On SAGE Insight: Unexpected Gender Moderation of Marital Satisfaction–Health Associations in Long-Distance Relationships

From The Family Journal

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High marital satisfaction is associated with better individual health and health behavior. Gender moderates these associations; generally, they are stronger for women than for men. More broadly, married individuals experience better overall health across the life span compared to single people. Notably, these health outcomes are often more strongly associated with martial satisfaction than with marital status alone. In addition, married individuals have lower mortality risk and greater satisfaction with life than the unmarried. Research has found that even when women display dominance during interactions with men, they experience higher cardiovascular reactivity; but, this is not the case for behaviorally dominant men interacting with women.

In this study participants were ages 21+, married for 6+ months, and in a long distance relationship (LDR), defined as living more than 50 miles apart and not able to see each other daily. Participants completed an online survey of relationship and health measures. Relationships tested gender as a moderator of marital satisfaction–health associations. As of 2010, approximately 3 million Americans lived apart from their spouses. This number has increased over time, and due to trends in globalization and communication technology, is expected to continue to increase.

Despite study limitations, researchers believe this work contributes significantly to the literatures on relationships, health, and gender. Associations between martial satisfaction and health were stronger for men than for women in a sample of LDR, representing a divergence from the long- and well-established finding that marital satisfaction is more important for women in permanent relationships (PR) than men in PR. Authors add to the continuing distinction in health patterns between LDR and PR with important research and clinical implications.

Abstract

High marital satisfaction is associated with better individual health and health behavior. Gender moderates these associations; generally, they are stronger for women than for men. Theories such as subordination-reactivity attempt to explain marital satisfaction–health associations by gender. Extant research exploring this phenomenon focuses on individuals in proximal relationships, not those in long-distance relationships (LDR). LDR are prevalent, particularly among students, military personnel, and caregivers. They are also increasing both in number and cultural relevance. Current study participants (N = 93) were ages 21+, married for 6+ months, and LDR, defined as living more than 50 miles apart and not able to see each other daily. Participants completed an online survey of relationship and health measures. We tested gender as a moderator of marital satisfaction–health associations. Unexpectedly, higher marital satisfaction related to better health for men more than for women on several health variables. Specifically, higher marital satisfaction related to significantly less drug use and less pain interference, and marginally better overall health, for men more than for women. No other marital satisfaction–health associations emerged. These results suggest marital satisfaction may be more important to health for LDR men than women, and in some cases, marital satisfaction may not relate to health for LDR individuals. Future research can explore these unique satisfaction–health associations in LDR. Therapeutic interventions for individuals and couples in LDR can consider these findings.

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Article details
Unexpected Gender Moderation of Marital Satisfaction–Health Associations in Long-Distance Relationships
Steve N. Du Bois, Wren Yoder, Stephen D. Ramos,Karolina Grotkowski, and Tamara Goldman Sher
First Published February 20, 2019 Research Article DOI: DOI: DOI: DOI: DOI: 10.1177/1066480719826300
The Family Journal

     
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