequently reported conflict topic for parents. Other commonly reported topics included personal/partner habits, household chores, finances, decision-making, quality time, sex, screen time, role expectations, and time management. Finances, parenting, and sex were negatively associated with relationship satisfaction, whereas household chores and time management were positively associated with relationship satisfaction. Communication, finances, parenting, and sex were associated with an increase in dysfunctional conflict behaviors, whereas time management was associated with a decrease in dysfunctional conflict behaviors. Understanding how conflict sources affect relationships may help couples navigate conflict to preserve the relationship.
... Several studies have shown that couples who fight more have a more fulfilling and long-lasting relationships (University of Michigan, 2008). Further research into this phenomenon has shown that there is a correlation between the pattern of resolving conflicts and relationship satisfaction (Rauer et al., 2019). What might seem irrational at first glance can often prove to be a significant scheme of how our relationships work. ...
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Being distracted by the mobile phone while interacting with a love partner poses a negative threat to well-being. The present study focused on researching the correlation between phubbing, relationship satisfaction and self-esteem with the use of age and relationship length as mediators among 200 adults, men and women, in informal relationships and marriages. In regards to phubbing, two dimensions, “communication disturbance” and “phone obsession” were taken into consideration. Methods used include the Phubbing Scale, the Self-Esteem Scale, and the Relationship Assessment Scale. Women and participants in informal relationships were found to be characterized by a higher phone obsession. The findings also revealed that married couples are shown to have a higher self-esteem and a longer relationship tenure. Phubbing was found to have a negative correlation with both self-esteem and relationship satisfaction. Results have also shown gender differences and differences based on the type of relationship regarding the extent and power of correlations. Age, relationship length, self-esteem and relationship satisfaction were proven to be significant predictors of phubbing behaviour. The paper shows the impact of intrusive phone use on the quality of our lives and suggests new directions for research.
... Status, noted in earlier work (Bravo et al., 2017), albeit at low frequency, was not mentioned by this sample, perhaps because couple members were not as concerned about peer group norms as are adolescents (Brown, 1999). The Family/Friends theme was mentioned by this sample but not by previous ones that used emerging adults, although concerns about tension with partners' family members were found with married couples (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling, 2019). Rather than concerns about fitting in with the general peer group (Status), concerns about being accepted by family and close friends fit the developmental shift towards romantic partners becoming more central figures in the social networks of emerging adults (Furman & Wehner, 1997). ...
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... Status, noted in earlier work (Bravo et al., 2017), albeit at low frequency, was not mentioned by this sample, perhaps because couple members were not as concerned about peer group norms as are adolescents (Brown, 1999). The Family/Friends theme was mentioned by this sample but not by previous ones that used emerging adults, although concerns about tension with partners" family members were found with married couples (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling, 2019). Rather than concerns about fitting in with the general peer group (Status), concerns about being accepted by family and close friends fit the developmental shift towards romantic partners becoming more central figures in the social networks of emerging adults (Furman & Wehner, 1997). ...
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Seeking to understand how emerging adult couples frame unmet needs viewed as a threat to their relationship, we examined narratives in which both partners (12 couples) or only one partner (37 couples) expressed break-up anxiety (BUA). The unmet need of Autonomy was more common in partners with BUA whereas Affiliation was more common in those without it. Overlap in narrating the same unmet needs related to BUA was common when both partners expressed BUA, modest when only the female and low when only the male partner expressed BUA. Female partners were more likely to mention BUA and Intimacy problems related to BUA than male partners. Couple interventions that target how to disclose and process BUA may help partners develop more effective intimacy skills and, when need be, skills to end relationships in more adaptive ways.
... Status, noted in earlier work (Bravo et al., 2017), albeit at low frequency, was not mentioned by this sample, perhaps because couple members were not as concerned about peer group norms as are adolescents (Brown, 1999). The Family/Friends theme was mentioned by this sample but not by previous ones that used emerging adults, although concerns about tension with partners" family members were found with married couples (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling, 2019). Rather than concerns about fitting in with the general peer group (Status), concerns about being accepted by family and close friends fit the developmental shift towards romantic partners becoming more central figures in the social networks of emerging adults (Furman & Wehner, 1997). ...
Article
Seeking to understand how emerging adult couples frame unmet needs viewed as a threat to their relationship, we examined narratives in which both partners (12 couples) or only one partner (37 couples) expressed break-up anxiety (BUA). The unmet need of Autonomy was more common in partners with BUA whereas Affiliation was more common in those without it. Overlap in narrating the same unmet needs relate to BUA was common when both partners expressed BUA, modest when only the female and low when only the male partner expressed BUA. Female partners were more likely to mention BUA and Intimacy problems related to BUA than male partners. Couple interventions that target how to disclose and process BUA may help partners develop more effective intimacy skills and, when need be, skills to end relationships in more adaptive ways.
