A new study finds that for older adults, the more content the wife is with her marriage, the happier the husband is with his life — no matter how he feels about their relationship.
“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 Dr. Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives.”
Carr partnered with Dr. Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, on the study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
According to Carr, the new study differs from previous research because it takes into account the feelings of both spouses to determine how these marital appraisals influence the psychological well-being of older adults.
The researchers analyzed data from 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. On average, couples were married for 39 years.
To assess marital quality, the couples 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.
The couples rated their general life satisfaction high, typically five out of six points — with husbands rating their marriage slightly more positive than their wives, according to the study’s findings.
“For both spouses, being in a better-rated marriage was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness,” Carr said.
The study also found that while wives became less happy if their spouses became ill, the husbands’ happiness didn’t change 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.”
According to researchers, the findings are important 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.
Source: Rutgers University