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Entries in marriage (99)


Ben Affleck Was Right: Relationships Are Hard Work. And That’s OK.

As many of you are no doubt aware, Ben Affleck got a lot of flack after his infamous 2013 Oscar acceptance speech, in which he thanked his (then) wife Jennifer Garner for the “work” that they put into their relationship. This comment prompted an intense backlash, which has been revisited in light of Ben and Jennifer’s divorce earlier this year. Many thought the writing was on the wall, and some questioned the very idea that marriage and work are synonymous, including this pointed article specifically questioning experts’ wisdom that successful relationships do in fact require work. Here’s a key quote from this opinion piece: 

…maybe if marriage seems like really hard work, there is something that needs a little fixing…. is our marriage work? It can't be. Because I never feel like I need a vacation.”

Well, perhaps it’s time for the Science of Relationships experts to weigh in. I’ll cut right to the chase: Ben was right. Relationships are hard work. And that’s OK.

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When and Why We iSnoop on Others

Even in the best relationships, individuals may find themselves lacking information about specific relationship partners (romantic or otherwise). For example, as we’ve discussed previously, anxiously attached partners are more likely to Facebook stalk their partners in an attempt to alleviate anxiety and (hopefully) confirm their partners’ undying devotion. Such findings suggest that individuals use the internet as a means to cope with their own desires to learn more about another.  

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Is There Such A Thing As Planning Too Far Ahead?

Discussing the future of one’s romantic relationship—including the possibility of marriage—can be an exciting, novel experience for couple members.1 But it can also be incredibly stressful.2 As a couple grows closer and their relationship becomes more serious, it’s entirely natural to discuss future plans. But are some discussions more helpful than others on the path to a (hopefully) happy and long-lasting relationship? And is there such a thing as planning too far ahead? 

As part of a larger study on engagement and weddings (find more details here), we asked currently engaged and married individuals to reflect on how much they discussed a range of topics before they became engaged. Specifically, participants were asked how often they talked about:

  • the possibility of getting married,
  • the possibility of when or how a marriage proposal might take place,
  • the type of ring (or token) that might be exchanged when a proposal did take place, and
  • the details regarding the wedding they wanted,

Each question was responded to on a scale from “never” to “very often,” with options of “rarely,” “sometimes,” and “often” in between.

We wanted to determine whether discussing these future events prior to becoming engaged was associated with couples then being happier with each event when/after it occurred. Further, we wanted to explore whether discussing certain aspects of getting engaged and married before experiencing the commitment of actually becoming engaged might also be associated with the overall quality of their relationship. So, we also asked how satisfied individuals were with the proposals, their engagement ring(s), and their actual weddings (which had already occurred for married individuals and which were currently being planned for engaged individuals), as well as how satisfied they were in their relationships overall and how committed they were to their partners.

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Ideal and Actual Marriage Proposals: We Asked, You Answered

Read more about this survey here, and see our infographic on wedding locations here.

Lisa Hoplock, M.Sc. - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Lisa's research examines how personality traits like self-esteem and attachment influence interpersonal processes in ambiguous social situations -- situations affording both rewards and costs -- such as social support contexts, relationship initiation, and marriage proposals. 


Is It Better to be the Breadwinner? Implications for Infidelity

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A study of 2,757 participants from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth examined how spouses’ relative earnings (i.e., who makes more money) influences likelihood of cheating. Results indicate absolute income did not predict infidelity, so simply earning more money did not make a person more likely to cheat. However, being the breadwinner (i.e., earning more than a spouse) was associated with men being more likely to cheat; the opposite was true for women-- they were less likely to cheat when they made more money than their husbands. Being economically dependent on a spouse (i.e., one spouse makes a lot more than the other) was associated with increased likelihood of cheating in both men and women, though the effect was stronger in men.

Munsch, C. L. (2015). Her support, his support: Money, masculinity, and marital infidelity. American Sociological Review, 80, 469-495. doi: 10.1177/0003122415579989


Where's The Wedding?

As part of our exclusive survey on engagements and weddings in the 21st century, we asked participants about the type of location and venue they’d like to be married (i.e., their ideal) and where they were (actually) married. The results from this portion of the survey are indicated in the infographic, below. As you can see, people were often married in their ideal locations. The most popular location was in their own or their partner’s hometown. However, a good number of people (36%) wished for a destination wedding, but instead married elsewhere. What we don’t know is what kept people from getting married in their ideal location. Lack of money? Inconvenience? Guests or the couple members being unable to travel? All of the above? Stay tuned…

In terms of wedding venue, how many people said they were “goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married?” Just over 25% (a total of 106 respondents). But, holding the wedding at a church, synagogue, or similar was not the most popular wedding venue -- it actually came in second. The most popular venue for our respondents was at an outdoor location (146 people, or  37%). The least popular venue? The courthouse -- with only 19 people (5%) of our sample getting married with the good ol’ justice of the peace or similar. This comes as no surprise; people are often reluctant to hold their wedding at the courthouse, preferring instead to have a more elaborate ceremony,1 a trend that has grown considerably over the last 50 years.2 Next up, we'll look at how and where the marriage proposal occurred.

