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Older Couple Smiling

Study Suggests Humor Replaces Bickering as Couples Age

Couples who find they’re bickering a lot earlier in marriage may just need to wait it out. A recent study suggests that married couples replace bickering with humor and acceptance as they age.



Participants in the study included 87 couples in long-term marriages that were studied for 13 years, starting in 1989. Every 5 to 6 years, the researchers watched 15-minute interactions between spouses in a laboratory as they discussed an area of disagreement in their marriage.


The researchers coded and rated the spouses' listening and speaking behaviors according to their facial expressions, body language, verbal content, and tone of voice. Emotions were coded as anger, contempt, disgust, domineering behavior, defensiveness, fear, tension, sadness, whining, interest, affection, humor, enthusiasm, and validation.


After examining the data, the researchers found that middle-aged and older couples both had increases in overall positive emotional behaviors with age. They also noted a general decrease in negative emotional behaviors.


Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, led the study. It was published online ahead of print on November 29, 2018, in Emotion.

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