Happy wife, happy life? Uh, not so much. According to a new study based on a US survey, researchers found that your husband's "agreeable personality" and good health means you'll fight less — and your marriage will be stronger.
By analyzing relationships of 953 heterosexual couples that were married, or lived together, and ranged from 63 years old to 90 years old, researchers noticed that the physical health of a woman means less to a marriage than her man's. "Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health," said James Iveniuk, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago. "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."
Performed by the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, the survey of older adults compared the characteristics of the husbands to those of their wives. Linda Waite, study co-author, noted that the study could have been summarized by the phrase, "How much does your spouse bother you?" Waite added, "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."
Together, Iveniuk and Waite found that clashes in a marriage are not truly about fighting or violence. Instead, fights typically break out when one spouse criticizes the other, makes too many demands, or just gets on the other one's nerves. So basically, if you nag your husband too much, he'll be unhappy — and you'll be to blame for the fall-out on your marriage.
Nina Atwood, YourTango expert, psychotherapist and author of five self-help books, including Temptations of the Single Girl: The Ten Dating Traps You Must Avoid, Date Like a CEO: Leadership in Life and Love for Men and the e-book Internet Dating for the Savvy Single, says that sometimes a man's health can have more of a stake in his relationship because men tend to fall into the "provider" role. "One of a woman's main drivers is seeking security, both emotionally and financially, and if he's unhealthy, both are at risk. It's not that women are cold-hearted and only see a guy as the breadwinner; it's deeper than that, instinctual, almost primal. For thousands of years, women depended on men for survival in a hostile world. Even though we live in the modern world where women often earn as much or more, there's still an emotional underpinning that drives her to want her man to be healthy, to be the provider and give her a sense of security. That's the unconscious part."
But if you stop and think about it, Atwood says, "Most people want a healthy mate: You have more fun, you enjoy life more, you have a better sex life together; there are loads of benefits that you can't access when one person in the marriage is unhealthy."
So why all the focus on a man’s health as integral to the health of his marriage? Atwood says that it, again, comes back to the "roles" we fall into — even if that's not a bad thing. "Women also tend to take on the "caretaker" role, meaning that she is often the one looking out for everyone's health and well-being," she says. "If she feels like he's not well, she may tend to talk about it a lot, trying to persuade him to go to the doctor, to eat better, and to exercise. If he's sick, she's the one making sure he’s taking all of his medication. It may feel like endless nagging to him, provoking arguments, an endless loop of conflict."
She adds, "Also, if she's healthy and he's not, she may feel like she doesn't have a partner for things like working out, going out for fun, sports, travel, and activities that take energy. Her satisfaction level will go down if she doesn't feel like she has someone with whom to share those things."
And if your husband doesn't ask about your health, Atwood says that it doesn't mean your marriage is going to fall apart. "If she's not well, or if she's unhealthy because of lifestyle choices, he's far less likely to talk about it, to nag her, and to spark conflict. A guy is not likely to focus on the day-to-day wellbeing or health habits of his mate. His focus tends to be on job, career, fixing the broken garage door opener, and things like that."
It turns out that the very glue that holds together a marriage is different for each partner. Atwood adds, "Security is not a main driver for men, so he's not going to feel threatened that way."
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