Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

James K. McNulty

Committee Members

Lowell Gaertner, Michael Olson


How do people determine satisfaction in their relationships? One way may be to engage in bottom-up processing and rely on sexual satisfaction to arrive at an overall evaluation of the relationship. Another way may be to engage in top-down processing and allow the overall relationship satisfaction to color the perceptions of sexual satisfaction. The current study more rigorously examined the causal relationship between sexual and marital satisfaction through multilevel cross-lagged regression analyses of 8 waves of marital and sexual satisfaction reported by 72 newlywed couples over the first five years of marriage. Consistent with bottom-up processing, initial sexual satisfaction predicted subsequent marital satisfaction. Also, consistent with top-down processing, initial marital satisfaction predicted subsequent sexual satisfaction. The current findings extend theoretical perspectives on the relationship between sexual satisfaction and suggest that both causal paths be considered in future research and clinical practice.

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