The Longitudinal Association of Relationship Satisfaction and Sexual Satisfaction
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Several prominent models of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction imply directional relationships between these constructs (e.g., attachment theory, social exchange models of relationship satisfaction, the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction). Previous research has demonstrated that sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction are distinct but correlated constructs, but relatively few studies have examined how they are related over time. Thus, the first purpose of this study was to examine this association. The second purpose of this study was to test positive, negative, and sexual communication as potential mediators of the longitudinal association between sexual and relationship satisfaction. A sample of heterosexual couples (N = 113) completed a longitudinal study spanning two years. At Time 1 they completed measures of relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and communication (positive, negative, and sexual). At Time 2 they completed the same measures of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. Data were analyzed according to the principles of the actor-partner interdependence model using structural equation modeling. Significant actor effects were detected such that, for both men and women, one’s own earlier sexual satisfaction predicted one’s later relationship satisfaction, while one’s own earlier relationship satisfaction did not significantly predict one’s subsequent sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction was a stronger predictor of subsequent relationship satisfaction for men than women. There were no significant partner effects. Negative communication mediated the association between earlier sexual satisfaction and later relationship satisfaction for women but not men. Positive communication and sexual communication did not mediate the association for men or women. These results contribute to our theoretical understanding of sexuality and sexual satisfaction in the context of long-term relationships by providing support for theories that conceptualize sexual satisfaction as one factor that contributes to relationship satisfaction.