Tabloid vs. theory: Are submissive men happier in their relationships?

March 16

Men who are submissive towards their spouses are happier in their relationships, according to a study by University of Iowa. The claim was made by National Examiner, a U.S. tabloid quoted by a Finnish gossip website.

While the original research was not available, we can still learn something surprising from the claim by analyzing it in light of current social theories. The claim is that heterosexual men, who let their spouse be the boss in the relationship when it comes to everyday affairs, end up arguing less often and enjoy happier marriages.

Partner preference contradicts the study

The claim seems controversal, when one remembers that women prefer dominant men as their partners. However, dominance can come in many forms, and can affect life outside the relationship rather than the relationship itself. Another reason why the female preference to dominance in men might not make the claim dubious is that the vast majority of men are not dominant. Most of the relationships in the population are between a woman and a non-dominant man.

Men and women have different causes of happiness

As the study is about happiness about a relationship, the key is not the preference for a partner but the causes of happiness in a relationship. These are different for men and women. According to another study, the two factors that had the most effect on men’s happiness toward a relationship were the beauty and young age of their partner. Other factors weighed far less in importance. As a stark contrast, one of the most important causes for happiness in a relationship for women were the partner’s sacrifices for the benefit of the relationship.

Because the setup of dominance in a relationship is mainly caused by the balance of the sexual market value of the partners, this has profound implications. All other factors being equal, the partner with a lower sexual market value can compensate by putting more effort into the relationship. Whether that is the woman or the man may just make the difference the study has reported.

Attractiveness is a small number

In the following example, partners have sexual market values on a scale of 1 to 10, where bigger number denotes a partner more desired by the opposite sex. Famous, good-looking and rich actors are among the most desired partners and would rank at 10, while the vast majority of the population would be considered to be somewhere around 5.

  1. A man with a sexual market value of 6 meets a woman with a sexual market value of 5. The woman compensates by putting more effort into the relationship, letting the man call the shots in daily affairs and otherwise offering him the favorable position in the relationship – so much so, that it feels roughly good enough for him that he doesn’t mind that her other qualities are not the best thing he could get. Now, in the eyes of each other, they feel that they are in an acceptable relationship for staying together. His sexual market value of 6 is matched by her value of 5 + sacrifices worth of 1.
  2. A man with a sexual market value of 5 meets a woman with a sexual market value of 6. The man compensates the same way as the woman of the previous example did. Now in her eyes, he brings 5 + 1 = 6 to the table, which matches her sexual market value of 6.

Truth in a tabloid?

According to the current social theories, the second couple may be happier, because the man values her beauty and youth more than having dominance in the relationship, and the woman values his sacrifices towards the relationship more than most of his other attributes.

A cause of arguments

The preferences mentioned above can be indirect causes of arguments in a relationship, if the woman tries to better her “relationship deal” by getting her partner to do more sacrifices. A woman once told me she had nearly caused the end of her marriage by behaving badly towards her husband for months. For the life of her she couldn’t find any reason for having done that. Luckily her eyes opened before the relationship was beyond repair and they were able to recover from the situation. They are now a happy, loving couple, and treat each other with care and respect.

A word of caution

Even if the statistics wouldn’t lie, they can easily mislead. The study and most of this article concentrated on the situation when the other partner needs to compensate by submission. The happiest relationships are likely among two equals who don’t feel the other person owes more to the relationship than the other.


Posted by on 16.03.2012 in sex and society

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