7 Surprising Things Science Tells Us About the Happiest Marriages
When science starts looking at love and marriage, some of the results seem intuitive – like the idea that couples who manage to be positive about one another are happier than those who are negative? Duh. Just common sense.
But then there are the counter intuitive surprises like the finding that wives who are optimistic about their marriage at the beginning are more likely to experience greater dissatisfaction later on. What gives with this one? Researchers concluded high expectations may hinder couples in successful problem solving and end up being a liability.
Do These Apply To Your Marriage?
So here they are – 7 Surprising Things Science Tells us about Marriage, courtesy of marriage experts like Jenna McCarthy and others. Jenna has an amusing TED talk What You Don’t Know About Marriage which covers some of these points.
1) Marriages are happiest when the wife is thinner than the husband
Both husband and wife happier if the wife is skinnier than her husband, and it’s not the overall weight that matters but relative difference between the two.
In fact most of the men in the study were overweight while their wives were in normal weight ranges.
The results revealed that when wives have lower BMIs than their husbands, husbands are more likely to be satisfied at the beginning of the marriage and stay that way. Wives with lower BMIs than their husbands became more satisfied with time.
Researchers concluded that “physical attractiveness and weight is more important to men than it is to women.
“So we’re seeing this effect occur through men, such that the husbands are more satisfied at the beginning of their marriage and then wives’ satisfaction follows later. Because husbands are more satisfied, then their wives are more satisfied.”
2) The happiest couples focus on the positive and find good in every situation.
In the happiest relationships, both partners express admiration and fondness for one another and are cheerleaders for the relationship.
The happiest couples maintain positive illusions over the years and even exaggerate the positive qualities in one another. They adapt their view of the relationship as time passes so they continue to value highly whatever it is they have got. And they are responsive to one another’s bids for attention 86 per cent of the time. They say “Yes” to one another as often as possible. Listen to your spouse’s favourite Irish jokes? Sure. Settle in to share her favourite TV programme? – Or watch that cliff hanger footie game with him? Why not? (In contrast, in unhappy marriages, couples respond to one another only 30 per cent of the time.)
3) The more willing a husband is to do housework the more attractive his wife finds him.
This one is a bit of a mixed bag… Yes, she finds the chore-sharing man more attractive BUT there are also studies which show men who do a lot of housework get less sex than men who don’t, so the science on this is a bit confusing.
Researchers theorise that while egalitarian marriages are happier, they are also likely to have less sexual excitement. Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington and the author of “The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship” (Harmony, February 2013.) suggests “That companionable part of the relationship turns out not to be so sexy.”
Equal partners may be such good friends they don’t need to use sex as a way to communicate with their partners, said Schwartz.
4) People who smile in childhood photographs are less likely to get divorced
Maybe you should check out your sweetheart’s family photo album before deciding on marriage. Cynics suggest people who smile a lot just might be putting a “social gloss” on things.
But others see a willingness to present a smiling face to the world as reflecting an underlying positive emotional disposition that “influences how others respond to a person, perhaps making that individual more open and likely to seek out situations conducive to a lasting, happy marriage.”
Whatever the reason, researchers have found a high correlation between smiley childhood snaps and happy relationships in later life.
5) The happiest couples regularly share a few alcoholic drinks together
Emphasis here on “a few.” While a little social drinking enhances a marriage, heavy drinking was a sure predictor of unhappiness. Women who drank with their husbands once a week were four times happier than those who never shared a drop.
6) Divorce is contagious – Happily married couples tend to stick together
You’re a lot more likely to get divorced if close friends are divorcing. Researchers use the concept of “social contagion” to describe the way behaviour can spread through a network like a rumour, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.
One study found participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced.
Having experienced this myself I can understand how it happens. A group of vaguely dissatisfied friend begin to socialise together, mild infatuations or “temptations” arise, there’s a group feeling of “we’re all in this together, we understand one another” and suddenly marriages are flying to pieces all over the place without anyone being smart enough to see it coming.
If you want to protect your marriage, good advice is socialise with friends who are also strongly committed to maintaining their marriage.
The study also showed participants with more friends in their social network were less likely to divorce than those with fewer friendships. The researchers suggested part of the reason may be that “a strong, supportive friendship network” protects a couple’s marriage by “making it easier for individuals to weather inevitable marital stresses.”
7) The happiest couples contribute equally to the family income
Studies show the happiest marriages are those in which both partners are working and earning similar amounts. Husbands in particular cheat more when their spouse is earning a lot more than they are, or when they are earning a lot more than their wife.
Women who made a lot more than their husbands were less likely to be unfaithful.
As the researchers noted, this behaviour seems counter-intuitive, because straying from the marital bed is likely to put the marriage at risk, and so also threaten the adulterer’s access to his spouse’s wealth.
They suggest marriages where there is any large “inequality” difference – whether in income, attractiveness, or level of personal success – are under greater strain than those where the parties were more similar, and the financial gap probably sparked resentment or a sense of personal failure on the part of the man.
The conclusions? Marriages are most stable when both partners are breadwinners (not the traditional stay-at-home Mum while Dad is out bringing home the bacon.)
And if you are considering getting serious in a relationship ask yourself how your partner would respond if you got a promotion or a big raise, because the marriage has got the best chances of happiness if your mate is somebody who can celebrate your success, not resent it.