The current research used two 8-wave longitudinal studies spanning the first 4–5 years of 207 marriages to examine the potential bidirectional associations among marital satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of sex. All three variables declined over time, though the rate of decline in each variable became increasingly less steep. Controlling for these changes, own marital and sexual satisfaction were bidirectionally positively associated with one another; higher levels of marital satisfaction at one wave of assessment predicted more positive changes in sexual satisfaction from that assessment to the next and higher levels of sexual satisfaction at one wave of assessment predicted more positive changes in marital satisfaction from that assessment to the next. Likewise, own sexual satisfaction and frequency of sex were bidirectionally positively associated with one another. Additionally, partner sexual satisfaction positively predicted changes in frequency of sex and own sexual satisfaction among husbands, yet partner marital satisfaction negatively predicted changes in both frequency of sex and own sexual satisfaction. Controlling these associations, marital satisfaction did not directly predict changes in frequency of sex or vice versa. Only the association between partner sexual satisfaction and changes in own sexual satisfaction varied across men and women and none of the key effects varied across the studies. These findings suggest that sexual and relationship satisfaction are intricately intertwined and thus that interventions to treat and prevent marital distress may benefit by targeting the sexual relationship and interventions to treat and prevent sexual distress in marriage may benefit by targeting the marital relationship.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.126.3.375.
Box, G. E. P., & Tiao, G. C. (1973). Bayesian inference in statistical analysis. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Bradbury, T. N., & Fincham, F. D. (1991). A contextual model for advancing the study of marital interaction. In G. J. O. Fletcher & F. D. Fincham (Eds.), Cognition in close relationships (pp. 127–147). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bridges, S. K., Lease, S. H., & Ellison, C. R. (2004). Predicting sexual satisfaction in women:Implications for counselor education and training. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82, 158–166.
Bryk, A. S., Raudenbush, S. W., & Congdon, R. T. (2004). HLM: Hierarchical linear modeling with the HLM/2L and HLM/3L programs. Chicago: Scientific Software International.
Bulloch, A. G., Williams, J. V., Lavorato, D. H., & Patten, S. B. (2009). The relationship between major depression and marital disruption is bidirectional. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 1172–1177.
Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.
Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.
Butler, T., Imperato-McGinley, J., Pan, H., Voyer, D., Cordero, J., Zhu, Y.-S., et al. (2006). Sex differences in mental rotation: Top-down versus bottom-up processing. NeuroImage, 32, 445–456. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.03.030.
Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 113–118. doi:10.1080/00224490509552264.
Call, V., Sprecher, S., & Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and Family, 57, 639–652. doi:10.2307/353919.
Crisp, R. J., & Hewstone, M. (2007). Multiple social categorization. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 39, pp. 163–254). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Davidson, A. R., & Jaccard, J. J. (1979). Variables that moderate the attitude–behavior relation: Results of a longitudinal survey. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1364–1376.
Diamond, L. M. (2003). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110, 173.
Ellis, B. J., & Symons, D. (1990). Sex differences in sexual fantasy: An evolutionary psychological approach. Journal of Sex Research, 27, 527–555.
Fazio, R. H. (1990). Multiple processes by which attitudes guide behavior: The MODE model as an integrative framework. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 75–109). New York: Academic Press.
Fincham, F. D., Garnier, P. C., Gano-Phillips, S., & Osborne, L. N. (1995). Preinteraction expectations, marital satisfaction and accessibility: A new look at sentiment override. Journal of Family Psychology, 9, 3–14. doi:10.1037/0893-3188.8.131.52.
Fisher, T. D., & McNulty, J. K. (2008). Neuroticism and marital satisfaction: The mediating role played by the sexual relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 112–122. doi:10.1037/0893-3184.108.40.206.
Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum model of impression formation, from category-based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 1–74). San Diego: Academic Press.
Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., Thomas, G., & Giles, L. (1999). Ideals in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 72–89.
Goldberg, L. R. (1999). A broad-bandwidth, public-domain, personality inventory measuring the lower-level facets of several five-factor models. In I. Mervielde, I. Deary, F. De Fruyt, & F. Ostendorf (Eds.), Personality psychology in Europe (Vol. 7, pp. 7–28). Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.
