I feel sad when you’re sad, but don’t feel glad when you’re glad

4 Nov

Another news flash from Science™ – Darby Saxbe and Rena Repetti have done the work so you don’t have to. In their paper, “For Better or Worse? Coregulation of Couples’ Cortisol Levels and Mood States,” they measure the cortisol levels in couples on multiple occasions, on 3 days at work and at home. What is cortisol, you ask? Let’s go the tape (careful there pardner, that’s a p-d-f yer linkin’ at):

The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is one of the body’s key stress-responding systems, and its end product, cortisol, has been established across a wide body of studies as a marker of both perceived and objective stress, challenge, and threat. The HPA axis has been linked with allostatic load, or the cumulative “price of adaptation” to chronic stressors, and may affect health and mortality through pathways including immune functioning, metabolism, blood pressure, and cognition [Saxbe and Repetti, p. 93]

In other words, it’s a measure of how stressed out you are. STRESSS!!! What they wanted to know is, how much do the moods of one partner affect the moods of the other? Couples, I believe, cohabiting (assuming we’re talking about married peoples only, but not 100% clear). How much does my sweetie’s stress stress me out?

Well, it turns out that for both spouses, partner cortisol is significantly and positively associated with own cortisol, even controlling for time of day, sampling conditions, etc. In other words, when your partner’s stress level goes up, so does yours. Oof.

This relationship is moderated by martial satisfaction. Whaaa? It means, if you are satisfied with your marriage, your partner’s stress does not stress you out as much. If you are dissatisfied, your partner’s stress sends you looking for a handgun.

In addition, if the husband is satisfied in the marriage, their high stress level doesn’t freak out their wives as much. If wives are satisfied in the marriage, it doesn’t make a difference. Their husbands still get the full shot of stress. Great.

We also learn that if one or the other spouse is in a shitty mood, so is the other.

But my favorite finding is that husbands’ and wives’ positive mood levels were not significantly associated with each other, whether or not marital satisfaction was included in the model.

So what does this all mean? It means that when my wife is stressed out, it stresses me out regardless of whether or not I’m happy in my relationship. When she’s in a shitty mood, so the hell am I. But when one of us is happy, it does not increase the likelihood of the other being happy.

Obviously, this is all in the interests of saying that Science™ tells me I can blame my stress on the baby mama. If you need me, I’ll be over here searching the annals of science to find out what else I can blame on her.


3 Responses to “I feel sad when you’re sad, but don’t feel glad when you’re glad”

  1. Davin November 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Scienticians – what do they know, anyway?

    If the Tuesday’s results tell us anything, it’s that real Murricans don’t need to listen to those elitist eggheads and their fancy-pants book learning. Sheesh.

  2. Peter November 4, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Go tell it to Glenn Greenwald. We’re not doing politics round these parts.

  3. zorach November 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Why don’t people just cuddle together? Then they can both reduce their stress level and be happy!

    People use all this scientific gibberish and ignore common sense solutions.

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