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.
Entries in marriage (89)
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.
Recently, salon.com 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.
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.
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.
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
image source: gettyimages.com
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?
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!
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.
Consuming alcohol can both benefit and harm romantic relationships. For example, drinking can be a way for couple members to connect—perhaps over a bottle of wine—and share their week. However, if someone believes their partner drinks too much, it can strain the relationship. Some recent research1 explored how perceiving one’s partner as having a drinking problem might be associated with relationship quality among college students. In addition, the researchers examined the use of drinking regulation strategies, or the behaviors that people use to try to change their partner’s drinking (such as yelling or withdrawing).
When your partner behaves badly, your first instinct may be to retaliate. What could help you respond more healthily? In a series of studies, romantically-involved individuals responded to scenarios wherein their partner acted in a hurtful way (e.g., bringing them to a family reunion but then ignoring them). People who took their partner’s perspective (vs. their own) reacted with more love- and caring-related emotions, better understood their partner’s viewpoint, and tried to find positive solutions to the issue. Perspective-takers also responded with less anger, blamed their partner less, and avoided lashing out. Thus, perspective-taking can help you navigate relationship conflict.1
1Arriaga, X. B., & Rusbult, C. E. (1998). Standing in my partner’s shoes: Partner perspective taking and reactions to accommodative dilemmas. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 927-948.
It seems like everywhere you turn, professionals are trying to make your life easier. Medical doctors discover breakthrough treatments for illnesses. Engineers design revolutionary new gadgets and devices. And psychologists devise simple and ingenious activities for couples to sustain their relationships.
For most married couples, satisfaction declines over time, meaning that couples typically become less and less happy with their relationships the longer they’ve been together. But a group of scientists developed an intervention that they have affectionately termed, “The Marriage Hack” (see the TED talk here), utilizing a technique they call emotional reappraisal. Emotional reappraisal occurs when couples re-evaluate their experiences by imagining how a neutral 3rd party (an unbiased person outside the couple) would view their behavior.
If I say that this post is about “unconscious feelings toward romantic partners,” you’d probably think that I’m about to serve up a big plate of Freud with a side of some repressed memories. Rest assured, I’m not going to get all “dreams and cigars” on you, but new research, published in the journal Science1 suggests that our unconscious feelings about our partners might be the Magic 8-Ball when it comes to future marriage satisfaction. The media has characterized this research as “knowing in your gut” whether you marriage will succeed (see here for an example), but we assure you that your stomach has nothing to do with it.
I study romantic relationships. I’m also engaged. So, of course, I’ve given a tremendous amount of thought as to what it really means for my partner and I to marry one another. Researchers have found that weddings are deeply significant life events, but we don’t really know why they’re so meaningful. Marriage may simply be about celebrating a milestone: recognizing the relationship that a couple has built together and the love that they share for each other. But weddings are also very future-oriented, as the couple publicly promises to maintain their relationship for life. I suspect that it’s really these vows – the solemn promises that the newlyweds make to each other in front of their closest friends and family – that are at the crux of why weddings have such an emotional impact.
A lot of things undermine physical health, like poor diet, lack of exercise, and not enough sleep. Did you know that dysfunctional relationships — those characterized by lots of conflict and poor communication — also contribute to poor health? For example, when couples are "hostile" toward one another, there’s a good chance that any recent wounds (even everyday cuts and abrasions) will take longer to heal than if partners maintain a more civil and responsive tone with one another during disagreements or other conversations.1 On the other hand, good relationships, and not just those we have with our romantic partners, generally benefit our overall health. But why?
In 1938 Harvard began studying a group of men and followed them as they grew old. A book by George Vaillant, entitled Triumphs of Experience, chronicles the results and provides several interesting insights about the role of alcholism, smoking, and intelligence on aging and life satisfaction.
Some of the most intersting findings, at least to us, involved "warm relationships." As this article explains, there was a "powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years." To learn more about the other benefits of warm relationships, click here.
One of the more surprising things about the scientific literature on dating and marriage is that there are very few studies of the events that signify the “beginning” of dating and marriage relationships. For example, we still know fairly little (on the scientific front) about how relationships form in the real world. We can look at processes in the lab, and even simulate events (e.g., speed dating studies) that should, presumably, lead to relationship formation. But, for all our efforts, capturing real relationships as they develop has proven a formidable challenge.
The motto “live and let live” sounds great in theory, but many people find it difficult to carry out in practice. Instead, people tend to think that their own lifestyle is totally awesome and that other people should make the same decisions that they have made.
Relationship decisions in particular can be an easy target for judgment. For example, you may know a single person who derides their friends for pairing up, questioning why anyone would choose to shackle themselves to one partner rather than “live it up” with the single life. Or you may know that smug married couple who pushes for other couples to also tie the knot, so they can similarly bask in wedded bliss.