Happy wife, happy life? New study says ‘yes’

For married couples, when the wife is happy with the marriage, the husband has higher life satisfaction, according to new research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

"Older husbands and wives in better marriages are more satisfied with their lives," study co-author Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said in a press release. "But overall life satisfaction for an unhappily married man depends on how his wife describes their relationship. If she describes their marriage as higher quality, his life satisfaction is buoyed—even if he gives the marriage a less glowing assessment."

The research is among the first to examine the influence of his and her marriage appraisals on psychological well-being among older couples. According to researchers, marital quality has far-reaching implications for the health and well-being of older adults.

"Marital quality is an important buffer against the health-depleting effects of later-life stressors such as caregiving, and a critical resource as couples manage difficult decisions regarding their care in later life," study co-author Deborah Carr, a sociologist at Rutgers University, said in a press release.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from a 2009 sample of 394 couples who were a part of a national panel study. At least one spouse in each couple was age 60 or older.

Researchers assessed participants’ life satisfaction and feelings of happiness by asking them how happy they were overall, and how happy they felt while doing randomly selected activities from diaries they  were asked to keep. Marital quality was assessed by six questions, including asking how much they could open up to their spouse and how much their spouse made them feel tense.

On average, both husbands and wives rated their general life satisfaction as 5 out of 6, and happiness was close to 5. Additionally, husbands rated their marriages slightly more positively than wives.

"For both husbands and wives, being in a better-rated marriage was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness," Carr said. "But wives' assessments of the marriage are more important in some respects than their husbands' reports."

Researchers believe this imbalance may reflect broad gendered patterns within marriage.

"Women typically provide more emotional and practical support to husbands than vice-versa," Carr said. "So even an unhappily married man may receive benefits from the marriage that enhance his overall well-being."