College of Psychology: Faculty Articles


Interpersonal and Psychological Correlates of Marital Dissatisfaction in Late Life: A Review

Document Type


Publication Date



Age Factors, Conflict, Interpersonal Relations, Middle Aged, Personal Satisfaction

Publication Title

Clinical Psychology Review








Developmental studies suggest that marital quality improves in old age (e.g., Guilford & Bengtson, 1979). However, many of the studies are replete with sampling biases that probably led to an overinflated positive report of marital satisfaction in older adults. Our review evaluated contemporary studies that have investigated interpersonal and psychological factors associated with dissatisfaction in long-term marriages. Recent investigations indicate that older marriages benefit from lower levels of conflict and greater sources of mutual pleasure following child-rearing cessation. Studies of social support in long-term marriages suggest that perceptions of spousal support are more strongly related to marital satisfaction and general well-being for older women than for men. A few investigations have found a significant relationship between depression and marital discord in older adult samples, and the causal flow between these two variables appears to be unidirectional in that depression has a detrimental impact on late-life marital quality. Indeed, depression has been found to mediate the link between many age-related stressors (e.g., ill health, retirement) and declines in marital adjustment. However, our preliminary analysis of marital adjustment within a depressed, older adult, outpatient sample of married individuals did not confirm statistically that marital discord is associated with depressive symptomatology. This, in part, was attributed to the very narrow range of older adults sampled (i.e., clinic patients suffering from depression). However, the majority of depressives characterized their marriages as discordant. The implications for these findings are discussed and future directions are offered.