Claudia Haase’s Studies Find Keys to Marital Happiness

Claudia Haase’s Studies Find Keys to Marital Happiness

Claudia Haase

What makes some people more prone to wedded bliss or sorrow than others? How can couples weather conflict and stay happy? Recent studies by SESP assistant professor Claudia Haase and her fellow researchers found that two keys to marital happiness were in the genes and in the wife’s response to conflict.

DNA link to marital bliss
In the first study, Haase and her fellow researchers found a genetic link to marital happiness. A gene involved in the regulation of serotonin can predict how much emotions affect relationships, according to this study conducted at University of California–Berkeley, which may be the first to link genetics, emotions and marital satisfaction.

A puzzling mystery about marriage has been why some spouses are very emotionally attuned to the emotions in their marriage while other spouses are oblivious.n“Our study shows that part of the answer to this question lies in our DNA: Individuals with a particular variant of the 5-HTTLPR gene, those with two short alleles, are happiest in their marriage when the emotional climate is positive and unhappiest when the emotional climate is negative, much like hothouse flowers who thrive when conditions are good and wither when the climate is bad,” Haase explains. “Conversely, individuals with other variants of 5-HTTLPR are much less sensitive to the emotional climate in a marriage.”

UC Berkeley psychologist Robert W. Levenson, the senior author on the paper, published in the journal Emotion, heads up a longitudinal study of married couples who were studied in this research. Participants in the study belong to a group of 156 middle-aged and older couples whose relationships Levenson and fellow researchers have followed since 1989. Levenson emphasizes that these new genetic findings clarify how important emotions are for different people. “We are always trying to understand the recipe for a good relationship, and emotion keeps coming up as an important ingredient,” he says.

Wives calming conflict
In the second study, Haase and her colleagues found that wives acting as peacemakers prove beneficial to a marriage. This new study discovered that, when it comes to keeping the peace, it’s more important for wives than for husbands to calm down after a conflict.

“The study shows that it is particularly important for wives to calm down in a heated argument if marital harmony is going to be preserved over time. Interestingly though, we did not see evidence that wives and husbands differed in their actual ability to calm down during conflict,” says Haase. Moreover, the husbands’ emotional regulation had little or no bearing on long-term marital satisfaction, according to the study’s findings published online in the journal Emotion.

“When it comes to managing negative emotion during conflict, wives really matter,” says psychologist Lian Bloch, lead author of the study, which was conducted at University of California–Berkeley. She is currently an assistant professor at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology.

Researchers analyzed videotaped interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples, focusing on how they recovered from disagreements. Time and again they found that marriages in which wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, both in the short and long run.

The ability to calm down during marital conflict may be pertinent in other areas besides marital happiness. “In a new line of research, we are also looking at links to wives' and husbands' symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Haase says.

By Yasmin Anwar, adapted by Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 12/3/13