"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," says Prof. Deborah Carr.
Previous studies have suggested health benefits to a happy marriage; one in particular suggested a happy marriage or partnership could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, another study suggested that marital happiness hinges on wives keeping calm following heated spousal arguments.
In this latest study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Prof. Deborah Carr, from Rutgers, and Prof. Vicki Freedman, from the University of Michigan, worked together to analyze data from the 2009 Disability and Use of Time daily diary supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assess marital quality and happiness in older adults.
"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," says Prof. Carr, "which has a positive effect on his life."
She adds that because men are typically less vocal about their relationships, "their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives."
The researchers say their study is different from previous ones because it focuses on the personal feelings of both husbands and wives to assess how their personal feelings on their marriage influence their psychological well-being.
'Husband's marital quality buoyed when wife reports a happy marriage'
To conduct their study, the team looked at data on 394 couples in which at least one of the spouses was 60 years old or more. On average, the couples were married for 39 years.
Profs. Carr and Freedman asked the participants questions such as whether their spouse appreciates them, argues with them, understands their feelings or irritates them. The husbands and wives also kept diaries about how happy they were in the previous 24 hours doing certain activities, such as shopping, doing chores and watching TV.
Overall, the participants had a high level of general life satisfaction, at 5 out of 6 points, and the husbands tended to rate their marriage slightly more positively than their wives did.
Prof. Carr says that being in a better-rated marriage "was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness" for both spouses.
However, they also found that wives became less happy if their spouses became sick, but the husbands' levels of happiness did not change or show the same outcome if their wives became ill.
This is likely due to wives taking on the majority of the caregiving when a partner is sick, says Prof. Carr, who notes that is can be a stressful experience. "But often when a woman gets sick, it is not her husband she relies on but her daughter," she adds.
Summarizing their findings, the authors write:
"[There was not] a significant association between spouse's marital appraisals and own well-being. However, the association between husband's marital quality and life satisfaction is buoyed when his wife also reports a happy marriage, yet flattened when his wife reports low marital quality."
The team says the study is significant because marriage quality can affect the health and well-being of older people as they age. Prof. Carr adds that marriage quality "provides a buffer against the health-depleting effects of later life stressors and helps couples manage difficult decisions regarding health and medical decision making."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested having more relationships prior to marriage is linked to lower-quality marriages.