Are women better at expressing their love than men? Maybe not.
There is the idea that women may be better at expressing their feelings, but perhaps men express affection through action – like sex, or doing things together. It’s about styles, as celebrated in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
Husbands and wives express love differently in their relationships, according to a new study. Looking at data collected at four time points over 13 years of marriage, researcher Elizabeth Schoenfeld at the University of Texas found that while both genders were equally likely to show love through affection, wives expressed love by being less antagonistic while husbands showed love by initiating sex or sharing activities together, including doing housework together.
And unlike common opinion both sexes are equally likely to show love through affection.
168 couples in Pennsylvania were surveyed just after they were married and then again after 2 and 3 years and again after 13 years.
105 were still married, 56 had divorced and in 3 cases a partner had died.
They did telephone diary interviews, asking questions like To what extent do you love your partner? and How close do you feel to your partner?
Love and sex seemed to be more closely connected for men than women. Loving wives tended to be more communal refraining from negativity, while men were more likely to express love by sharing activities with their partner.
Oddly love didn’t inspire women to behave more affectionately towards their husbands, nor did it inspire men to do more around the house. Women tended the emotional climate of the marriage. By restraining antagonism women were perhaps self sacrificing and allowed their men to assert themselves. It wasn’t necessarily reflected in saying ‘I love you’ or giving a hug.
Men weren’t as accommodating. But they were just as likely to display warm intimate behaviours. Men were 4 times as likely as women to view sex as an act of love. Women who are more in love initiate sex less often. Perhaps it’s when a marriage seems shaky that women try to revitalize it through sex.
Or it may be that women are accommodating the male dominance.
Men’s friendships are often defined through companionship and shared activities and this applies too in marriages.
Sharing novel activities tends to heighten intimacy between partners.
In fact men may use a greater variety of behaviours to show love than their wives.
In the end love in a marriage is a cause and a consequence of the way they act toward each other.
Overall the research suggests that men and women show their love in more nuanced ways than cultural stereotypes suggest.
“Do Men and Women Show Love Differently in Marriage?” Elizabeth A. Schoenfeld (eschoenfeld[at]utexas.edu) et al., Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online June 18, 2012 – forthcoming, November 2012.