A Developmental and Relational Perspective on Marital Closeness in Older Adulthood
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Human Development and Family Studies
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Although research has generally found that marital closeness is a vital resource for older adults, the literature has focused minimal attention on this key construct in older marriages. Even less attention has been focused on the experience of closeness for remarried, older couples that are experiencing both a successive marital relationship and the unique developmental tasks of older adulthood (e.g., retirement, caregiving). To understand this critical intersection between couples’ relational and developmental experiences, the current paper will draw upon two competing theories to reveal the complexities of marital closeness and how that may differ based on an individual’s developmental and marital stage: socioemotional selectivity theory and self-expansion theory. Utilizing a sample of 64 higher-functioning, well-educated older couples, we utilized dyadic data to examine how husbands’ and wives’ experience of marital closeness changes over a year and to what extent this varies according to spouses’ marital histories and efforts to maintain the relationship. Overall, our findings revealed that older spouses are enjoying close relationships within marriage—regardless of marital history or efforts to maintain the relationship. However, there was some evidence that wives’ feelings of closeness are diminishing over time. Explanations for these findings and future directions are provided.