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This study investigated the impact of couples' agreement regarding relationship problems at therapy intake on subsequent treatment engagement and success. One hundred and 47 couples seeking marital therapy at one of two Veteran Administration Medical Centers completed questionnaires assessing relationship satisfaction and were asked to indicate their three biggest relationship concerns. Agreement on relationship concern was defined as one person's list containing the partner's top relationship problem. Pretreatment agreement on relationship problems was unrelated to treatment course or outcomes when the therapy was longer and more integrative in nature. However, when couples received a brief, problem-focused treatment, agreement predicted greater engagement in therapy process and more positive treatment outcomes. Specifically, couples who were in agreement were more likely to attend the minimum number of required sessions and were more likely to be assessed as having received a full course of therapy by their treatment provider. Additionally, partners who agreed with each other were more likely to experience clinically significant changes during treatment. Taken together, results suggest that therapists and researchers should consider assessing agreement on relationship problems at the beginning of treatment and potentially suggest that couples who perceive their relationship differently should receive more integrative treatment. Future research is needed to examine the most effective sequencing for addressing differing, presenting problems as well as the mechanisms through which disagreement on presenting problems impacts treatment course and outcomes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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Marriage can enhance health for individuals with a chronic disease, yet spouses may also undermine disease management. The current study investigated spousal undermining of dietary regimen in 129 patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. A total of 40 patients reported that their spouses tempted them with forbidden foods, and 15 reported that their spouses conveyed disregard for their diabetic diet. Spousal tempting was associated with worse dietary adherence, and spousal disregard with worse nondietary adherence. Spousal undermining is relatively rare but is associated with patients' disease management and warrants further investigation to better understand how spouses influence partners' day-to-day management of chronic diseases.
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Purpose: Our study documents how the divorce rate among persons aged 50 and older has changed between 1990 and 2010 and identifies the sociodemographic correlates of divorce among today's middle-aged and older adults. Design and method: We used data from the 1990 U.S. Vital Statistics Report and the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) to examine the change in the divorce rate over time. ACS data were analyzed to determine the sociodemographic correlates of divorce. Results: The divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010. Roughly 1 in 4 divorces in 2010 occurred to persons aged 50 and older. Demographic characteristics, economic resources, and the marital biography were associated with the risk of divorce in 2010. The rate of divorce was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages versus first marriages, whereas the divorce rate declined as marital duration rose. Implications: The traditional focus of gerontological research on widowhood must be expanded to include divorce as another form of marital dissolution. Over 600,000 people aged 50 and older got divorced in 2010 but little is known about the predictors and consequences of divorces that occur during middle and later life.
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The authors integrate theoretical work on the performance of gender with a life course perspective to frame an analysis of in-depth interviews with 17 long-term married couples. The findings indicated that couples' sexual experiences are characterized by change over time, yet that change is shaped by the intersection of gender and age. Midlife couples (ages 50 - 69) were distressed by changes in their sex lives likely because they impede couples from performing gendered sexuality. The source of this distress stems from age-related physical changes; however, it manifests in different ways for husbands and wives. In contrast, later life couples (ages 70 - 86) were more likely to emphasize the importance of emotional intimacy over sex as they age. Marital sex is a source of conflict for many midlife couples because of husbands' and wives' incongruent experiences, but later life husbands and wives tend to have more congruent experiences of marital sex.
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To address the validity of a common procedure for assessing problem–solving communication behavior in marriage, this study investigated the extent to which communication behavior is influenced by the difficulty of the topic being discussed. Married couples engaged in a sequence of four videotaped problem–solving conversations, and the topics discussed in each conversation were coded for difficulty. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to investigate both proximal and distal influences on communication behavior. At the proximal level, couples did not change their communication behavior in response to changes in topic difficulty that occurred across the four conversations. At the distal level, couples experiencing conflict over a highly difficult topic reported low relationship satisfaction and used negative forms of communication behavior in all their problem–solving conversations, regardless of the issue being discussed. The relationship between topic difficulty and communication behavior was mediated by marital satisfaction.
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Guided by a family stress perspective, we examined the hypothesis that discussing money would be associated with the handling of marital conflict in the home. Analyses were based on dyadic hierarchical linear modeling of 100 husbands' and 100 wives' diary reports of 748 conflict instances. Contrary to findings from previous laboratory-based surveys, spouses did not rate money as the most frequent source of marital conflict in the home. However, compared to non-money issues, marital conflicts about money were more pervasive, problematic, and recurrent, and remained unresolved, despite including more attempts at problem solving. Implications for professionals who assist couples in managing their relationships and family finances are discussed.
