In a recent study, researchers looked at 156 straight couples of pretty varied backgrounds, asking each person to participate in this really complicated song and dance of arguing, hugging it out, discussing, evaluating their feelings, etc. (read more about it here), measuring the participants’ overall satisfaction with their relationships and whether each partner considered his or her partner’s efforts to be empathetic. The findings: Men are happy if their partner is happy. Women are happy if their partner knows when they are frustrated, disappointed, or unhappy. (Although this does not make the men happy.)
Interestingly enough, women were more likely to be satisfied with their relationships if they knew their partners were unhappy than if they knew their partners were happy.
So is everybody happy? I don’t know, either. I am so confused. A few things could be going on, here:
- Being empathetic to a partner’s negative emotions may feel threatening to the relationship for men but not for women.
- When women see their male partners upset it reflects some degree of the man’s investment and emotional engagement in the relationship, even if it’s during a rough spot. What makes women more upset, then, is when their S.O.s are withdrawn or aloof.
- Guys tied to their stereotypes of being simpletons who never could understand emotional, complicated creatures like women, might have stopped trying to understand them at all.
The good news: The more men and women try to be empathetic to their partner’s feelings, the happier they are. Empathy is good. Let’s do it.