Men have been known to recite it as a mantra: Happy wife; happy life.
To the best of my knowledge women do not intone the opposite: Happy husband; happy life.
And not just because it doesn’t rhyme.
Recent research has revealed a disparity.
New York Magazine summarizes:
Among heterosexual married couples, the happier the wife is with her marriage, the happier the husband will be with his life overall. But the reverse isn’t true — a husband’s happiness doesn’t influence the wife’s well-being….
A husband’s satisfaction both with his marriage and his life was higher when his wife also reported being happy with the marriage; on the other hand, both dipped when his wife was unhappy with their relationship. No similar association was found for the wives, however.
The researchers are especially worried that their results affirm the existence of a difference between the sexes. So they have come up with a therapeutically-correct interpretation:
It’s hard to offer an explanation of these findings without creeping into stereotype territory. (“Men are like this and women are like that!”) Still, broadly speaking, women do tend to talk about their emotions more than men do, and that could help explain what’s happening here, said Deborah Carr, a Rutgers University sociologist and co-author of the study, in the press release. "Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships, and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives," she said.
Carr suggests that an unhappy wife will be more likely to share her feelings with her husband. Thus, she will implicitly or explicitly be reproaching him for failing to make her happy.
A man, however, will be less likely to share his unhappiness… thus making it clear that he does not reproach his wife for failing to make him happy.
Strangely enough, in attempting to escape stereotypes, Carr has made women into complainers, willing to blame someone else for their bad moods. And she is saying that men are stoic, willing to suffer in silence, unwilling to shift the blame to their wives.
The research also implies that the quality of the marital relationship matters more to a woman than it does to a man. A man’s pride and sense of self-worth is gained or lost in the marketplace or the arena. A woman’s pride and sense of self-worth is gained or lost in her home, in how well she makes a home, in how well she brings up her children.
Her husband’s well-being might certainly influence the quality of her home life, but it seems not to be decisive. In fact, his happiness does not seem to be as contagious as hers.
While attempting to avoid stereotypes Carr has fallen into a stereotype.
And yet, is it a sexist stereotype, a socially constructed gender role, or is it simply reality?
But, that is not all.
Carr is also suggesting that when a wife is unhappy, her husband will somehow feel responsible. If a husband is unhappy, her wife will not feel responsible.
Also, if a man is happy, about himself, about his work, about his family... the happiness will not be contagious. His wife will not share it.
For my part I find it somewhat strange that a wife is not interested in sharing her husband's pride in achievement. Perhaps this is a universal characteristic. Or perhaps it arises when men and women both have careers, when they see themselves as competitors, not cooperators.