Thursday, February 14, 2013

Relationship shockers

by Richard L. Weaver II

For more than 35 years, I have written about relationships. My book, Understanding Interpersonal Communication (HarperCollins) went through seven editions, and I wrote a book on relationships, Relationship Rules: For Long-term Happiness, Security, and Commitment (And Then Some Publishing, 2009). Also, since 1974, I have included chapters on relationships in my book, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012) This last book went through two editions previous to its current title. Those were called Speech/Communication (D. Van Nostrand, 1974 and 1977), and it is now going into its eleventh edition.

I offer this brief history as a backdrop to why I look for information on the topic of relationships. For five days a week, I read USA Today and whenever our newspaper carrier is feeling in a generous mood (actually, it’s when he has an extra paper!), I read The New York Times. Whenever I see that paper—it’s always encased in a blue plastic bag—my heart does small back-over flips.

Recently (January-February, 2012), both papers included articles that I would call "relationship shockers," and excerpts from them will undoubtedly see print daylight in the eleventh edition (2015) of my book, Communicating Effectively. There are three articles.

In the first article, in USA Today, "Singles in America," (February 2, 2012, p. 4D) author Sharon Jayson discusses the results of the "second annual Singles in America study, conducted online and completed in December [2011] by market research firm Market-Tools for the Dallas-based dating website

"The results do shatter some long-held beliefs about what have been considered ‘deal breakers’ in relationships. Only until the very recent past, a potential partner’s religion, race or ethnicity, or financial status (especially for a man) often stood in the way of a romance blossoming, says anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. But no more. Singles today, she says, look at ‘those profoundly basic things a person needs for a sound partnership.’
"The survey found that the top five deal breakers in order of importance are having a disheveled or unclean appearance (67%); being lazy (66%); being too needy (63%); lacking a sense of humor (54%); and distance — living more than three hours apart (49%)" (p. 4D).
The second relationship shocker appeared in The New York Times. In their New York Times essay, "The dubious science of online dating," Eli J. Finkel and Benjamin R. Karney examined the scientific methods that sites like eHarmony, Chemistry, PerfectMatch, and GenePartner use to construct their relationship matches. Based on "the past 80 years of scientific research about what makes people romantically compatible [the research] suggests that such sites are unlikely to do what they claim to do":
"Perhaps as a result [of online dating firms not being useful in narrowing a client’s pool of potential partners], these sites tend to emphasize similarity on psychological variables like personality (e.g., matching extroverts with extroverts and introverts with introverts) and attitudes (e.g., matching people who prefer Judd Apatow’s movies to Woody Allen’s with people who feel the same way). The problem with this approach is that such forms of similarity between two partners generally don’t predict the success of their relationship. According to a 2008 meta-analysis of 313 studies, similarity on personality traits and attitudes had no effect on relationship well-being in established relationships. In addition, a 2010 study of more than 23,000 married couples showed that similarity on the major dimensions of personality (e.g., neuroticism, impulsivity, extroversion) accounted for a mere 0.5 percent of how satisfied spouses were with their marriages—leaving the other 99.5 percent to other factors.
"None of this suggests that online dating is any worse a method of meeting potential romantic partners than meeting in a bar or on the subway. But it’s no better either" (p. 12SR).
The third and final relationship shocker also appeared in The New York Times. In her essay, "The M.R.S. and the Ph.D." for The New York Times in the SundayReview section (February 12, 2012, p. 1 and pp. 6-7), Stephanie Coontz writes that "Even for women who don’t marry, it’s better to be educated; a 2002 study found that never-married white women with more education than average lived, ‘the longest, healthiest lives of all groups" (p. 7). She continues:
"One of the dire predictions about educated women is true: today, more of them are ‘marrying down.’ Almost 30 percent of wives today have more education than their husbands, while less than 20 percent of husbands have more education than their wives, almost the exact reverse of the percentages in 1970.
"But there is not a shred of evidence that such marriages are any less satisfying than marriages in which men have equal or higher education than their wives. Indeed, they have many benefits for women.
"In a forthcoming paper from the Council on Contemporary Families, Oriel Sullivan, a researcher at Oxford University, reports that the higher a woman’s human capital in relation to her husband—measured by her educational resources and earnings potential—the more help with housework she actually gets from her mate. The degree to which housework is shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman’s marital satisfaction. And husbands benefit too, since studies show that women feel more sexually attracted to partners who pitch in" (p. 7).
So, what have we learned that’s new? First, we discovered that religion, race, ethnicity, and financial status are not as important as they used to be when mates are in the process of looking for compatible mates. The characteristics that mates look for today have more to do with "profoundly basic things" such as cleanliness, laziness, neediness, a sense of humor, and the distance potential mates live from each other. Distance is an especially important element when one mate finds the other on the Internet.

Second, we discovered that the major online match-making sites have problems with their alogrithms. No wonder that all of the match-making sites consider their alogrithms as proprietary information! The online match-making sites use similarity on the psychological variables like personality and attitudes to make their matches. But research studies have shown that similarity on personality traits and attitudes have no effect on predicting a relationship’s longevity.

What are the variables that are likely to affect relationship compatibility and, thus, longevity? The factors are communication patterns, problem-solving tendencies, sexual compatibility, as well as environmental factors such as job loss, financial strain, infertility, and illness.

Our third discovery had to do with women: "The degree to which housework is shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman’s marital satisfaction." And women feel more sexually attracted to husbands who pitch in. Notice, too, that Coontz writes that it is better for women to be educated. Those women with more education lived the longest and healthiest lives of all the groups measured in the 2002 study she cited.

There are often changes because of studies done on relationships, and this requires regular (every three years) updates of our textbook, Communicating Effectively. These three, however, are shockers—not just because of the new revelations, but, too, because all three were reported within the same three weeks of 2012.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

At Forever Families , in the essay there, Important Factors to Consider Before Taking the Marriage Plunge offers a large number of variables to consider. This website should be "must reading" for all couples who plan on getting serious.

At, the essay is called, A Primer on Relational Conflict versus Marital Quality. This is another must read essay for couples who plan on tying the knot. Why not be prepared?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Copyright February, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

1 comment:

  1. Glad I'm not lazy or disheveled! Going to have to work on the sense of humor.


Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.