Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 19 July 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Happily ever after

...... the scientific way:

Anyone in a relationship or who plans on being in one needs to know how to keep love alive over the long term. But how do you learn the secret to this? Everyone is happy to explain 'how they met' but few give the details on 'how they stayed together'. So let's look at what science has to say.

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'Happily ever after' ain't easy

Aside from being the epitome of lazy writing, 'happily ever after' is not simple.

Ty Tashiro, author of the Science of Happily Ever After - What Really Happens in the Quest for Enduring Love explains that couples in their first year of marriages score 86 percent for marriage satisfaction. By the seventh year, it's under 50 percent.

Yes, about 50 percent of couples get divorced. Another 10-15 percent separate but do not file paperwork. And 7 percent more are chronically unhappy. So the real stat is two-thirds of marriages do not live 'happily ever after'.

Why is marriage so hard over the long term?

One of the main reasons is what science calls it 'habituation'. Which is a fancy way of saying, "we get bored".

Early on, when a couple can finish each other's sentences it's romantic. But over time 'predictable' is a huge negative.

Author Robert Greene, in his The Art of Seduction, explains that surprise is key to romantic feelings:

Seduction involves a degree of surprise, which is generally the first thing that disappears after you've been in a relationship, and why there's no more seducing that goes on. Everything is familiar and you're no longer surprised by the other person.

So is there any way to bring those tingles back?

Yes. Here's how.

What you can learn from arranged marriages

Love marriages start out happier - but that declines quickly.

Arranged marriages start out less happy, but after 10 years, they're happier than love marriages. And stay that way.

What's the secret behind the long term success of arranged marriages?

They have to work at it.

They don't passively rely on 'magic' and intense emotion. They have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it work.

That process of discovery is ostensibly the fun of courtship, too, except that in arranged marriage the goal is to figure out how to be married, not whether to marry. [Love Illuminated]

Research shows expecting a fairy tale relationship is a prescription for disappointment. Feeling like it's all magic means it's out of your control - and that without that initial magic, it's hopeless.

The happiness of arranged marriages means a couple can make magic if they try.

So you need to actively keep the marriage happy. How do you do that?

Don't fix the bad. Increase the good

Look at your spouse as something you purchased 'as-is'. Research shows trying to change them doesn't work:

...when participants (N = 160) focused their relationship improvement attempts on changing the partner, individuals reported more negative improvement strategies, lower improvement success, and, in turn, more negative relationship evaluations... results suggest that targeting the partner may do more harm than good despite that relationship evaluations pivot on whether the partner produces change. ["Improving intimate relationships: Targeting the partner versus changing the self" from Journal of Social and Personal Relationships]

John Gottman, researcher and author of 'The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work', says 69 percent of a couple's problems are perpetual. These problems don't go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year.

Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other's mind - but it can't be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage. [The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work]

So if you can't change them and they won't change you, how can you reduce the bad stuff?

You can't. But you don't need to.

The best relationships are more about increasing the good than reducing the bad.

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings.

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight. (Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being)

Okay, so you need to increase the good times. What's the best way to do that?

Forget romance. Think excitement.

Think a pleasant date night is all it takes to keep love alive?

Researchers did a 10 week study comparing couples that engaged in 'pleasant' activities Vs 'exciting' activities. Pleasant lost.

Those who had undertaken the 'exciting' date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the 'pleasant' date night group... [For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed]

Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship?

Because we're lousy about realising where our feelings are coming from.

Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you're with, even if they're not the cause of it.

As happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains, excitement experienced mutually brings the tingles back.

...Whether the couples were only dating or long-married, the ones who did the shared novel activity were more likely than the ones who did the shared neutral activity to agree to statements like "I feel happy when I am doing something to make my partner happy" and "I feel 'tingling' and 'an increased heartbeat' when I think of my partner" after the activity than before. [The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does]

So no boring, lame date nights. Go do something exciting. Go dancing together or anything else you can both participate in as a couple.

Sum up

Keeping love alive can be tricky. You need to actively work at it and it's more important to increase the good then to reduce the bad.

And the best way to do that is by increasing excitement.

So you're hopping on roller coasters and going white water rafting - but what do you need to do when you're there?

Pretend you're on your first date.

Why? On first dates we make an effort to impress. And we're full of hope. Love means being a little delusional (Some researchers even think love might qualify as a mental illness.)

Thinking your partner is better than they really are makes for longer, better relationships.

Letting yourself be a little crazy -crazy for your partner - pays off.


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