Continuing the neurosciency trend, my latest read is For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope. I gleaned a lot of information from it, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. (if there’s anything the last book taught me, I’m not going to try to explain why, because I don’t know!)
Here’s lots of random stuff:
The statistic that “50% of all marriages end in divorce” is misleading – the divorce rate has been going down significantly since the 1970s. Big risk factors for divorce include getting married before the age of 25, and not having a college education.
A good marriage improves your health, but a bad one hurts it, due to higher stress levels (and the fact that the stress is happening at home, which is supposed to be your sanctuary). A study on stressed-out women showed that holding hands with their husband reduced the pain they felt from an electric shock. (holding hands with a stranger helped some, but not as much)
Conflict: early in a relationship, some amount of conflict seems to make things healthier in the long run. (according to John Gottman, who is cited enough to deserve a coauthor credit) The number of fights you have is not nearly as important as the way you fight – a complaint (“I wish we had sex more often.”) is better than a criticism (“You never want to have sex – you’re always too tired.”), which is better than contempt (“You’re such a slob.”). The difference between complaints and criticisms sounds minor, but from personal experience I definitely react much more poorly to criticisms. The first three minutes of a fight is a good predictor of the strength of the relationship. Eye rolling during an argument is another good predictor that the relationship is in trouble.
Children can take a big toll on marriage. On average, parents spend more time with their children than they did in the 1960s. This is fine, but it’s better to make sure your marriage is healthy. Parents in happier marriages are more effective parents. When kids were given one wish to change the way their parent’s work affects their life, they wished that their parents would be less stressed and less tired. (not that their parents would spend more time with them, which is what the adults predicted) Couples that did the best with kids (in terms of their marriage) were the ones that planned in advance – when they would have kids, who would take care of them, etc. Breaking the gender roles is also good, e.g. fathers do more housework, mothers give up some control about how things are done.
Sharing chores/housework is important. Money is another common point of contention; spendthrifts are attracted to tightwads and vice versa, but marrying one tends to lead to trouble. Maintaining some monetary independence from your spouse (being able to spend money on what you want) is helpful. Spending money on things that help your marriage (a vacation, for example) – also good.
Having outside relationships with friends and family is a very good thing; apparently this is more common in same-sex couples.
Finally, her prescription for marital health:
– Celebrate good news
– You need at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones to be stable. So after a fight, just saying “I’m sorry” once isn’t enough. (say it four more times?)
– Keep your standards for your marriage high
– Pay attention to family and friends, as this puts less stress on the marriage to be emotionally fulfilling on all levels.
– Don’t expect your spouse to make you happy – some studies have shown that most people have a personal happiness “set point” which they tend to return to.
– Have sex. Even if you’re not in the mood, usually you’ll get in the mood after a few minutes.
– Reignite romance by sharing new experiences and adventures.
Anyway, it was reasonably interesting, and available for borrowing as usual.
Next up: more neuroscience!