A man’s happiness and health best predict the long-term success of a marriage, a new study finds.

Although Western women file for divorce at higher rates than men, the temperamental qualities of the husband were most important to the happiness of an enduring marriage, with neuroticism among men highly associated with wifely complaints of marital dissatisfaction, according to sociologist James Iveniuk, of the University of Chicago. Aside from personality, a man’s health also predicted whether couples would achieve a happy long-lasting marriage through the decades.

“Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health, Iveniuk said in a statement. “If the wife is in poor health, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in terms of the quality of the marriage for the husband.” Interestingly, the wife’s positive attitude or good health failed to affect the marital outcomes of 953 cohabiting heterosexual couples, married and unmarried. The couples had stayed together an average length of 39 years, and ranged in age from 63 to 90.

What mattered most were personality traits among men including open-mindedness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and anxiety. And the overwhelming desire to be seen by others in a positive light was a quality the researchers measured as “positivity.” The original survey had recorded perceptions from men and women about themselves and their spouses. “Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict,” Iveniuk said. “However, the wives’ positivity had no association with their husbands’ reports of conflict.”

This new study might best be summarized as “How much does your spouse bother you?” said co-researcher Linda J. Waite, a professor of aging at the university, in the statement. “The clashes are not primarily about fighting and violence, but rather whether one spouse criticizes the other, makes too many demands, or generally gets on the other person’s nerves.” Men who described themselves as neurotics or extroverts drew the most complaints from their wives. Yet, husbands were less bothered by wives self-described as neurotic. 

With women, things tended to balance out. Whereas wives complained at higher rates about marriage than men, they also offered greater levels of emotional support. “Several previous studies have been about the implications of marital status on health,” Waite said. “This research allows us to examine individual marriages and not ‘married people.’ We have the reports on the quality of the marriage from each person, about their own personality and their own health.” Yet, future examinations of the long-term marriage might go beyond the present study, the researchers said. By removing negative personality traits and health as factors, it might be possible to more closely examine the emotional balance between husbands and wives, everything else being equal.

Source: Iveniuk, James, Waite, Linda J., Laumann, Edward, McClintock, Martha K., Tiedt, Andrew D. Marital Conflict In Older Couples: Positivity, Personality, And Health. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2014.