Which spouse’s happiness is most important for marital satisfaction?
When the wife is happy with a long-term partnership, the husband is happier, no matter how he feels about the marriage.
For marital quality, it seems the wife’s happiness matters more than the husband’s.
The conclusion comes from a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, which looked at the marital satisfaction and happiness of older adults (Carr et al., 2014).
Professor Deborah Carr, the study’s first author said:
“I think it comes down to the fact that when a wife is satisfied with the marriage she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life.
Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives.”
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Almost 400 couples took part in the research, which asked them how much they argue, get on each other’s nerves, whether they are appreciated by their spouses and how much they feel understood.
The couples also kept diaries detailing how happy they were while taking part in everyday activities like watching television and doing household chores.
Along with the importance of the wife’s happiness, the researchers also found that wives got less happy when their husbands were sick, but the husbands’ happiness did not drop in response to their wife’s sickness.
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Professor Carr thinks this is to do with who takes over the care-giving:
“We know that when a partner is sick it is the wife that often does the caregiving, which can be a stressful experience.
But often when a woman gets sick it is not her husband she relies on but her daughter.”
Finally, the researchers looked at the overall quality of the marriages.
They found that most rated their life satisfaction as ‘high’: a five out of six points.
Overall, husbands were slightly happier with their marriages than wives.
“For both spouses being in a better-rated marriage was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness.”
“The quality of a marriage is important because it provides a buffer against the health-depleting effects of later life stressors and helps couples manage difficult decisions regarding health and medical decision making.”