Original Article

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 49, Issue 5, pp 743-753

First online:

It’s Complicated: Marital Ambivalence on Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Daily Interpersonal Functioning

  • Wendy C. BirminghamAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Brigham Young University Email author 
  • , Bert N. UchinoAffiliated withUniversity of Utah
  • , Timothy W. SmithAffiliated withUniversity of Utah
  • , Kathleen C. LightAffiliated withUniversity of Utah
  • , Jonathan ButnerAffiliated withUniversity of Utah

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Marriage decreases cardiovascular morbidity although relationship quality matters. While some marriages contain highly positive aspects (supportive), marriages may also simultaneously contain both positive and negative aspects (ambivalent). Individuals whose spouses or own behavior is ambivalent may not experience the same cardiovascular-protective benefits of marriage.


The purpose of this study is to elucidate the physiological pathways by which marital quality may influence long-term health and examine ambivalent behavior on interpersonal-functioning and ambulatory blood pressure (ABP).


Interpersonal functioning and ABP were examined in 94 couples.


Spousal and own ambivalent behavior was associated with lower intimacy (ps < .01) and higher systolic ABP (ps < .01). Spousal ambivalent behavior was associated with lower ratings of partner responsiveness (p < .01) and less self- and spousal-disclosure (ps < .05). Mediational analyses indicated that own behavior mediated links between spousal ambivalent behavior and ABP.


Despite the positivity in relationships, individuals whose spouses’ or own behavior is ambivalent may not receive cardiovascular protection from this positivity.


Ambulatory blood pressure Marriage Cardiovascular Social support Ambivalence