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Keywords:

  • aging;
  • communications;
  • couples;
  • life span development;
  • marital relations

Demand-withdraw communication is a set of conflict-related behaviors in which one partner blames or pressures while the other partner withdraws or avoids. The present study examined age-related changes in these behaviors longitudinally over the course of later life stages. One hundred twenty-seven middle-aged and older long-term married couples were observed at 3 time points across 13 years as they engaged in a conversation about an area of relationship conflict. Husbands' and wives' demand-withdraw behaviors (i.e., blame, pressure, withdrawal, avoidance) were objectively rated by trained coders at each time point. Data were analyzed using dyad-level latent growth curve models in a structural equation modeling framework. For both husbands and wives, the results showed a longitudinal pattern of increasing avoidance behavior over time and stability in all other demand and withdraw behaviors. This study supports the notion that there is an important developmental shift in the way that conflict is handled in later life.