April 1, 2023

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Men’s and women’s relationship satisfaction predicts both their own and their partner’s relationship satisfaction in the future, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Importantly, the researchers found no gender differences in the magnitude of these effects, challenging the conventional wisdom that women’s perceptions about their relationship are more consequential than men’s.
“There is a longstanding idea that women’s experiences and perceptions in their relationships carry more weight in determining how that relationship is likely to develop in the future compared to men’s experiences,” explained University of Alberta family sciences professor Matthew Johnson, the corresponding author of the new research.
“This is exemplified by pop culture references such as ‘Happy wife, happy life’ and scientifically by the notion that women are relationship barometers. Despite the pervasiveness of this idea, very few studies have directly tested it in a rigorous way and that is what really piqued our interest.”
The researchers examined data nine daily diary studies conducted in the Canada and the United States, which included 901 mixed-gender couples in total and 29,541 daily reports of relationship satisfaction. The couples had been together for about six years on average.
Johnson and his colleagues also examined five annual waves of data from the German Family Panel (pairfam), which collected data from 3,405 mixed-gender couples who provided 21,115 reports of relationship satisfaction. The couples in this dataset had been together for about 9 years on average.
The results of both analyses pointed to a similar conclusion. There was no evidence that women’s satisfaction was a stronger predictor of couples’ subsequent relationship satisfaction compared to men’s satisfaction.
“The relationship satisfaction of both men and women were equally strong predictors of their own future satisfaction and of their partner’s — whether it was day-to-day, or year-to-year,” explained co-author Emily Impett in a news release. “Men’s satisfaction matters equally, in terms of how they feel, and how their partner feels about the relationship in the future.”
When participants reported greater relationship satisfaction relative to their own average, both they and their partner were likely to report higher-than-average relationship satisfaction in the future, the researchers found. Likewise, lower-than-average relationship satisfaction predicted reduced satisfaction in the future.
“I think a key takeaway from this research is that what is happening right now in your relationship is an indicator of how things are likely to go in the future, both in the immediate future (i.e., tomorrow) and over longer time frames, as well (i.e., next year),” Johnson told PsyPost.
“I think it would be wise to pay attention when things are going better or worse than is normal for you and your partner,” he continued. “If better, reflect on why that is the case and double-down on those positive things. If things are not going as well as you would hope, address them now; cope with the problems and contain them so they don’t bleed over into tomorrow. It is never convenient to do something uncomfortable, such as sorting out relationship problems, but a little pain for the sake of growth and happiness is well worth it.”
“We already know the things that couples can do to maintain relationship satisfaction,” added Impett. “Be responsive to a partner’s needs, support them when they are down, share in their good news, and cultivate gratitude. It is important for people to be aware of their own satisfaction and its fluctuations. Knowing how you can impact your own relationship satisfaction matters for you, and it matters for your partner too.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“The major caveat is that we focused in this study on relationship satisfaction because it is a good catch-all indicator of how things are going in a partnership, but the other major indicator of relationship success is stability,” Johnson said. “It may be that women’s experiences are uniquely predictive of whether a partnership dissolves, especially because women are more likely than men to initiate a break up. That is an idea to be tested in future research.”
The study, “Women and Men are the Barometers of Relationships: Testing the Predictive Power of Women’s and Men’s Relationship Satisfaction“, was authored by Matthew D. Johnsona , Justin A. Lavnerb, Amy Muise, Marcus Mund, Franz J. Neyer, Yoobin Park, Cheryl Harasymchuk, and Emily A. Impett.
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