Journal of Undergraduate Research


ambivalent relationship quality, married couples' health


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




Marriage has been positively associated with better physiological health outcomes, although the specific pathways by which this occurs remains somewhat elusive. Additionally, the quality of marriage appears to influence the health benefits derived from marriage. Marital partners, like other social relations, can be sources of support and understanding but can also be sources of criticism, conflict, and jealousy. Research has shown varying degrees of both positivity and negativity co-occurring within close relationships (i.e., ambivalence) and may provide a more accurate representation of marital processes. Cardiovascular outcomes and marital quality have been linked (think “fight or flight”), and one physiological pathway between marital quality and health may be via neural pathways of the autonomic nervous system and limbic system. Our brains are set up for safety and social engagement, which operate through neural (vagal) pathways of the autonomic nervous system. Vagal pathways dampen the fight/flight response; the limbic system activates our fight/flight response and is responsible for our emotional life and memory formation. Research has shown regulated autonomic reactivity to be linked to relationship functioning such that conflictual interactions are marked by greater reactivity, whereas couples with lower reactivity have less conflictual interactions. However, no such link has been examined in ambivalent relationship quality. Thus, a main objective of this study is to gain understanding of the neurological pathways by which marriage impacts health by examining positive and negative (ambivalent) relationship quality on health outcomes.

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