Study of the Day: Women Are Much Happier When Men Feel Their Pain

According to recent research, men and women derive satisfaction from their partner's ability to empathize in vastly different ways.

Everett Collection/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: How do men and women in relationships value their significant other's ability to empathize?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by Harvard Medical School's Shiri Cohen recruited 156 heterosexual couples and recorded statements from each participant about a recent incident with his or her partner that was particularly frustrating, disappointing, or upsetting. Then, after reuniting the couples and playing back the statements, they videotaped the pairs for 10 minutes as they tried to come to a better understanding of their problems.

Following the discussions, the subjects watched the videotape and simultaneously rated their negative and positive emotions throughout. Using these ratings, the authors selected and showed the most emotionally charged clips to the participants and had them complete questionnaires about their sentiments during each segment. They also measured the participants' overall satisfaction with their relationships as well as their perceptions of their partner's feelings.

RESULTS: Relationship satisfaction among the men was tied to their ability to read their partner's positive emotions accurately. The women's happiness in their romances, on the other hand, was associated with their partner's ability to correctly read their negative emotions.

CONCLUSION: Men like to know when their wife or girlfriend is happy while women really want the man in their life to know when they are not. Cohen explains in a statement: "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."

SOURCE: The full study, "Eye of the Beholder: The Individual and Dyadic Contributions of Empathic Accuracy and Perceived Empathic Effort to Relationship Satisfaction" (PDF), is published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Health

Just In