As couples grow old together, their interdependence heightens. Often, they become each other’s primary source of physical and emotional support. Long-term marriages have a profound impact on health and well-being, but benefits depend on relationship quality.
A new study from the University of Illinois examines the dynamics of long-term relationships through spatial proximity. The researchers find that when partners are close to each other, their heart rates synchronize in complex patterns of interaction.
But just being close to another person isn’t always beneficial; it depends on the nature of the interaction, Ogolsky points out. Closeness in the context of a conflict is very different from closeness in the context of a loving interaction. Similarly, changes in heart rate can be positive or negative.
Participants wore a Fitbit measuring their heart rate. They also wore a small proximity-sensing device. The researchers installed sensors in the home that allowed them to monitor the devices and observe in real time how physically close the spouses were to each other. They could then correlate all three measures – each partner’s heart rate and the couple’s proximity – in real time.
The researchers called the couples in the morning to remind them to put on the Fitbit and tracking device, and again in the evening for a survey about their health and well-being as well as their relationship dynamics throughout the day.
The paper, “Spatial proximity as a behavioral marker of relationship dynamics in older adult couples,” is published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Release date: 16 November 2021
Source: University of Illinois