See more about this study here.

1Gibson-Davis, C. M., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2005). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1301-1312.

2Wallace, C. (2004). All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of the American Wedding. Penguin Books.

Lisa Hoplock, M.Sc. - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Lisa's research examines how personality traits like self-esteem and attachment influence interpersonal processes in ambiguous social situations -- situations affording both rewards and costs -- such as social support contexts, relationship initiation, and marriage proposals. 


From Saying “Yes” to Saying “I Do”: An Exclusive 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?”,, 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.


Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue?

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.

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Buying a Ring for Valentine’s Day?

Proposing this Valentine’s Day? Read about the ritual here and things people consider before getting married here. To recap, the main elements of the traditional ritual are:

  • the proposer asking the father or parents of the proposee for his/their permission or blessing to marry the proposee
  • the proposal is a surprise
  • the proposer getting down on one knee
  • the proposer presenting a ring
  • the proposer asking, “Will you marry me?” 1,2

If any of the elements are missing, especially if there is no ring, then outsiders might think the engagement is not legitimate or the relationship itself is weak.1,3 Although people who are less traditional are fine with not having a ring, many think that the lack of a ring indicates a lack of sincerity on the part of the proposer. 1 Where did the notion that there needs to be a diamond ring start?

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Want to Stay Married? Then Don’t Become a Reality TV Housewife

Hello. My name is Sadie, and I am addicted to TV. If you read my articles, then you are already aware of this, but you may not know that one of my guilty pleasures is Bravo’s The Real Housewives franchise. Although my relationship with the show has been on-again/off-again due to the (almost) unbearable level of cat-fighting, I have probably not missed an episode since the show’s inception in 2006. Over the years, I have followed the “real” lives of women across the nation from New York to Orange County as they publicly aired their dirty laundry. I’ve delighted in their triumphs and sometimes even in their misfortunes. However, enough is enough, and I finally have to speak out. Ladies, if you want your marriages to work then please, please, do not agree to be on The Real Housewives (at least not without reading this article first)!

We all know that divorce is prevalent in the United States. Currently, 40% of first marriages fail to reach “happily ever after” (and the rates are even higher for those who have been married more than once). What you may not know is that the divorce rate for The Real Housewives is double that of the general population.To be fair, this elevated rate is not limited to divorces that have occurred since joining the cast, but rather takes into account whether these women have ever been divorced (before or after participating in the show). 

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Four Things You Need to Consider When Deciding to Get Married

In a survey of over 1200 adolescents, 95% of them said that they would get married some day. But, I’m willing to bet that they weren’t ready to get married at the time they answered that question. Why? Likely because they’re young, and when you’re young it feels like you have a million things to take into account before you make a major life decision like getting married. In this post I discuss four things that people take into consideration when deciding whether or not to get married.

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“Will You be My Bonus Wife?” The Practice of Marrying Sisters in Malawi

Recently I was in Malawi to train a team of field workers to conduct a large-scale survey on HIV prevention behavior. Before such an international trip, I often get a lot of questions regarding the landscape or local culture of my destination from people who are not familiar with my work or the part of the world I happen to be visiting. Most recently, an acquaintance asked me several questions about multiple sexual partnerships and polygamy in Malawi. “Are people really okay with having multiple partners? Even the women? Even married people?” So during my uneventful nights in a remote hotel on top of a mountain in Malawi’s southern region, I did some reading on local marriage customs. Almost as if thoughts were planted by my acquaintance, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with—the “bonus wife” (mbirigha or nthena in Chichewa, the local language).

In several Malawian cultures, a man acquires a “bonus wife” when he marries the younger sister or niece of his current wife.

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Case Study: "I’m a lesbian marrying a man"

Recently, ran this article (click here) that tells the story of a lesbian who fell in love with a man. Although this isn't a scientific study, it's consistent with the article that Dr. Dylan Selterman wrote a couple weeks ago, Debunking Myths About Sexual Fluidity.


How Do Important Relationship Events Impact Our Well-Being?

Perhaps no life events fill us with more joy or sadness than those that involve important relationship partners. Whether we are committing to lifelong partnerships with someone we love, bringing a new addition to the family, leaving a bad relationship, or losing a loved one, relationship events may have different effects on how satisfied and happy we are with our lives. 

How do important relationship events impact our well-being over time? In a recent meta-analysis (a research paper that combines results from similar studies), researchers examined this very question. Specifically, they studied how our cognitive and emotional well-being change over time in response to four important life events: marriage, divorce, bereavement, and the birth of a child.

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The Marriage Proposal Ritual

You have likely seen some variation of this scene before: you’re out in public or watching TV, and you see someone bend down on one knee, pull out a ring, and ask the person they’re with, “Will you marry me?” Odds are you knew what was taking place the moment the person got down on one knee and pulled out the box. This is because proposing marriage is a ritual that has a fairly standard script that people often follow. Of course, there are some variations on the script, but generally people seem to include some or most of the elements. This post describes those script elements and what people sometimes think when that script is not followed.