Article
Past research indicates that sexual self-disclosure, or the degree to which an individual is open with his or her partner about sexual preferences, is a key aspect of sexual satisfaction and that partner's lack of knowledge about one's sexual preferences is associated with persistent sexual dysfunction. To replicate and extend past research by examining (i) how one's own levels of sexual self-disclosure are related to one's own sexual health (after controlling for partner's levels of sexual self-disclosure); (ii) how one's partner's levels of sexual self-disclosure are associated with one's own sexual health (after controlling for one's own levels of sexual self-disclosure); and (iii) whether gender moderates the associations between sexual self-disclosure and sexual health. Scores from the Golombok Rust Inventory of Sexual Satisfaction and the Sexual Communication Satisfaction Scale. A cross-sectional dyadic study using a convenience sample of 91 heterosexual couples in long-term committed relationships. Data were analyzed using the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. One's own level of sexual self-disclosure is positively associated with one's own sexual satisfaction, β = -0.24, t(172.85) = -3.50, P < 0.001. Furthermore, partner's level of sexual self-disclosure is associated with men's sexual satisfaction but not with women's sexual satisfaction, β = -0.45, t(86.81) = -4.06, P < 0.001 and β = 0.02, t(87.00) = 0.20, ns, respectively. The association between own self-disclosure and sexual problems is stronger for women as compared with men, β = -0.72, t(87.00) = -6.31, P < 0.001 and β = -0.24, t(86.27) = -3.04, P < 0.01, respectively. Our results demonstrate that sexual self-disclosure is significantly associated with sexual satisfaction and functioning for both men and women, albeit in different ways. Our findings underscore the importance of sexual self-disclosure and highlight the importance of the interpersonal level of analysis in understanding human sexuality.
Article
This investigation explored 2 hypotheses derived from socioemotional selectivity theory: (a) Selective reductions in social interaction begin in early adulthood and (b) emotional closeness to significant others increases rather than decreases in adulthood even when rate reductions occur. Transcribed interviews with 28 women and 22 men from the Child Guidance Study, conducted over 34 years, were reviewed and rated for frequency of interaction, satisfaction with the relationship, and degree of emotional closeness in 6 types of relationships. Interaction frequency with acquaintances and close friends declined from early adulthood on. Interaction frequency with spouses and siblings increased across the same time period and emotional closeness increased throughout adulthood in relationships with relatives and close friends. Findings suggest that individuals begin narrowing their range of social partners long before old age.
Article
Long-term marriages (N = 156) varying in spouses' age (40-50 years or 60-70 years) and relative marital satisfaction (satisfied and dissatisfied) were studied. Spouses independently completed demographic, marital, and health questionnaires and then participated in a laboratory-based procedure focused on areas of conflict and sources of pleasure. Findings supported a positive view of older marriages. Compared with middle-aged marriages, older couples evidenced (a) reduced potential for conflict and greater potential for pleasure in several areas (including children), (b) equivalent levels of overall mental and physical health, and (c) lesser gender differences in sources of pleasure. The relation between marital satisfaction and health was stronger for women than for men. In satisfied marriages, wives' and husbands' health was equivalent; in dissatisfied marriages, wives reported more mental and physical health problems than did their husbands.
Article
The purpose of this review is to provide a balanced examination of the published research involving the observation of couples, with special attention toward the use of observation for clinical assessment. All published articles that (a) used an observational coding system and (b) relate to the validity of the coding system are summarized in a table. The psychometric properties of observational systems and the use of observation in clinical practice are discussed. Although advances have been made in understanding couple conflict through the use of observation, the review concludes with an appeal to the field to develop constructs in a psychometrically and theoretically sound manner.
Article
Individuals of various ages may react in different ways when they are upset with their social partners. This study examines age group differences in descriptions of behavioral reactions to interpersonal tensions. Participants ages 13 to 99 (84 men, 100 women) described interpersonal tensions that occurred with close and problematic social network members. Descriptions were coded with Rusbult's typology of conflict strategies (voice, loyalty, neglect, exit). Multilevel models revealed that older adults were more likely to report loyalty strategies (e.g., doing nothing) while younger people were more likely to report exit (e.g., yelling) strategies in response to interpersonal problems. These age differences were not accounted for by intensity of distress, relationship quality, contact frequency, or type of social partner. It appears that individuals are better able to regulate their behavioral responses to interpersonal problems as they age.
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