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Why women seek men like their fathers and couples are
less happy after marriage: New book explains science
behind common relationship themes.
If you’ve ever written to an agony aunt or spent your holiday fund on a relationship therapist, or even sat for hours with your girlfriends despairing over your love life, help is finally here.
A group of university researchers and experts on relationships have banded together to translate the scientific theories behind human behaviour into layman’s terms.
The Science of Relationships: Answers to Your Questions About Dating, Marriage and Family offers readers the solution to 40 of the most common romantic conundrums like what makes someone hot and others not and why it is that some marry people just like their parents.
The 15 contributors from different academic institutions take turns in uncovering the secrets to familiar relationships mysteries using results from online polls and submissions from students.
Benjamin Le, a social psychologist at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Jennifer Harman, a psychology professor at Colorado State Univeristy, who co-wrote the new advice book along with other experts in the field, spoke to Canada.com about their findings.
Among other revelations, they discovered what makes people attractive to others frequently comes down to exposure, which is good news for those good at persistence.
Dr Harman expanded by saying: ‘The research would say that if exposure to something is increased, even subliminally, you’ll like it more.
‘With online matchmaking sites, at first you might see profiles that aren’t attractive, but the more you see them, they may not seem so bad.
‘Some sites capitalize on that, where a member can pay more to have their photos featured daily.’
On a more serious note, the psychologists tackled the complexity behind the idea of dating someone that is similar to a parent and cited the frequent study of the type of attachments a parent makes to their child as a determining factor in the outcome of their romantic preferences.
Dr Le explained: ‘If the parent was not consistently nurturing or there for the child, the child will have expectations that their partner can’t be relied upon.
‘Studies show people will choose dissatisfaction if it’s consistent with their expectations, versus things that make them change the way they see the world.’
Dr Harman added: ‘It may or may not be a healthy dynamic, but it feels comfortable. If people don’t have a lot of self-worth because of early parenting, they enter relationships where that person confirms how they already feel about themselves.’
But they both pointed out that while often a pairing in which one person is ‘avoidant’ and the other is ‘anxious’ is unsatisfying, it can also be ‘tremendously stable’ and less likely to end in divorce.
‘Those relationships lasted just as long as people who were secure and healthy,’ Dr Le explained. ‘So it depends on how you measure relationship success. Did they stay together, or are they happy?’
Asked whether married couples really do lose the spark after marriage, the doctors both confirmed that they do, but went on to explain that the decline in satisfaction levels are as much to do with the change in life’s demands as the chemistry between the couple themselves.
For this they recommend revitalising the relationship with fresh experiences. ‘Dissatisfaction occurs because you know that person and there’s no novelty. Relationships become boring,’ Dr Le said.
‘New activities can buffer couples from having a decline. If you like to watch movies, that’s not enough, because it’s passive. But if you like to hike, those sorts of activities that are more physical tend to jump-start satisfaction.’