Viewing spouses more negatively over time may not be all that bad, in fact, it is positive, says a University of Michigan researcher.
According to Kira Birditt, a research fellow at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), negativity is a normal aspect of close relationships that include a great deal of daily contact, which is good for a relationship.
"As we age, and become closer and more comfortable with one another, it could be that we're more able to express ourselves to each other," Birditt said.
In the study, the research team looked at individual changes over time and also at differences among people at different stages in life young, middle-aged and older adults.
The volunteers were interviewed first in 1992 and again in 2005.
They were asked about the negativity of their relationships with three key people in their lives: their spouse or partner, a child, and a best friend.
Specifically, they rated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following two statements about each relationship: "My (spouse/partner, child, friend) gets on my nerves" and "My (spouse/partner, child, friend) makes too many demands on me."
At both points in time, older adults aged 60-plus had the least negative relationships with spouses, children and friends.
Participants in their 20s and 30s reported having the most negative relationships overall.
For all age groups, including adults in their 40s and 50s, the spousal relationship was seen as the most negative and it tended to increase in negativity over time.
"The increases in negativity over time may be indicative of learned patterns of interaction which have been reinforced and tend to persist over time," Birditt said.
"Interestingly, as relationships with spouses become more negative, relationships with children and friends appear to become less demanding and irritating over time," she added.
The study was presented late last year at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.