Areas of Marital Dissatisfaction among Long-Term Couples

By Duba, Jill D.; Hughey, Aaron W. et al. | Adultspan Journal, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Areas of Marital Dissatisfaction among Long-Term Couples


Duba, Jill D., Hughey, Aaron W., Lara, Tracy, Burke, Monica G., Adultspan Journal


To better understand relational dissatisfaction and duration of long-term married couples, this study surveyed 30 couples married at least 40 years with the Marital Satisfaction Inventory. Findings suggest various areas of dissatisfaction (e.g., affective communication, conflict over child rearing) and relationship among and link to other areas of dissatisfaction (e.g., finances, sex).

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Most research on marriage focuses on either the dissolution of the relationship or marital satisfaction among couples recently married or married within the last 20 years (Bachand & Caron, 2001; Rosen-Grandon, Myers, & Hattie, 2004). Little has been conducted on the areas of dissatisfaction and difficulties facing long-standing couples (Henry, Miller, & Giarrusso, 2005). This article summarizes the results of a study that identified relationships among factors and areas of dissatisfaction as reported by couples who have been married 40 years or more. Suggestions for brief interventions as well as further research are provided based on the information gleaned from this study. First, we present a brief discussion related to the definition and factors associated with marital satisfaction and marital duration.

SUMMARY OF THE RESEARCH

Cherlin (2005) stated that "marriage is more prevalent in the United States than in nearly all other developed Western nations" (p. 43). Although it appears that Americans like to be married, almost half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce (Pieper Webb et al., 2010). Despite the limited research, several studies have examined what actually keeps couples together and suggested that marital satisfaction, intimacy, and shared religious faith have been linked with marital duration and stability (Bachand & Caron, 2001; Henry et al., 2005; Roizblatt et al., 1999).

Sperry (2010) defined marital satisfaction as how partners meet each other's expectations. Furthermore, researchers have attempted to identify categories or attitudes related to marital satisfaction. Marital satisfaction has been linked to various factors including friendship, companionship, love, commitment, similarity, stability, and togetherness (Bachand & Caron, 2001; Bodenmann & Shantinath, 2004; Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999). Still other factors include loyalty, trust, moral values, respect, patience, and forgiveness (Bryant, Conger, & Meehan, 2001; Fenell, 1993; Fincham & Beach, 2002; Robinson, 1994; Roizblatt et al., 1999). Additionally, communication and coping strategies have been linked to marital satisfaction (Bodenmann & Shantinath, 2004; Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999). Couples who engage in the following behaviors during particularly stressful and difficult times tend to move out of those experiences successfully: positive interpretations of marital transgressions, correctly perceiving how one's spouse is feeling about something, and responding empathetically toward each other (Fields, 1983; Fincham, Paleari, & Regalia, 2002). Furthermore, couples who are able to positively reframe situations, constructively engage with each other (rather than withdraw or engage in violent behaviors), and effectively use optimism during stressful situations tend to be happier and more stable than those who do not use such coping strategies (Ptacek & Dodge, 1995; Whiting & Crane, 2003). It follows that maintenance behaviors, such as positivity, openness, assurances, and networking, have been found to contribute to the duration of the marriage (Canary & Stafford, 1992; Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999). Although it remains unclear if marriage duration is a function of marital satisfaction, examining the qualities and behaviors associated with marital satisfaction such as intimacy has served as the focus of research.

Various studies have confirmed a strong link between marital satisfaction and marital intimacy (Greeff & Malherbe, 2001; Kenny & Acitelli, 1987; Ng, Peluso, & Smith, 2010). …

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