And a new study has shown that a husband’s ‘agreeable personality’ and good health plays a key role in preventing conflict and an enduring marriage.
Scientists believe the same characteristics in wives play less of a role in limiting conflict between couples who have been together for a long time, however.
‘Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health,’ said James Iveniuk, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.
‘If the wife is in poor health, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in terms of the quality of the marriage for the husband,’ he said.
The study is based upon a U.S. survey analysing the relationships of 953 heterosexual couples who are either married or living together.
Participants ranged in age from 63 to 90 years old and the average length of their relationships was 39 years.
The survey of older adults participating in the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, which ran the survey, compared the characteristics of the husbands to the characteristics of their wives.
Each person was interviewed and asked to describe themselves.
Mr Iveniuk and his co-authors found many gender differences when they examined personality traits including openness, experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and anxiety.
They added a new measure called ‘positivity,’ which was an overarching characteristic described as a person’s overall desire to be seen in a positive light.
‘Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict. However, the wives’ positivity had no association with their husbands’ reports of conflict,’ he said.
Co-author Linda Waite, Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology at the university, said the study’s measurement of marital conflict could be summarised as, ‘How much does your spouse bother you?’
They found that clashes are not primarily about fighting or violence, but whether one spouse criticises the other, makes too many demands, or generally gets on the other person’s nerves.
It also revealed that men who describe themselves as neurotic or extroverted tend to have wives who complain more about the quality of the marriage.
Men with self-described neurotic wives may consider worrying to be a more ‘gender-appropriate’ role for women, according to the study.
Husbands reported more criticism and demands from their wives overall, but also higher levels of emotional support.
Professor Waite said: ‘Several previous studies have been about the implications of marital status on health.
‘This research allows us to examine individual marriages and not “married people.” We have the reports on the quality of the marriage from each person, about their own personality and their own health.’
The researchers suggest that future studies might examine the question of whether low levels of conflict in marriages require not only the absence of factors, such as poor health and negative traits, but also a better balance of emotional responsibilities between husbands and wives.
They believe some of the differences between husbands and wives may change as researchers study younger couples entering later life, compared to the current generation of older couples who may have more conventional gender roles.