Women Hold the Key to Marital Bliss

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The phrase “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy” would surely top a ranking of Most Cross-Stitched Phrases, if only such a list existed. Now a new study in Journal of Marriage and Family finds some truth to the idea, sort of: Among heterosexual married couples, the happier the wife is with her marriage, the happier the husband will be with his life overall. But the reverse isn’t true — a husband’s happiness doesn’t influence the wife’s well-being.

Here’s an overview of the methodology, via ScienceDaily:

Researchers analyzed data of 394 couples who were part of a national study of income, health and disability in 2009. At least one of the spouses was 60 or older and on average, couples were married for 39 years.

In order to assess marital quality, those involved in the study were asked several questions, such as whether their spouse appreciates them, argues with them, understands their feelings or gets on their nerves. They were also asked to keep detailed diaries about how happy they were in the previous 24 hours doing selected activities like shopping, doing household chores and watching television.

A husband’s satisfaction both with his marriage and his life was higher when his wife also reported being happy with the marriage; on the other hand, both dipped when his wife was unhappy with their relationship. No similar association was found for the wives, however.

It’s hard to offer an explanation of these findings without creeping into stereotype territory. (“Men are like this and women are like that!”) Still, broadly speaking, women do tend to talk about their emotions more than men do, and that could help explain what’s happening here, said Deborah Carr, a Rutgers University sociologist and co-author of the study, in the press release. “Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships, and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives,” she said.

In other words, your partner’s feelings about your relationship are unlikely to affect you if you have no idea what those feelings even are.