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A husband's agreeable personality and good health can prevent conflict among older couples who have been together a long time, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Chicago found that such characteristics in wives play less of a role in limiting marital conflict, perhaps because of different expectations among women and men in durable relationships.
"Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health," said the study's lead author, James Iveniuk, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology.
"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," Iveniuk said.
The study reported results from a national survey with data analysed from 953 heterosexual couples who were married or cohabitating in the US.
The study participants ranged in age from 63 to 90 years old and the average length of their relationships was 39 years.
The survey compared the characteristics of the husbands to the characteristics of their wives and vice versa based on interviews with each person in which they were asked to describe themselves.
Iveniuk and co-authors found many gender differences when they examined personality traits including openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and anxiety.
They added a new measure called 'positivity', an overarching characteristic described as a person's overall desire to be seen in a positive light.
"Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict. However, the wives' positivity had no association with their husbands' reports of conflict," Iveniuk said.
Co-author Linda J Waite said the study's measurement of marital conflict could be summarised as, 'How much does your spouse bother you?'
The clashes are not primarily about fighting or violence, but rather whether one spouse criticises the other, makes too many demands, or generally gets on the other person's nerves.
Another finding of the study was that men who describe themselves as neurotic or extraverts tend to have wives who complain more about the quality of the marriage.
Men with self-described neurotic wives may consider worrying to be a more 'gender-appropriate' role for women. Husbands reported more criticism and demands from their wives overall, but also higher levels of emotional support.
The study was published by the Journal of Marriage and Family.