Couples from our very own Bryn Mawr were among those participating in a study on what women—and men—really want out of relationships. Turns out—surprise!—the two genders aren’t on the same page. The study results, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, indicate that men want to know when their women are happy, while women want their men to recognize and empathize when they’re upset.
The study recorded participants as they described an upsetting or frustrating incident with their partner. Those statements were played back to the couples, who were given 10 minutes to discuss and try to better understand what occurred in the incidents. Researchers videotaped these discussions, and replayed the tapes for the participants, who rated their emotions through the course of the tape using an electronic “emotion meter” that ranged from “very negative” to “very positive.” Researchers then chose shorter “clips” from the tape that had evoked the greatest positive and negative responses in partners, and showed them the clips. Afterward, participants filled out questionnaires about their perceptions of the partner’s feelings and attempts to empathize in the segments, as well as about their general satisfaction with the relationship.
Women reported being happier when men understood that they were upset, but men showed no such correlation; they reported more relationship satisfaction when they could read their partners’ positive emotions, rather than negative ones. Lead author Shiri Cohen, of Harvard Medical School, theorizes that male empathy proves to women that men are emotionally engaged and invested in a relationship, whereas men may feel that empathizing with a partner’s negative emotions will somehow threaten the relationship—a belief women don’t share. At any rate, the researchers suggest we should all at least appreciate our partners’ attempts to empathize, lame though they may be.