I don’t mean to keep banging the For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed drum, but I keep finding nuggets that I found interesting. Maybe some of these are obvious to some of you, but I found the fact they were supported by research, video recordings and analyzing couples to put them in a different light than just blanket statements about the state of the marriage.
Before getting into the “How You Met” research, I wanted to mention some earlier ones that were interesting. Studies showed that couples who tend to fight more frequently aren’t any more likely to get divorced than those who don’t. It comes down to the fact that they just deal with resolution of the conflict differently and is not a good indicator of divorce potential.
Researchers had a bunch of couples (50 or 60 if I remember right) discuss various topics, some sensitive and videotaped them. Then a few years later, after some of the couples had gotten divorced, they had hundreds of other people take a look at the video interaction between the couples and guess which ones stayed together and which divorced. Basically, it came down to guessing.. a flip of the coin. The people asked to review these interactions ranged from happily married couples, to pastors, to divorced, to just regular single and married folks. Just how they interacted with one another, or dealt with conflict, was a poor predictor of divorce potential. A couple of our best friends have been married as long as we have, and they both behave how I’d consider volatile with each other, but this behavior is consistent. They seem to yell at each other a lot and say things to each other (in our company and among other friends) that would be deal breakers for other couples. But they know they aren’t being serious and it’s just how they are (the wife is Italian if that helps explain things). I am guessing they’ll stay married despite this type of conflict resolution behavior.
The one predictor that they said was highly correlated (90% +/- 4% depending on the type of couple) with indicating divorce potential was the “How You Met” analysis. So a bunch of married couples at various stages of marriage (from newlyweds to those married years) were asked to recount their “How You Met” story, with some directed questions to guide them. Questions were along the lines of how they dealt with early struggles, what they remember about their early courtship, and recalling some of the details of the actual meeting and dating that went on. Researchers would break down the tapes and tag the various parts of the conversation with scores. Then they revisited the data a few years later (don’t recall how much time, 3 or 5 years maybe?) and found a very high correlation with certain scoring and predicting which couples divorced.
The first correlating factor was if the Husband was working in disappointment or disillusionment into his version of the story. Like if he started adding color commentary to the story or even unsolicited advice. Examples like “I probably should have spent more time traveling and having fun before settling down” or “It was more of an emotional decision, and not a rational one, and it probably would have been a better idea to have waited longer” were thrown around as examples of this disappointment. The wife’s disillusionment or disappointment wasn’t correlated to divorce potential.
The second correlating factor was the use of “we” and “our” in coloring the stories of early relationship. If you see yourselves as a couple and are happy, you tend to use the plural pronouns much more frequently, while if you feel like you’re separate and an individual more I’s and me and you and my show up. Also, the tenor of the story can change depending if you’re happy in the relationship or things are going poorly. It’s like the same story, but viewed through a different lens. I’ve shared an abbreviated version of where I was in my life and how I met my wife, and is one we both share from time to time with a lot of nostalgia and happy memories. If we were in a dark place, Holly would potentially change the story vantage to “It probably foreshadowed where things are today [not good] that he was throwing rocks at me.” vs. in a good place “He was acting so cute and playful and threw rocks at me… like a schoolboy.”
In my own life, and recalling our “How We Met” story, I have a lot of fond memories of our early meeting and courtship. We were inseparable more or less after we met and spent most of 8 or 9 months together in some fashion most days before moving 1,000 miles away and moving in together. Sure some things weren’t super awesome; we were both broke, slept on a mattress on the floor (even an air mattress for awhile when moving to my first job), had furniture found on the curb, ended up juggling big credit card debt, had an ultimatum to work through (about where our relationship was going and if she was moving with me to my first job), and we dealt with stages of underpaid, underemployed, unemployed and some depression issues. However, when recounting these stories we tend to gloss over the bad parts and use them to illustrate the trials and tribulations that we’ve overcome and how far we’ve come together, as a couple.
The story of “How You Met” itself doesn’t matter much, but how you tell it certainly does. So what does your story predict? Together forever, or storm clouds on the horizon?