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Reactions to Marital Difficulties

Men and women who have been married for a long time react to marital problems in different ways - women tend to worry and feel upset, while men predominantly feel frustrated.

These are the findings of a study by researchers at Rutgers University and University of Michigan. Wives want to talk about difficulties and offer support to their husbands, while this support can apparently make husbands feel frustrated.

“The men don’t really want to talk about it or spend too much time thinking about it,” explained Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences, who studies marital relationships. “Men often don’t want to express vulnerable emotions, while women are much more comfortable expressing sadness or worry.”

“For women, getting a lot of support from their spouse is a positive experience,” she added. “Older men, however, may feel frustrated receiving lots of support from their wife, especially if it makes them feel helpless or less competent.”

The study questioned couples, who had been married for an average of 39 years, about their marital experiences. Husbands were more likely to report positive experiences and lower levels of marital strain than their wives, but were more likely to feel frustrated both giving and receiving support.

The researchers suggest that this might have something to do with the age of the participants, as at least one partner in each couple was over the age of 60.  It may that too much support can make men of this generation feel less competent.

“We don’t know if younger generations of men would act differently in this situation,” Carr said. “But frustration is an under-researched emotion that needs to be looked at further.”

The researchers conclude that couples should aim to find a middle ground between being together and ‘suffocating’ each other.

“The general message is that support is good only if one views it as helpful and desirable,” said Carr. “Most people want to feel they’re capable of managing their own life.”

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