MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Alice Verstaen, PhD
VA Puget Sound Health Care System
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: The study began in the 1980s in Dr. Levenson’s laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley in collaboration with Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington and Dr. Laura Carstensen at Stanford University.
Prior to this study, most research on marriage had focused on younger marriages that ended in separation and divorce. Our study was designed to focus on marriages that had lasted for many years. The idea was that these successful longer-term marriages could provide important clues as to what makes marriages succeed and stay together over time.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: During discussions of difficult marital issues, we found that couples in long-term marriages showed increases in positive emotional behaviors (e.g., humor and validation) and decreases in negative emotional behaviors (e.g., defensiveness and belligerence) over a 13-year time period. In addition, we examined whether the pattern of emotional change over time depended on spouses’ age, the length of the marriage, or their level of marital satisfaction. We found that the increases in positive emotional behaviors and decreases in negative emotional behaviors were observed regardless of age, length, or satisfaction level.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: This finding is important because it tells us that as these marriages matured (by the end of our study all couples had been married at least 35 years and the older couples had been married over 50 years) the spouses became better at handling disagreements in a more positive, less negative way. This bodes well for their abilities to solve the many problems and challenges that marriages inevitably face over time. Although other studies have addressed the question of how marriages differ at different stages of life, this study was unique in that it followed a sample of well-established marriages longitudinally over time and repeatedly observed their actual emotional behaviors.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: What would be interesting and important to explore in this line of research is how these findings may or may not generalize across a broader population. For example, across greater geographical diversity, same-sex couples, divorced couples, and couples who marry in late life, to name a few. It would also be important to learn whether these changes are a function of being married for a long time or just being older. Thus, a study of emotion in new marriages that start in late life would be very interesting.
Alice Verstaen, Claudia M. Haase, Sandy J. Lwi, Robert W. Levenson. Age-related changes in emotional behavior: Evidence from a 13-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples.. Emotion, 2018; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000551
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