Rituals involve intentional and often formal behaviors that communicate social information.1 For example, people in some cultures wear torn clothing to communicate their grieving.2 Rituals provide people with a sense of control because they provide a script.3 To give you an example of what I mean by a script, I’d like you to imagine that you are at a restaurant. When you enter the restaurant, the hostess brings you to a table, a waitress greets you and you order drinks and food, and when the meal is over you receive and pay the bill. There may be variations to this script depending on the type of restaurant, but generally you know what to expect because the experience is similar from restaurant to restaurant and there are a few elements of the script that are stable across restaurants (e.g., ordering and paying for food). If the restaurant script isn’t followed (e.g., if you are asked if you want the bill right when you enter the restaurant), then you’ll likely be thrown off. Thus, the restaurant script helps you to anticipate what is about to happen and facilitates smooth interactions. Rituals also communicate values, are a way to bond with others, and help perpetuate and encourage socially agreed upon ways of behaving.1 In other words, following a ritual tells others a bit about you and helps to perpetuate the ritual and its script.

Proposing marriage is one common ritual that involves a well-known script. How people go about proposing marriage can vary quite a bit, with some proposals being quite showy and others being more low-key, but there are a few elements of the proposal script that are relatively stable across proposals.

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Take Your Relationship to the Movies

Could something as simple as watching movies help your relationship? One-hundred-seventy-four engaged or newlywed couples were randomly assigned to one of two intense relationship workshops, or to watch and reflect on relationship movies (e.g., Love Story) featuring relationship behaviors such as stress, forgiveness, support, and conflict, or a no treatment ‘business as usual’ control condition. Couples in the movie condition watched and discussed one movie a week for a month. Three years later all three treatment groups (both workshops and the movie group) experienced less relationship dissolution (11%) compared to couples in the no treatment condition (24%). All three treatments had similar benefits, which suggests that simply watching and discussing movies can help protect your relationship.

Rogge, R. D., Cobb, R. J., Lawrence, E., Johnson, M. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (2013). Is skills training necessary for the primary prevention of marital distress and dissolution? A 3-year experimental study of three interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(6), 949-961. doi:10.1037/a0034209

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Marriage vs. The Ph.D.


"Married At First Sight": I Do…Not Even Know You

I hate television. Unless I’m learning how to make a soufflé or watching Starks get slaughtered on Game of Thrones (whoops…spoiler alert), I’m generally pretty content to keep my eyes off the screen and my nose in a book. But when I stumbled across Married at First Sight, my curiosity got the best of me, and I had to check it out. 

Married at First Sight is a new reality show (or “social experiment,” as marketers like to describe it, despite it not actually being an experiment) on the FYI network. Four experts—a sexologist, a sociologist, a spiritualist, and a clinical psychologist—worked together to select a small group of individuals whom they could pair up to create what the experts believe would be successful relationships. Out of the initial pool of 50 people, the expert panel identified three “matches,” based largely on the partners’ demographic characteristics, beliefs about relationships, desire for children, religious preferences, and family histories. Here’s the kicker: These individuals agreed to enter into a legally binding marriage with one another for a minimum of one month—knowing they would meet their partner for the first time at the altar. After 30 days of living as husband and wife, the couples will decide whether or not they want to remain married. Brings a whole new meaning to the term “trial marriage,” huh?

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Now it’s Kim and Kanye Sitting in a Tree: Implicit Egotism Strikes Again

A few years back, on the heels of Kim Kardashian’s ill-fated and short-lived marriage to Kris Humpries, I wrote a post about how their attraction and marriage may be the result of what psychologists refer to as implicit egotism. Essentially, this theory states that people have relatively positive feelings about themselves and that these unconscious preferences extend to things that are associated with the self, like our own name-letter initials.  Think about it. Do you have a favorite letter? Is that letter one of your own initials? Well, if it is, you are not alone.  Where it gets even more interesting is that this preference may impact a whole array of choices, including who you marry.1 In Kim Kardashian’s case, she may have gravitated towards Kris Humpries, because they both shared the initial K. On an implicit level, this may have activated positive and rewarding feelings. Well, that relationship has come and gone, but in true implicit egotism fashion, Kim has since moved on to marry Kanye, with whom she also shares the initial K!    

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Dear Miley, You’re Doing it Wrong

Dear Miley, you’re doing it wrong. No, I’m obviously not referring to the music world, as you seem to have that figured out. I’m not even referring to the physical act of writhing around on a metal wrecking ball, although that does bring up some hygienic concerns. Rather, as a relationship scientist, I’m referring to your love life. The lyrics of your song, Wrecking Ball, have been rolling around my head since you released it last year. And now, after almost a full year of marriage, I think I know where you went wrong. The trouble lies in your demolition-style approach. 

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