Date of Award

12-18-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Lisa Armistead, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Frank J. Floyd, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Julia Perilla, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Erin Tully, Ph.D.

Abstract

The present study investigated the effects of childhood abuse that occurred before the age of 18 on levels of marital satisfaction in older age. The study examined marital satisfaction in a group of Caucasian older married individuals with a mean age of 65.4 years who retrospectively endorsed a history of childhood physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse. Although previous studies examined the relationship of child maltreatment on young and middle-age adult relationship satisfaction, the study addressed a gap in the literature in that it examined the impact of child maltreatment on marital satisfaction in older age. Marital satisfaction in older age is particularly important to understand due to the health and psychological benefits derived from being in a satisfying marriage in older age (Booth & Johnson, 1994; Dush, Taylor, & Kroeger, 2008; Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007), which is a time when health may become fragile. Furthermore, this study expands the current literature by explicating plausible mediators in the association between child maltreatment and late-life marital satisfaction. In particular, based on life course theory, the study examined specific life course risks (i.e., early marriage, early childbirth, and multiple divorces) and adult individual characteristics (i.e., avoidance coping and depression) as plausible mediators in the association between child abuse and later life marital satisfaction. The study examined men and women separately and investigated the effect of the severity of abuse on relationship functioning. The study used Structural Equation Modeling to analyze the data and tested all relationships between abuse, each mediator, and marital satisfaction. Results demonstrate that child maltreatment is negatively associated with late life marital satisfaction and that mid-life depression mediates that association for both men and women. Additionally, modification indices suggested that avoidance coping may influence late life marital satisfaction through a connection with depression and that coping by wishful thinking may be relatively more harmful for martial satisfaction than other forms of cognitive and behavioral avoidance coping. Findings suggest that treating depression in mid-life may be a feasible route to help individuals who have a history of early childhood abuse to have satisfying and protective relationships later in life.

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