New research suggests that a wife who is thinner than her husband may make for a happier marriage — at least early on.
The study from researchers led by Andrea Meltzer, a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, looked at data from 169 newlywed couples 35 years and younger over four years who filled out marital satisfaction questionnaires and each person’s body-mass index (BMI). The body-mass index is a commonly used measure of body fat.
Researchers found that husbands were happier initially when their wives had a lower BMI score than they did. Wives, too, were more satisfied over time when their BMI was lower than their husband’s score.
The study also ruled out many other common factors that may have explained the results, such as other marital stress, depression, whether the relationship ended in divorce, and income level.
The new research follows up on earlier research by Meltzer and McNulty published last year that found a similar relationship — that body image is positively associated with both wives’ and husbands’ marital satisfaction. In that study, the researchers noted that their findings, “… suggest that interventions to promote and maintain marital satisfaction may benefit by addressing women’s views of their bodies — particularly the sexual attractiveness of their bodies.”
The study could not determine which causes what — whether happiness comes from being thinner than your mate, or whether maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is the result of being a happier person in general.
“The great take-home message from our study is that women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner,” noted Meltzer. “It’s relative weight that matters, not absolute weight. It’s not that they have to be small.”
The researchers note that “for understanding how partners’ qualities shape established relationships such as marriage,” their data suggest it may be more helpful to look at the couple as a whole, rather than either individual singly in the relationship.
Because the study only examined newlyweds who tended to be younger — no one was older than 35 in the study — the results may be different for older couples, or as a relationship ages and matures.
“The effects of relative weight could definitely change over time,” Meltzer said. “As attractiveness plays less of a role, perhaps relative weight has less of an effect on satisfaction.”
The study was published in the July issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Source: Social Psychological and Personality Science