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Science says "happy wife, happy life" is true

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Listen up, husbands.

It turns out the way your wife feels about your marriage is a pretty good indicator of how you’ll feel about life in general.

If she’s happy, you’re happy.

If she’s not, good luck.

Those are the findings of a new study from both Rutgers and University of Michigan sociologists.

“There’s a lot of research showing one of the biggest predictors of happiness is actually being happily married,” says Deborah Carr, professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

But she and fellow researcher Vicky Freedman, of the University of Michigan, wanted to go a little deeper than that.

“Most of this research, if not all of this research, focuses on only one partner in the marriage: They look to see whether your marital satisfaction was linked with your overall happiness,” says Carr.

“But what was missing was a partner’s view on the marriage, and so that was really our point of departure. We know that husbands and wives often give very different assessments of their marriage,” she laughs.

So they studied responses from older couples: Both partners were over the age of 50, and at least one partner was 60 or older.

What men think about their marriage doesn’t matter … as much

What they found was this: Yes, being happily married is linked with overall happiness

But Carr says husbands’ and wives’ view of the marriage affect each other in very different ways.

“For a man, regardless of his level of happiness in the marriage, if his wife is happy, that makes his overall happiness and life satisfaction high,” she says.

“Whereas if his wife is miserable in the marriage, the man’s overall life becomes miserable – even if he thought he had a happy marriage!”

Carr says they think there are a couple reasons for this.

First, this generation of older couples probably follow more traditional gender roles in their marriages than younger couples might.

“So even if a man is not happy in his marriage, if his wife is happy, she might do things that enhance his life more generally,” says Carr.

“She might listen more. She might help him more with practical activities, from meal prep to healthy behaviors. She might be more willing to have sex, and do more so often.

“So a happily married woman may confer benefits upon him that enhances his life, even if he is a little less thrilled with the marriage than she is,” she says.

But Carr and Freedman also think there’s a second aspect at work here: communication.

“Who is the person who says, in a marriage, ‘We need to talk about the relationship?’” Carr asks.

“It tends to be women. So if a woman is happy in the marriage, she will probably share praise with her husband.

“But if she’s unhappy with the marriage, you can rest assured that she’s going to say why she’s unhappy and will perhaps nudge her husband to get involved in those conversations.”

Basically, her feelings are more likely to come up, while men – especially of an older generation – are less likely to air their feelings.  

“If a man is unhappy, maybe he’ll sit in his chair, maybe he won’t say as much,” says Carr.

“So his negative feelings aren’t being conveyed to his wife. But at the same time, sometimes his positive feelings aren’t being conveyed as well.”

How to use this to your benefit

Talk it out.

That’s the big takeaway that Carr recommends.

“Some people aren’t touchy-feely, but talking about a relationship doesn’t need to be bad. Just talking about what makes you happy, recapping the day, so that whatever happiness you have toward the marriage can be shared with the partner.”

Because no matter how long you’ve been married, no spouse is a mindreader.

“This is something we know. But if our study shows anything, it’s that you might assume after 40 years you know what your spouse is thinking. Well, sometimes you don’t necessarily. So trying to coax out how one is feeling can be protective and good for the couple,” Carr says.

She spoke with Cynthia Canty today on “Stateside.”

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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