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A wife’s happiness is more crucial than her husband’s in keeping marriage on track

Rutgers research offers insight into link between marital quality and well-being later in life.

ILLUSTRATION

When it comes to a happy marriage, a new Rutgers study finds that the more content the wife is with the long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life no matter how he feels about their nuptials.

“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, ” said Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Science.

“Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives.”

Carr and Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, co-authored a research study published in the October issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family on marital quality and happiness among older adults.

The study, done by the two Big Ten universities, differs from previous research, according to Carr, because it examines the personal feelings of both spouses to determine how these marital appraisals influence the psychological well-being of older adults. 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.

Those involved in the study, on average, rated their general life satisfaction high, typically five out of six points – with husbands rating their marriage slightly more positive than their wives.

“For both spouses being in a better-rated marriage was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness, ” Carr said.

Still, she said, the study also found that while wives became less happy if their spouses became ill, the husbands’ happiness level didn’t change or reflect the same outcome if their wives got sick.

“We know that when a partner is sick it is the wife that often does the caregiving which can be a stressful experience, ” said Carr. “But often when a women gets sick it is not her husband she relies on but her daughter.”

The study is important, the researchers said, because the quality of a marriage can affect the health and well-being of older individuals as they continue to age.

“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, ” Carr said.

 

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