A Calmer Wife Strengthens A Marriage: The Emotionality Of Wedlock

Shutterstock photo of elderly couple
Researchers find that a wife's - but not husband's - temperament plays a significant role in marriage satisfaction while in a separate study they find a genetic link to how emotional people are to the state of their relationship. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Wives who quickly regain their cool after a spat keep a marriage strong while a husbands' emotional control during a verbal argument makes little difference, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Northwestern University.

The study, published in the journal, Emotion, recorded the conversations of 80 heterosexual couples who were middle-aged or older. Every five years, their disagreements were assessed based on conversations, body language, tone of voice, discussion topic, and facial expressions.

Based on these observations, reserchers concluded that couples had better short- and long-term marriage success when wives remained more calm and collected when things got heated.

"When wives discuss problems and suggest solutions, it helps couples deal with conflicts," Robert Levenson, a psychologist from UC Berkeley, told Medical News Today. "Ironically, this may not work so well for husbands, who wives often criticize for leaping into problem-solving mode too quickly."

Levenson, who has studied heterosexual relationships since 1989, and lead author, Lian Bloch, noted that the study shows the destructive nature of anger and contempt in a relationship, especially if the wives are unable to bury the hatchet, apparently.

Specifically, the willingness and ability of wives to control their emotions and harness “constructive communication” to keep arguments grounded were strongly linked to marital fulfillment. Conversely, the way husbands kept their emotions in check apparently had “little or no bearing in long-term marital satisfaction,” the study authors write.

This discrepancy could reflect generational differences in how marriage and gender-roles are viewed, as well as how arguments negatively impact a relationship. Northwestern University assistant professor and study co-author, Claudia Haase, noted “middle-aged and older couples in our study grew up in a world that treated men and women very differently. It will be interesting to see how these gender dynamics play out in younger couples.”

Levenson colleagues recently published another study in Emotion that explored another generational aspect of marital satisfaction rooted in biology. After comparing the behavior and genetic backgrounds of married couples, researchers found that the presence of a certain gene that regulates serotonin predicted the degree that emotions can impact a relationship. Researchers found that people with two short forms of the serotonin gene exhibited greater emotional ups and downs related to their marriage. Conversely, people who had one or two long forms of the same gene were not as emotionally affected by the status of their marriage. 

"Individuals with two short alleles of the gene variant may be like hothouse flowers, blossoming in a marriage when the emotional climate is good and withering when it is bad. Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate," Haase told Medical News Today

Haase noted that these genetic variants of emotionality don’t necessarily serve an individual or couple a distinct advantage as it depends on the context of the relationship.

Interestingly, the link between genes, emotion, and marital satisfaction was stronger among older adults.

"One explanation for this latter finding is that in late life — just as in early childhood — we are maximally susceptible to the influences of our genes," Levenson explained.

Join the Discussion