From Saying “Yes” to Saying “I Do”: An Exclusive ScienceOfRelationships.com Series on Being Engaged and Getting Married
From the moment two people decide to get married through their wedding day, partners face a host of unique experiences during their engagement period, including more in-depth interactions with in-laws, making important joint financial decisions, and preparing for a publically declared, lifelong commitment. Yet, despite the significance of the events leading up to the big day, only a few empirical studies have focused on the unique experiences that comprise the engagement period.1,2,3 And though private companies like The Knot have surveyed their subscribers about their engagements and weddings,4 these studies represent a select group of respondents. In an effort to more broadly address the question of “What’s it like to be engaged in the 21st century?”, ScienceOfRelationship.com, in collaboration with researchers from the Loving Lab at The University of Texas at Austin recently recruited nearly 400 newly-engaged or newly-wed individuals from around the United States. The research team asked individuals a range of questions, some of which are reviewed below (with a sneak peak at a few results as well!). Over the coming days, we will be posting the latest findings on being engaged in the 21st century.
1Burgess, E. W., & Wallin, P. (1944). Predicting adjustment in marriage from adjustment in engagement. American Journal of Sociology, 49, 324-330. doi:10.1086/219426
2Knobloch-Fedders, L. M., & Knudson, R. M. (2009). Marital ideals of the newly-married: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26(2-3), 249-271. doi:10.1177/0265407509106717
3Wright, J. (1990). Getting engaged: A case study and a model of the engagement period as a process of conflict-resolution. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 3(4), 399-408. doi:10.1080/09515079008256710
4Bennett, C., & Perciballi, J. (2015, March 12). The Knot, The #1 Wedding Site, Releases 2014 Real Weddings Study Statistics. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
Taylor Anne Morgan - Ph.D. Candidate - The University of Texas at Austin
Taylor Anne’s research focuses on different stages of romantic relationships, with an emphasis on the associated cognitions at each transition point. Specifically, she is interested in how fluctuations in relationship evaluations over time affect relationship and individual outcomes.
Liz Keneski - Ph.D. Candidate - The University of Texas at Austin
Liz's research centers around the intersection of romantic relationships, social networks, and health. Specifically, her research interests include social network support and romantic partner support processes, romantic relationship development and transition norms, and psychological and physiological resilience to relationship stress.
If you were to take 100 single people, all looking for a relationship, and put them in a room together for an evening, who would end up together? Although there are a myriad of factors that lead individuals to form romantic attachments, a longstanding theory in relationship science makes a simple prediction. Specifically, the matching hypothesis predicts that people will pair up with a partner who has the same social mate value.1 Your social mate value includes all of the factors that go into making you more or less desirable to date such as your physical attractiveness, your personality, etc. Essentially, according to the matching hypothesis, if you are a “7” out of 10 in terms of mate value you’ll end up with another “7,” or very close. “10’s” go with “10’s,” “2’s” with “2’s” and so on.
Perhaps due to the matching hypothesis’s intuitive appeal, the field of social psychology has largely accepted it as true, despite a general lack of empirical support. To address this gap between theory and data, researchers from the University of California – Berkeley tested the matching hypothesis across several studies.
Facebook status updates function as windows into our lives that allow us to share with the world. If you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, chances are you are at least a little bit curious about why your friends share what they do. Why do some tend to share almost exclusively about their favorite sports team, pet, or celebrity while others seem to share every passing thought? Out of all the infinite ways we can update our Facebook statuses, why do we post what we post, and what exactly are we communicating by our posts?
June 18th, 2015, isn’t just another day. It is Christian Grey’s birthday and the scheduled release date for E. L. James’ newest romantic thriller, Grey, a companion to the original, Fifty Shades of Grey, told from Christian’s perspective. For fellow Fifty fans looking for a reason to indulge in this guilty pleasure, click here.
