Aging, perception of the spouse, and love expression in marriage

David Dunlap, Purdue University


Previous cross-sectional studies with the Love Scale have described linearly lower scores in marital love expression across groups representing successive marriage stages. This is in contrast to a U-shaped progression of scores across successive stages found by others focusing on marital satisfaction instead of behavior. These trends were shown to be compatible. Satiation with love expression was proposed to explain linearly lower scores in love behavior, while mutual spouse distraction caused by children or work was proposed to explain the U-shaped relationship of satisfaction scores across the same stages. Four hundred and eighty spouses completed the newly-revised version of the Swensen Love Scale. Four stages of marriage were each represented by 60 couples: couples wed 3 years or less and childless; with children in the home; in the work force but with children launched; and retired. As in earlier Love Scale research, the global scores for couples in the later stages of marriage were lower than those for couples in earlier stages, supporting the theory that couples become satiated with love expression. Data from two recently developed measures of marital satisfaction were also analyzed. Dunlap's Internal Reciprocity composite scale compares one respondent's self-assessment with his or her view of the spouse's marital contributions. Dunlap's Mutual Reciprocity composite scale compares responses of wives with those of husbands. Group scores supported the theory of distraction. They produced, respectively, a U-shaped trend and curve describing a more favorable view of the spouse among newlyweds and retired couples. The Internal Reciprocity scores also showed that respondents in all 4 marital stages rated the other's contributions higher than their own. This finding supports the theory that spouses in successful marriages have a positive bias in judging each other which acts as a cushion against marital conflict. An unanticipated gender difference was noted: the Internal Reciprocity scores suggested that wives see themselves as contributing as much as their husbands, but the Mutual Reciprocity scores showed that wives still judge their husbands more generously than their husbands judge themselves. An hypothesis of greater similarity of love behavior among longer-married couples was not supported. A curvilinear trend suggested that distraction affects reciprocal modeling. but the results were not significant. The reliability of a composite scale developed to measure group differences was suspect. ^




Major Professor: Clifford H. Swensen, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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