Women happier when their partner is upset

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Are women really happier when their partner is upset?

Forget happily ever after — women would rather live their lives in misery with an empathetic partner.

A new Harvard University study has found women are far more satisfied with their relationships when their partner shares their anger or unhappiness.

Men, on the other hand are pleased when their partner is happy, but would rather not know if their other half is feeling down.

Related: The five arguments that can destroy your relationship

"It could be that for women, seeing that their male partner is upset reflects some degree of the man's investment and emotional engagement in the relationship, even during difficult times," study leader Shiri Cohen said.

"This is consistent with what is known about the dissatisfaction women often experience when their male partner becomes emotionally withdrawn and disengaged in response to conflict."

Researchers from Harvard Medical School studied 156 heterosexual couples from a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Each participant was asked to describe a time their partner had upset, disappointed or frustrated them in the past few months.

The couples then came together to view their partner's statement and asked to discuss them. Their conversations were recorded.

Each couple then watched the tape of their discussion and were asked to rate how they felt at different points in the talk on an 11-point scale ranging from 'very negative' to 'very positive'.

Using these ratings, the researchers selected six clips from the tape that had the highest positive and negative emotions by each partner and asked them to complete a detailed survey describing their feelings, as well as their overall satisfaction with their relationship and whether they felt their partner was empathetic.

Unsurprisingly, the researcher found that relationship satisfaction was directly linked to a man's ability to read his female partner's emotions correctly.

Unexpectedly, women were far more likely to be satisfied with their relationship if their partner was upset than if their partner was happy.

But while women were pleased when their partners were upset or angry, men were far less satisfied with an unhappy other half. Male respondents reported much higher satisfaction levels when their partners were happy.

Related: Unwed couples 'happier' than married ones

Cohen says the findings show the benefits of trying to be more empathetic to your partner.

This study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Your say: What makes you feel satisfied in your relationship?

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