Originally posted on The Elffington Post. I’ve been reading a lot- 58 books so far this year! I just haven’t had much time to update here (too much reading, or something). I’ve reviewed a few non-fiction books on my other blog. Here’s one:
Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of reading! After the relatively tough slog of The Female Brain, Ty Tashiro’s The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love was a quick, enjoyable, informative read.
Dr. Tashiro has conducted extensive academic research on the psychology of relationships and now consults for the Discovery Channel. Using real-life examples combined with the latest research on relationships, Tashiro explores why so many of us make poor choices in choosing a partner, and offers some solutions.
He begins by exploring why love can be so hard to find. Much of it boils down to statistics. Every wish we make regarding a partner further narrows our choices, and by wishing for too many traits- or the wrong ones- we can make it impossible to find anyone suitable. He also blames the way we look at love in our society:
Believing that love should be left to fate and then committing to love someone forever based upon fairy-tale beliefs, rather than willfully choosing partners with the traits needed for enduring love, is a mindset that likely contributes to only three in ten couples finding enduring love.
Tashiro feels we can make it easier to find love by being realistic and realizing that we can have at most, three wishes for what we want in a partner. Any more than that, and you quickly diminish the pool of potential partners to nothing.
Most people however, squander one or all of their wishes on things that contribute little or nothing to overall relationship happiness. Two of those things are looks and resources. Until about 150 years ago, when most people lived short, poverty-stricken lives, choosing a healthy partner able to work and provide resources was of paramount importance. One marker of health is physical beauty. So naturally, all of us gravitate toward the good-looking.
Tashiro spends a lot of time proving why it’s no longer necessary to choose looks and resources. In the developed world, we live in safe societies with long life expectancy and plenty of food. Study after study has shown that looks and wealth have no impact on long-term relationship satisfaction. Of course, dire poverty is hard on relationships, but once you reach a certain threshold of middle-class income, there is no additional benefit to finding someone wealthier.
So what should we be spending our three wishes on? Tashiro argues that personality traits have some of the greatest impact on relationship satisfaction. These describe how people respond across situations. They also tend to be very stable once adulthood is reached, so a trait you observe today will likely not change. So, things like extroversion, conscientiousness and neuroticism are all personality traits. Of those,
Neuroticism is the most important personality predictor of future relationship satisfaction and stability. . . . Across numerous studies, neurotic partners are at a higher risk of relationship instability and divorce.
Another trait to watch out for is a high degree of novelty seeking. Novelty seekers can be fun and interesting,
However, novelty seeking is associated with an increased risk for substance abuse, abusive behavior and explosiveness during discussions about conflict, which are all associated with less relationship satisfaction.
It’s also a predictor of infidelity.
On the other hand, a good trait to look for is agreeableness. Researchers
found that one of the best variables for predicting who would stay married, even better than love, expressions of affection or negativity, was responsiveness, which is closely relatied to the personality trait of agreeableness.
Tashiro offers some tips on how best to assess personality. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult to do in the early days of a relationship, so he advises paying attention to what friends and family members think of your partner’s personality. Again, research has shown that outside parties interested in your well-being are far more accurate in their assessment of personality traits. (This is super-annoying to me on a personal level. My family and friends have always been right about my love interests, and I usually didn’t take their opinions very well.)
Another important factor in a relationship is attachment style. Tashiro explains how to detect secure, insecure or avoidant attachment styles and the impact they can have on the health of a relationship. While the securely attached have the best relationship outcomes, Tashiro provides some strategies for the insecure and avoidant to modify their behaviors in hopes of finding lasting love.
Looking at your own and your partner’s relationship style is another way to assess your long-term chances. If the two of you have a demand-withdraw dynamic, or you tend to attribute relationship problems to your partner’s flaws, rather than environmental circumstances, you are far less likely to succeed as a couple.
No partner is perfect, and part of a relationship is showing a consistent effort to manage your own weaknesses, while showing some consistent grace when it comes to your partner’s weaknesses.
To show meaningful effort and to know where to allocate their grace, couples have to first face the depth and breadth of what really drives problems in their relationships.
So, how do you go about making the right wishes and having them fulfilled?
First, you must clarify your goal. What do you really want from your love life?
Next, you should identify your partner selection patterns. Figure out which traits you consistently select. Do they work for you? What about your own traits? Once you know your preferences, you can identify the risks that come with some of them.
Now, you can make your wishes. It might be hard to make just three, so Tashiro suggests starting with ten, and then ranking them in order of importance.
Next, take action on your wishes. It’s best to start small. Take just one wish and write down three things you can do now that can move you in that direction.
As you act, keep track of your victories. It helps to confide in a supportive friend who can encourage you. If your wishes are congruent with your personal values, you will quickly start to feel good about the direction you’re going, even if it takes some time to find a great partner.
Your create your version of happily ever after by wishing wisely for great partners and then having the courage to trust your ability to love well, and to be loved in return.
Throughout, Tashiro provides ample evidence for his assertions, and concrete steps that anyone can take in their pursuit of love. The anecdotes are illustrative and entertaining, and provide useful examples of how many of his points play out in real life.
If you are looking for love, and want to know how to do it right, this book is for you!