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.

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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.

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

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