Age-Related Changes in Emotional Behavior: Evidence From a 13-Year Longitudinal Study of Long-Term Married Couples

Alice Verstaen, Claudia M. Haase, Sandy J. Lwi, Robert W. Levenson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


We examined age-related changes in emotional behavior in a sample of middle-aged and older long-term married couples over a 13-year period. Data were collected at 3 waves, each occurring 5 to 6 years apart. For the present study, only couples who participated in all 3 waves were examined (n = 87). Couples were either in the middle-aged group (40 –50 years old, married at least 15 years) or the older group (60 –70 years old, married at least 35 years). At each wave, couples engaged in 15-min unrehearsed conversations about an area of disagreement in their marriage. Emotional behaviors during the conversation were objectively coded using the Specific Affect Coding System. Latent growth curve analyses revealed that, for both husbands and wives, negative emotional behavior (primarily belligerence, defensiveness, fear/tension, and whining) decreased and positive emotional behavior (primarily humor, enthusiasm, and validation) increased with age. Findings generalized across middle-aged and older cohorts and levels of marital satisfaction. These findings support theories that suggest that positive emotion increases and negative emotion decreases with age, expanding upon previous findings by examining objectively coded emotional behaviors longitudinally in an interpersonal context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-163
Number of pages15
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Aging
  • Emotional behavior
  • Longitudinal
  • Marriage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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