Women Are Happier When Men Feel Their Pain Rather Than Their Joy

March 7, 2012  |  

When you’re in a relationship you share a lot of experiences and emotions together, but the expressions that matter most to each gender are actually pretty different. A new study found that while men value being able to pick up on their girlfriend’s happiness, women were more satisfied when their partner understood that they were angry or upset. According to the study’s lead author, Shiri Cohen, PhD, of Harvard Medical School:

“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. This is consistent with what is known about the dissatisfaction women often experience when their male partner becomes emotionally withdrawn and disengaged in response to conflict.”

In the study of 156 heterosexual married and non-married couples, participants were videotaped describing an incident with his or her partner over the past couple of months that was particularly frustrating and then the couples were brought together to listen to and watch each other’s statements. The couples were given 10 minutes to discuss the issue and try to come to a better understanding of what had happened while the researchers videotaped them. Following the discussions, the participants viewed the videotape and simultaneously rated their negative and positive emotions on an 11-point scale from “very negative” to “neutral” to “very positive.”

Using these ratings, the researchers selected six 30-second clips from the videotape that had the highest rated negative or positive emotions by each partner. The researchers showed the clips to the participants and had them complete questionnaires about their feelings during each segment as well as their perceptions of their partner’s feelings and effort to understand them during the discussion. They also measured the participants’ overall satisfaction with their relationships and whether each partner considered his or her partner’s efforts to be empathetic.

For men, their satisfaction in the relationship was directly related to their ability to read their female partner’s positive emotions correctly. But women were more satisfied not only when they understood that their partner was upset but also when their partner understood that they were upset, as opposed to happy. Men on the other hand, preferred that their partner pick up on their happiness rather than their bad mood, which the authors say suggests that being empathetic to a partner’s negative emotions may feel threatening to the relationship for men but not for women.

I think we’ve all been guilty of moping around with the silent treatment and wanting a man to pick up on what’s wrong and cater to our bad mood rather than having to say outright, I’m mad about this or that. We typically view that expression as a positive sign of his love and our connectedness, but this study shows we should be just as satisfied when a man picks up on our good vibes too. I’d also be more concerned with him understanding why I’m upset.

Does your man have trouble picking up on when your upset or frustrated or do you just tell him how you feel outright?

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