"I think it comes down to the fact that when a wife is satisfied with the marriage she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life," noted Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Science at RU.
"Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives."
The team analyzed data from 394 couples involved in a larger-scale study on health and income who had been married 39 years on average, in which at least one of the spouses was over 60 years of age.
They were asked questions about their interaction as a couple: How much they argued, how much they understood each other and whether they felt appreciated by their spouse.
Next, each couple was assigned to perform typical couple activities like watching TV or going shopping together and record their emotions in diaries for 24 hours.
Average ratings for life satisfaction in general were high, with husbands showing slightly more enthusiasm for their marriages than the wives.
"For both spouses, being in a better-rated marriage was linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness," says Carr.
Should the husband fall ill, the wife's happiness is likely to diminish, according to Carr, who says this is not true the other way around.
"We know that when a partner is sick it is the wife that often does the caregiving which can be a stressful experience," said Carr. "But often when a women gets sick, it is not her husband she relies on but her daughter."
The key to marital bliss is a hot topic for researchers studying links between marital happiness, conflict and health, and various studies have highlighted different factors as most influential.
A study from the University of Chicago, published in March of this year, also indicated that the husband's health is a key factor in marriage quality, but suggested that the key for a happy union in fact resided with the husband.
"Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict. However, the wives' positivity had no association with their husbands' reports of conflict," lead author James Iveniuk said.
A study out of the University of California at Berkeley last year concluded that a stable union depends on the wife's happiness and positivity, as researchers observed that she holds the power to resolve spats.
"Emotions such as anger and contempt can seem very threatening for couples. But our study suggests that if spouses, especially wives, are able to calm themselves, their marriages can continue to thrive," said psychologist Lian Bloch, lead author of the study.
All three studies worked with older couples, and members of the Rutgers team emphasize the major impact a relationship can have on the health of the elderly.
"The quality of a marriage is important because it provides a buffer against the health-depleting effects of later life stressors and helps couples manage difficult decisions regarding health and medical decision making," Carr said.
The Rutgers study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.