How to Choose Your Marriage Partner

July 11, 2012

Eric Barker, a columnist for Wired Magazine and owner of the popular blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, continuously posts interesting findings from a wide variety of social science studies. He’s compiled a collection of things you should look for in a marriage partner at Business Insider, here. (H/T: David Foster, Ted D.)

Here’s my take on it.

1. View your partner through rose colored glasses.

A bit of delusion by both parties helps a lot. Relationship quality is correlated with each party’s conviction that their partner is better looking than they are (even if it’s not true). 

Similarly, newlyweds who find their partners more agreeable than their behavior might suggest tend to be more in love and more likely to stay in love over time.

In other words, marry someone you are literally crazy about, and who feels the same way about you.

2.  Avoid people with low self-esteem.

They damage relationships by prioritizing self-protection from rejection over intimacy or closeness.

Those with high self-esteem are confident in their partner’s caring and thus have high chronic trust that allows them to seek connectedness when interdependence concerns are salient. In contrast, low self-esteem people perpetually doubt how much their partner values them and as a result, prefer to prioritize self-protection goals in risky interpersonal situations. This lack of trust is often unwarranted given LSEs’ partners actual caring (Murray, Griffin, et al. 2003). However, these perceptions often lead LSEs to behave differently from HSEs when facing risky interpersonal situations.

…Low self-esteem people reported less positive evaluations of their relationship and their partner and reported feeling less close to that person. When feeling rejected by their partners, they sought to protect themselves by devaluing their relationships and downplaying its importance.

While we tend to think of people with low self-esteem as unattractive, they may hold a certain appeal and often succeed in attracting relationships. For example, the bad boy with the terrible family life and damaged psyche is often irresistible to women, even as he is emotionally guarded or unavailable.

Women with low self-esteem are also more likely to be promiscuous, which is not reassuring re predicted sexual faithfulness in marriage.

3. Choose a man according to education, profession and income.

Socioneconomic status among males predicts engaged fathering and higher IQ.

1. “Previous studies in developed-world populations have found that fathers become more involved with their sons than with their daughters and become more involved with their children if they are of high socioeconomic status (SES) than if they are of low SES.”

2. “For IQ, there is an interaction between father’s SES and his level of involvement, with high-SES fathers making more difference to the child’s IQ by their investment than low-SES fathers do.”

4. Avoid sexually submissive women to avoid a sexless marriage.

Women’s adoption of a submissive sexual role predicted lower reported arousal and greater reported difficulty becoming sexually aroused.

5. Conscientious couples who are a bit neurotic live long, healthy lives together.

Conscientiousness and neuroticism acted synergistically, such that people who scored high for both traits were healthier than others. 

I’m reminded of Alec Baldwin’s best line from Woody Allen’s new movie To Rome With Love. Upon hearing the description of a flakey, psycho young woman coming to visit, he says, “Beautiful, funny, smart, sexual, and also neurotic – it’s like filling an inside straight.”

6. Cheaters look shady, so trust your instincts.

Humans better recognize faces of cheaters than those of cooperators when they do not know who are cheaters and cooperators. [They] think they recognize cheaters’ faces even when they have not seen them before. The results of these experiments suggest that cheaters might look different from cooperators, possibly due to beliefs and personality traits that make them less ideal exchange partners, and the human mind might be capable of picking up on subtle visual cues that cheaters’ faces give off.

7. Marriages work best when the woman is hotter than the man. 

Relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

For the record, it’s male dissatisfaction that arises when his wife is not as attractive as he is. Similar levels of attractiveness between mates are unrelated to marital satisfaction.

8. It’s best if you can find someone whose parents did not divorce, especially if you are male.

Research on the intergenerational transmission of divorce has demonstrated that compared with offspring of nondivorced parents, those of divorced parents generally have more negative attitudes toward marriage as an institution and are less optimistic about the feasibility of a long-lasting, healthy marriage. 

Women’s, but not men’s, parental divorce was associated with lower relationship commitment and lower relationship confidence. The current findings suggest that women whose parents divorced are more likely to enter marriage with relatively lower commitment to, and confidence in, the future of those marriages, potentially raising their risk for divorce.

 
I’ll close with some encouraging news about married people remaining in love:
 
In a random sample of 274 U.S. married individuals, 40% of those married over 10 years reported being “Very intensely in love.” 
 
Importantly, correlates of long-term intense love, as predicted by theory, were thinking positively about the partner and thinking about the partner when apart, affectionate behaviors and sexual intercourse, shared novel and challenging activities, and general life happiness. 
 
Wanting to know where the partner is at all times correlated significantly with intense love for men but not women. For women, but not men, passion about nonrelationship factors significantly correlated with intense love.
 
In a random New York (NY) sample of 322 individuals married over 10 years, 29% reported being very intensely in love and our predicted correlates cross validated.