Marriage work in older couples: Disclosure of marital problems to spouses and friends over time.J Fam Psychol. 2015 Oct; 29(5):732-43.JF
This study examined the frequency and impact of "marriage work" (MW), or the act of discussing marital problems with spouses and friends, among a sample of older married couples (N = 64). Using actor-partner interdependence models, we examined how turning to one's spouse and one's friend was linked to changes in both spouses' marital satisfaction and conflict 1 year later. We also investigated whether satisfaction and conflict predicted change in MW for older spouses. Both wives and husbands engaged in more MW with spouses than with friends, and only husbands' MW with spouses decreased over time. Wives' MW with spouses was associated with decreased marital satisfaction for husbands, whereas husbands' MW with spouses was linked with increased satisfaction for husbands. Furthermore, wives' MW with spouses predicted increases in wives' marital conflict over time. When examining effects in the opposite direction, wives' marital satisfaction predicted decreases in wives' MW with spouse. Husbands' satisfaction was linked with increases in wives' MW with spouses, increases in wives' MW with friends, and decreases in husbands' MW with friends. Finally, husbands' conflict predicted increases in husbands' MW with friends. Findings suggest that openly engaging in discussions of marital problems may not be as uniformly helpful for aging couples as it is for their younger counterparts. Given that many older adults tend to actively avoid conflictual interactions in an attempt to maximize emotional rewards, researchers and clinicians should note that traditional approaches to working through romantic conflict may not be ideal for aging couples.