The Journal of Family Psychology just published a doozy of an article titled, “Eye of the Beholder: The Individual and Dyadic Contributions of Empathic Accuracy and Perceived Empathic Effort to Relationship Satisfaction.” Don’t all rush to the news stands, I know that’s one provocative title.
The research behind this straining-to-be-studious piece is really interesting and completely applicable to almost every couple I’ve ever met. Basically, it demonstrates the difference expectations that men and women have for their partners.
Scientists from Harvard Medical School interviewed 156 heterosexual couples, talking about instances with their partners that they found frustrating, disappointing or upsetting. After the in-depth conversations, the researchers learned that men equated relationship happiness with their ability to read their partners positive emotions. Guys felt confident when they could realize and understand their wives’ happiness. That sounds like a positive result!
Women, on the other hand, are happiest when their partners are able to interpret their negative emotions. As a married woman, I can completely agree and support the conclusion that we want our partners to acknowledge our anger or sadness. I want my husband to validate those feelings for me.
Head researcher Shiri Cohen explains, “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.”
As a female, I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that other women want their partner’s sympathy. I’ve felt like that plenty. But I was pretty surprised to hear that men feel differently. Surprised, and maybe a little relieved that it’s not just my husband who has a hard time understanding why I want someone to wallow in my misery with me.
So often, we look at relationships and how men and women communicate differently. We judge how choose partners, keep partners and leave them. We don’t always look at the differences between male and female expectations in the relationship, or how they measure success in a relationship. This research looks at what men and women need to feel satisfied. Men need to share the good times, while women are looking for a partner who can understand their pain.
I suppose this means that I should start explaining to my husband why I’m upset, instead of pouting with my arms crossed and getting angry when he doesn’t sympathize with whatever is ruining my day. Or I could always passive-aggressively email him this article and hope that he understands. I wonder what the Harvard researchers have to say about passive-aggressive communication.