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Men and women are equally capable of determining relationship satisfaction, according to U of A research

It challenges the popularly held notion that it is a woman's responsibility to be the primary caretaker of relationships.

According to recent research by Matt Johnson, University of Alberta professor of human ecology, men are just as capable of determining relationship satisfaction as their female partners. 

This conclusion arose from analyzing over 50,000 relationship satisfaction reports from mixed-gender couples. It challenges the popularly-held notion that women are tasked as the relationship’s primary caretaker. It also challenges the notion that a woman’s relationship satisfaction is the sole predictor of future relationship satisfaction.

When asked about the popular phrase “happy wife, happy life,” Johnson said that it is a “catchall concept.”

“[It suggests] that women know about relationships, and if women are happy then that means your life is going to be happy because things are going to go pretty well in your love life,” Johnson said.  “Oftentimes you just realize that some of these deeply held ideas, when we actually analyze them, it doesn’t pan out the way people think.”

Johnson said relationships tend to carry more risk for women. It is also argued that upholding gender roles would delegate women as the main caretaker of their families’ emotional needs. Both lead to the argument that women have a more accurate judgement of relationship satisfaction.

According to Johnson, the idea that women are the barometers of relationships emerged in the 1970s. These studies were done on other aspects of relationships such as commitment, trust, and communication. None of these studies directly addressed satisfaction, leaving a gap Johnson and his colleagues wanted to fill. 

3,405 mixed-gender couples were assessed annually for five years, and 901 mixed-gender couples for 21 days. Based on these two past research studies, Johnson had made a tentative hypothesis.

“[Johnson hypothesized] fluctuations in women’s satisfaction would be a significantly stronger predictor of their own future satisfaction than men’s fluctuations would be of their own future satisfaction.”

During his research, Johnson found that women do not have superiority in anticipating relationship satisfaction for themselves or their partners. However, women may be unique predictors of other relationship outcomes like breaking up. While men and women can equally give an accurate assessment of how the relationship is going, happiness in a relationship is “only one outcome.”

“How happy you are in a relationship is only one outcome, the other big outcome in relationship science is whether people stay together or not,” Johnson said, adding that he plans to address this question in a follow-up paper.

Johnson also found a consistent pattern in relationships. 

“If things are going particularly well or particularly poorly, that’s an indication that they’re likely to go the same way tomorrow and even longer into the future”. 

Being an equal predictor of future relationship satisfaction also means having an equal responsibility to attend to a relationship, and equal power in how they want that relationship to be and how they want it to continue, Johnson said. 

“Even if I may not feel like sitting down after a long day of work and communicating or being calm when we’re trying to solve a problem or having conflict, that is my responsibility just as much as it’s her responsibility. The both of us working together on those things are what’s going to determine whether we remain happy for the next 15 years or not”.

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