Hawkins, M. W., Carrére, S., & Gottman, J. M. (2002). Marital sentiment override: Does it influence couples’ perceptions? Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 193–201. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2002.00193.x.
Heiman, J. R., Long, J. S., Smith, S. N., Fisher, W. A., Sand, M. S., & Rosen, R. C. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 741–753.
Henderson-King, D. H., & Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being in the first years of marriages. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 509–534. doi:10.1177/0265407594114002.
Higgins, E. T., & Bargh, J. A. (1987). Social cognition and social perception. In M. R. Resenweig & L. W. Porter (Eds.), Annual review of psychology (Vol. 38, pp. 369–425). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.
Hudson, W. W. (1998). Index of sexual satisfaction. In C. M. Davis, W. L. Yarber, R. Bauserman, G. Schreer, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (pp. 512–513). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Impett, E. A., Muise, A., & Peragine, D. (2014). Sexuality in the context of relationships. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology: Vol. 1. Person-based approaches (pp. 269–315). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995a). Assessing longitudinal change in marriage: An introduction to the analysis of growth curves. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 1091–1108.
Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995b). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3–34. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.3.
Kelley, H. H., & Thibaut, J. W. (1978). Interpersonal relations: A theory of interdependence. New York: Wiley.
Lawrance, K., & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: The Interpersonal Exchange Model of Sexual Satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2, 267–285. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1995.tb00092.x.
McNulty, J. K. (2008). Neuroticism and interpersonal negativity: The independent contributions of behavior and perceptions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1439–1450.
McNulty, J. K., & Fisher, T. D. (2008). Gender differences in response to sexual expectancies and changes in sexual frequency: A short-term longitudinal investigation of sexual satisfaction in newly married heterosexual couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 229–240.
McNulty, J. K., O’Mara, E. M., & Karney, B. R. (2008). Benevolent cognitions as a strategy of relationship maintenance: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”…but it’s not all small stuff. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 631–646.
McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L. (2013). The implications of sexual narcissism for sexual and marital satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1021–1032.
Norton, R. (1983). Measuring marital quality: A critical look at the dependent variable. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 141–151.
Olson, M. A., & Fazio, R. H. (2001). Implicit attitude formation through classical conditioning. Psychological Science, 12, 413–417.
Peplau, L. A. (2003). Human sexuality: How do men and women differ? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 37–40. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.01221.
Rothbart, M. (1981). Memory processes and social beliefs. In D. Hamilton (Ed.), Cognitive processes in stereotyping and intergroup behavior (pp. 145–181). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (2002). Attachment-related psychodynamics. Attachment & Human Development, 4, 133–161. doi:10.1080/14616730210154171.
Sprecher, S. (2002). Sexual satisfaction in premarital relationships: Associations with satisfaction, love, commitment, and stability. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 190–196. doi:10.1080/00224490209552141.
Sprecher, S., & Cate, R. M. (2004). Sexual satisfaction and sexual expression as predictors of relationship satisfaction and stability. In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 235–256). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. Oxford: Wiley.
Weiss, R. L. (1980). Strategic behavioral marital therapy: Toward a model for assessment and intervention. In J. P. Vincent (Ed.), Advances in family intervention, assessment and theory (Vol. 1, pp. 229–271). Greenwich: JAI Press.
Wills, T. A., Weiss, R. L., & Patterson, G. R. (1974). A behavioral analysis of the determinants of marital satisfaction. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 42, 802–811. doi:10.1037/h0037524.
Wyer, R. S., & Srull, T. K. (1986). Human cognition in its social context. Psychological Review, 93, 322–359.
Yeh, H. C., Lorenz, F. O., Wickrama, K. A. S., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (2006). Relationships among sexual satisfaction, marital quality, and marital instability at midlife. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 339–343. doi:10.1037/0893-3220.127.116.119.
About this article
Cite this article
McNulty, J.K., Wenner, C.A. & Fisher, T.D. Longitudinal Associations Among Relationship Satisfaction, Sexual Satisfaction, and Frequency of Sex in Early Marriage. Arch Sex Behav 45, 85–97 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0444-6
- Sexual satisfaction
- Marital satisfaction
- Frequency of sex
- Sex differences