The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Who Brings Anger From Work Back Home?

How Marital Satisfaction Affects Expressions of Anger

Lots of people come home from work feeling upset. But it turns out there are systematic gender differences in the way heterosexual men and women bring work-related unpleasant feelings home.

Men, on average, tend to shield their families from unpleasant things that happened at work, and the more satisifed men are in their relationships, the more they seem to shield their families from work-related stressors. Whether or not these men are actually pursuing an effective strategy is questionable, however, because the data suggests that men often tend to withdraw from their emotions as a way to not bring unpleasant conversations and interactions from work to the dinner table.

Women, by contrast, tend to be more open about what happened at work, and the happier they are in their personal relationships, the more likely they are to bring work related stressors home. In a new study, researchers Zhaoli Song, Maw-Der Foo, Marilyn A. Uy, and Shuhua Sun explored the effects of the ongoing recession – and the challenge of finding work for those who are unemployed – on domestic dynamics.

One possible explanation for this is previous research that shows that men are slower than women (on average) to calm down after a stressful event, which may be why men tend to compartmentalize their lives — it’s a way to avoid dealing with painful feelings that would take a long time to process. Women on the other hand seem to be better able to deal with their feelings in an open manner, and to calm down more quickly after experiencing stressful emotions.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I recently posted a puzzle on my Facebook page – all puzzles are posted here first, so click on the “Like” button at www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain to hear about new puzzles: At the end of a long, hard and stressful day, couples often bring their problems home from work. Among heterosexuals, the group most likely to vent anger that is brought home from work are
A) Men in satisfied relationships
B) Men in dissatisfied relationships
C) Women in satisfied relationships
D) Women in dissatisfied relationships

The correct answer is C.

In a paper in The Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers said, “gender differences were amplified for participants with greater marital satisfaction. Women in more satisfying marriages were more likely than dissatisfied women to increase their angry behavior toward their husbands after busier workdays. By contrast, men in more satisfying marriages were less likely than their maritally dissatisfied counterparts to be angrier and more critical toward their wives after negatively arousing workdays. These gender differences in angry responses may reflect different goals in intimate relationships and different responses to negative emotional arousal. Past research suggests that men tend to disengage when negatively aroused whereas women prefer to engage with others and talk about their distress more directly. In laboratory based research on marital interaction, husbands displayed larger autonomic nervous system responses to conflictual discussions with their wives and recovered more slowly from this physiological arousal than wives did. This gender based physiological difference might lead men to rely more on strategies such as withdrawal and avoidance of angry interactions to facilitate their recovery from negative affective arousal after a difficult workday. Women may not be compelled to “compartmentalize” their affective workday experience in this way and, in fact, may be more likely to want to engage with and talk about their stressful day with their partners. The existence of these gender patterns is supported by previous research showing that men were more likely than women to attempt to prevent their job distress from entering the marital relationship.”

Liked this? Please click on the Suggest To Friends link on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain) to alert your friends to new puzzles and ideas. Please also read my new column in Slate — at www.slate.com/hiddenbrain

Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

more...

Subscribe to The Hidden Brain

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.