After her husband of 18 years reveals that he has gotten a vasectomy, successful magazine journalist Robin Rinaldi comes to the sinking realization that she will not have the family she had once hoped for. Being that she can’t create the home life she dreamed of, she decides to go down a different path and explore her sexuality. In her book, The Wild Oats Project,1 Rinaldi discusses her quest for passion after she proposes an arrangement in which she will live on her own and be free to take on lovers during the week, while returning home to her role as a wife on the weekends. The book discusses her sexual quest to feel fulfilled as she takes on both male and female lovers and attend workshops geared towards getting in touch with her sexual self. Lest I spoil the end of her intriguing narrative, it would be better to leave you questioning whether or not her marriage was able to sustain the shake-up caused by this mutually, albeit somewhat coerced, agreement. Also, whether or not her marriage survived, it begs the question: Is marriage really synonymous with monogamy?
How do brides’ physiques measure up to their fiancés? To answer this question, over 600 brides-to-be recorded their and their fiancés’ weight, height, and weight change over the 6 months leading up to their wedding. Partners’ weights and heights were associated such that lighter brides had lighter fiancés; Heavier brides had heavier fiancés. In the 6 months leading up to the wedding, equal numbers of brides lost, gained, and stayed the same weight, while most men stayed the same weight. Women who were more similar in weight to their fiancés were more likely to lose weight. Overall, women seem to feel a need to be thinner than their male partners, especially leading up to the wedding.
Prichard, I., Polivy, J., Provencher, V., Herman, C. P., Tiggemann, M., & Cloutier, K. (2015). Brides and young couples: Partner’s weight, weight change, and perceptions of attractiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 263-278. doi: 10.1177/0265407514529068
Although many people do not realize it, the pornography industry is enormous. Widely hidden from view, it generates an estimated $13 billion dollars a year from within the United States alone, which is more annual revenue than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, eBay and Netflix produce combined.1
With its widespread availability, pornography is becoming what a lot of people want to call "normal." After all, it is just sex, so how can it be bad? A common refrain I hear about porn from the couples I counsel is women complaining how they don't like it, while their men say, "it's normal and every guy does it." So who's right? Maybe they both are.
After the youngest Kardashian sister admitted that she has benefitted from temporary lip fillers, the internet has been abuzz with the #KylieJennerChallenge, as people all over the world are putting their lips to bottles and sucking in to create a fuller, plumper lip. Why is it that girls are interested in obtaining Kylie’s plump pout? Is it some sort of obsession with looking like a Kardashian, or is there more to it? Although the answer may be a little bit of both, there is indeed a psychological underpinning to the desire to obtain these features.
Individuals in committed romantic relationships tend to downplay the attractiveness of potential partners. This derogation of alternatives, as researchers refer to it, helps the relationship’s long-term future by decreasing the likelihood that partners will be tempted by others.1 To determine whether somebody derogates alternatives, researchers typically straight-up ask them (e.g., “I regularly find myself looking at attractive others”) or, more sneakily, record how long (heterosexual) individuals look at pictures of opposite-sex people when presented with a range of photos. What both of these measures have in common is they basically rely on what people look at. But what about the other senses? Do we derogate in other ways? Follow the nose….
I regularly teach a college course on “Family Relationships”, which, as you’d probably guess, is disproportionately (and stereotypically) more popular among women than men (most of whom, incidentally, are neither engaged nor in a relationship with their likely future spouse). When we get to the topic of the transition to marriage, I like to ask my students, “How many of you have a Pinterest board dedicated solely to your future wedding?” The number of hands that go up, sometimes sheepishly, is surprisingly large (obviously, this is a non-scientific personal observation from the front of the classroom in Texas). What I think this informal poll illustrates is the enormous amount of pressure women experience when it comes to planning that ‘special day.’ And why not? Getting married is a big deal. But all that pressure and buildup can come with a cost.
Robert Burriss straps on beer goggles to find out how alcohol influences attractiveness. Also, you have a penis! Well, half of you do, and we discover what happens to men’s sexual thoughts when they’re reminded of what they’re packing in their tighty whities.
Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.
Why do people cheat? It’s a question we get (and address) here at ScienceOfRelationship.com regularly. Our coverage of the topic generally reflects the state of research on the topic, which focuses on proximal predictors of infidelity --- or science jargon for those things about individuals or relationships that directly increase the likelihood somebody will cheat, such as low commitment, more attractive alternatives, lack of impulse control, narcissism, and so on. But what if we dig further in a person’s history, perhaps even preceding her or his foray into the world of romantic and sexual relationships? Are there more distal signs or risk factors for whether somebody will one day cheat on a partner? It would appear so.
Online dating is increasingly popular, and yet misinformation about the industry abounds. Let’s examine four common myths, and why they're wrong:
1. Everyone is lying
There is a widespread belief that dating sites are filled with dishonest people trying to take advantage of earnest, unsuspecting singles. Research does show that a little exaggeration in online dating profiles is common.1 But it's common in offline dating as well. Whether online or off, people are more likely to lie in a dating context than in other social situations.2 As I detailed in an earlier post, the most common lies told by online daters concern age and physical appearance. Gross misrepresentations about education or relationship status are rare, in part because people realize that once they meet someone in person and begin to develop a relationship, serious lies are highly likely to be revealed.3
In the season finale of SAGE’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Kelly Buckholdt (University of Memphis) discusses the role of parental emotion coaching on their kid’s relationships with peers.
The research team (also consisting of Katherine Kitzmann and Robert Cohen, both of the Univ. of Memphis), studied 129 fourth through sixth graders. The students were asked about how their parents respond when the kids were sad or angry. Students were also asked about their peer-relationships, feelings of respect from peers, and feelings of loneliness and optimism.
So what did they find? If kids reported that their parents were low in emotion coaching (i.e., not very good at helping the kid process and understand feelings), then the kids were more likely to feel lonely when they weren’t happy about their peer-relationships. But when parents were seen as good at emotion coaching, then kids still felt socially competent and had a positive self-perception, even when they had problematic peer relationships. Thus, it seems that parent emotion coaching may buffer kids from potential negative effects associated with poor peer relationships.
Most advice on pursuing goals focuses on what you can do to achieve your own aims. But how can you help those you love to achieve their goals? Relationship partners play an important role in helping or hindering our progress toward our goals.1
Here are seven science-backed tips for helping your partner:
1. Encourage your partner
Research shows that encouragement from romantic partners to pursue goals in areas such as career, school, friendship, and fitness makes people more likely to actually achieve those goals.2
Ever wonder what can cause one couple to stay together and another to divorce? One study found that high levels of negative emotion such as arguing or criticism and low levels of positive emotion such as indifference during marital interactions were associated with lower levels of martial satisfaction.1 In other words, if a couple fights a lot, and does so in a not-so-nice way, they’re not as happy in their marriage. This conclusion seems like a “no brainer.” Who wants to be in a hostile relationship?
But we all know couples that seem to fight all the time yet remain relatively happy and stay together for years, whereas others seem to split at the first sign of a disagreement. Is there a way to tell if a relationship is at risk for being especially affected by negative interaction dynamics?
If you’re in a long-term relationship, you probably remember the early “honeymoon period”—those first few months when you couldn’t get enough of each other (and maybe couldn’t keep your hands off each other). But, if you’re like most couples, your sex life has changed between then and now.1 In fact, it’s likely that there are (more) times in your relationship when one of you wants to have sex, but the other is not in the mood.
In a new set of studies,2 my colleagues and I looked at how couples manage these situations when partners have different sexual interests in ways that are satisfying to both romantic partners. We were specifically interested in this topic because desire discrepancies between partners are common in relationships—in one of our studies, 80% of people had experienced a desire discrepancy with their partner in the past month; in other study, couples reported some degree of desire discrepancy on 5 out of 7 days a week. And we know from past research that disagreements related to sex can be very difficult to resolve successfully.