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Positive Couple Interactions and Daily Cortisol: On the Stress-Protecting Role of Intimacy

Ditzen, Beate PhD; Hoppmann, Christiane PhD; Klumb, Petra PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e318185c4fc
Original Articles

Objective: To determine whether intimacy might be associated with reduced daily salivary cortisol levels in couples, thereby adding to the epidemiologic literature on reduced health burden in happy couples.

Methods: A total of 51 dual-earner couples reported time spent on intimacy, stated their current affect quality, and provided saliva samples for cortisol estimation approximately every 3 hours in a 1-week time-sampling assessment. In addition, participants provided data on chronic problems of work organization.

Results: Multilevel analyses revealed that intimacy was significantly associated with reduced daily salivary cortisol levels. There was an interaction effect of intimacy with chronic problems of work organization in terms of their relationship with cortisol levels, suggesting a buffering effect of intimacy on work-related elevated cortisol levels. Above this, the association between intimacy and cortisol was mediated by positive affect. Intimacy and affect together explained 7% of daily salivary cortisol variance.

Conclusions: Our results are in line with previous studies on the effect of intimacy on cortisol stress responses in the laboratory as well as with epidemiologic data on health beneficial effects of happy marital relationships.

HPA axis = hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; AUC = area under the individual response curve.

From Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy (B.D.), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (B.D.), Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia; Department of Psychology (C.H.), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; Department of Psychology (P.K.), University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Beate Ditzen, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Zurich, Institute of Psychology, Binzmuhlestr. 14, Box 26, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail: bditzen@emory.edu

The research reported here was funded by a Volkswagen Foundation grant (P.K.). Preparation of this manuscript was supported by research fellowships PBZH1 to 108392 and PIOI1 to 119417/1 awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (B.D.) and by the German Research Foundation (DFG) (C.H.).

Received for publication October 24, 2007; revision received May 7, 2008.

Copyright © 2008 by American Psychosomatic Society
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