Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Secrets of happy, enduring relationships

I gave a talk at the college on Monday entitled "Is Love Enough? The Science of Intimate Relationships." It was very well-attended (we had people spilling into the hallway), and we had a great discussion of what factors researchers have found which correlate with relationship satisfaction and longevity in couples. It's a great topic, because there is direct applicability of the findings to improving one's own life. I ended with the question: Why is it that all couples start out enthusiastic and happy, and yet so many relationships end with bitterness and rancor? People rarely walk into their wedding saying, "I really hate my fiance" or "Well, this is ok, but I'm really waiting for my soul mate to come along." And yet 50% of marriages end in divorce (and often not a friendly one). What happens, and how can researchers help couples more effectively create happy relationships?

Please note: I'm not suggesting that relationships should last forever. There are many good reasons to separate from one's partner (abuse, etc.). I have no problems with that. I just hope the research can help people who really want to stay together and make it work be able to find more effective methods of building relationship. But with that said, sometimes the right thing for each individual person is to part ways. One of the weakness of the research on couples often prioritizes the maintenance of the couple over the needs of the individual, which is a limited perspective.

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