The Psychological Toll of Emotion Work in Same-Sex and Different-Sex Marital Dyads

Debra Umberson, Mieke Beth Thomeer, Amanda M. Pollitt, Sara E. Mernitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: This study considers how the provision of daily emotion work may affect the psychological well-being of the emotion worker, and how this linkage may vary for men and women in same- and different-sex marriages. Background: Emotion work–work intended to bolster a spouse's well-being by reading and managing the spouse's emotional needs—is common within marital relationships and often gendered, with women more aware of and concerned with emotion work than men. Yet, the psychological cost of performing emotion work is largely unexplored. Method: This study relies on 10 days of daily experiences data from spouses in same- and different-sex marriages (n = 756 individuals). Mixed effects multilevel regression modeling is used to examine how the provision of emotion work is associated with the emotion workers' psychological well-being. Results: Providing emotion work is inversely associated with emotion workers' psychological well-being, especially when provided for a spouse with elevated depressive symptoms. These estimated effects are generally similar for men and women but greater for those married to a man than for those married to a woman, whether in a same- or different-sex marriage. Conclusion: Emotion work appears to adversely affect the worker's own psychological well-being, especially when a spouse has elevated depressive symptoms and when one's spouse is a man. These results point to the importance of dyadic approaches and consideration of gendered relationship dynamics of same- as well as different-sex couples in studies of emotion work and other marital processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1141-1158
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • couples
  • emotions
  • gender
  • marital relations
  • same-sex marriage
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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