Strong, silent types take note: A recent study suggests that husbands who express their emotions to wives taking care of them have spouses who are less stressed and provide better care.
In the study, published in the journal Emotion, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh surveyed 262 people over 50 with a chronic form of arthritis in their hip, knees, or spine; they also surveyed these people's spouses. The people with arthritis rated how willing they were in daily life to express nine different emotions, including fear, happiness, anxiety, and guilt. Their spouses reported how stressful it was to care for their partner and how sensitive or insensitive they'd been in the last month—that is, how often they'd tried to help their partner feel better when they were in pain or distress.
The results showed that when care recipients were more willing to express happiness, their spouses reported caring for them with greater sensitivity. The researchers also found that caregivers reported less stress when they had spouses who expressed emotions, such as compassion and guilt, that reflected concern for the caregiver's welfare. This was especially true when the care recipient was male. What's more, males who conveyed vulnerability by expressing anxiety, fear, or sadness had wives who were less stressed.
Researchers believe that their results were particularly pronounced when wives were the ones taking care of their husbands because women are more likely to desire intimacy in their relationships, and research has shown that expressing emotions signifies intimacy to one's partner.
A great deal of previous research has found that caring for a chronically ill loved one can be enormously stressful. But this study suggests that it might be within a partner's power to reduce some of that stress, and perhaps improve the quality of the care they receive in the process.