Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Joan K. Monin


Objectives: While there has been growing interest in how close relationships affect older adults’ health, not much research has examined how emotional experiences in older married couples’ positive interactions relate to individual and relational well-being and physical health. The present study hypothesizes that positive emotional responses to older couples reminiscing about first encounter are associated with each spouse’s higher marital satisfaction, fewer depressive symptoms, and healthier cardiovascular reactivity (blood pressure and heart rate variability).

Method: One hundred and one couples completed a background questionnaire at home and then participated in a laboratory session in which they discussed how they first met. Marital satisfaction and depressive symptoms were assessed in the background questionnaire, and positive and negative emotions, perceived support and relationship closeness were obtained before and after the laboratory discussion. All self-reports were completed by each spouse separately and privately. Cardiovascular reactivity (systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate variability) was assessed before and during the interaction. The Actor Partner Interdependence Model was used with SPSS mixed models to examine actor and partner effects.

Results: Partially supporting the hypotheses, results showed the following actor effects: (1) one’s own relationship closeness after discussion was positively associated with their own marital satisfaction; (2) one’s own relationship closeness after discussion was marginally significantly associated with their own systolic blood pressure during the discussion; (3) one’s own negative emotions after discussion were marginally significantly negatively associated with their own heart rate variability. We also found the following partner effects: (4) one spouse’s perceived support after the discussion was positively related to the other spouse’s marital satisfaction; (5) one spouse’s perceived support after discussion was negatively associated with the other spouse’s depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that having couples engage in discussions about how they first met might be a good diagnostic tool for identifying couples who should be targeted for interventions to increase their mental and relationship health. This might further enable health professionals to improve psychological and physical health among older couples.


This thesis is restricted to Yale network users only. It will be made publicly available on 08/28/2021