Predicting the success of a marriage: End of divorce?

The success of a marriage is predicted by the gut feeling of the newlyweds. At least, this is what authors of a study published in Science claim. Is this the way to determine the chance of success of a marriage? The prospect of a wedding often creates excitement and optimism among the spouses-to-be. In some cases, this feeling gives way to disillusionment when the marriage does not go as well as expected. Researchers have developed a test to better predict the likelihood of marriage success.

The study

At the start of the longitudinal study, 135 newlywed couples (270 people) completed an explicit measure of their conscious attitudes toward their relationship and an implicit measure of their gut feelings toward their partner. They then reported their marital satisfaction every 6 months for four years. No correlation was found between the gut feeling and the conscious attitude of spouses. This suggests that the spouses were not aware of their gut feelings. Furthermore, it was found that husbands’ gut feelings, rather than conscious attitudes, predicted changes in their marital satisfaction. Spouses with more positive gut feelings were less likely to experience declines in experiencing marital satisfaction over time.

The measurement

The 135 newlywed couples were interviewed about their expectations of their marriage (conscious attitude towards the relationship). The spouses’ gut feelings were measured by showing them a photo of their partner on a computer screen for one-third of a second. Because the image was shown for such a short time, the brain could only perceive the image subconsciously. Then the participants had to indicate as quickly as possible whether certain words such as “amazing”, “fantastic”, “horrible” and “scary” were positive or negative words. The speed at which they performed this test was an indication of their true feelings, the researchers said.

Principle of association

The test is based on the psychological principle of association. The theory is that after briefly looking at a photo of their partner, the newlywed was in a positive or negative state of mind. After the photo, a positive word such as ‘great’, or a negative word such as ‘terrible’ came into the picture. The subjects had to indicate as quickly as possible whether the word was positive or negative. The state of mind will influence the participants’ answer; when they are in a positive frame of mind, they are more likely to identify words like “great” and “fantastic” as positive and vice versa.

The results

The researchers found that conscious attitudes toward marriage were very positive for all couples. However, gut feelings varied considerably among the newlyweds. The researchers found that those who had negative gut feelings were, on average, more likely to report being unhappy at follow-up as the marriage progressed. Some couples had even divorced by now.

The solution?

The researchers indicate that the test has not yet been developed and tested well enough to actually use in practice before people tie the knot. They indicate that there was a general trend in the results, but that there were also exceptions of people with a negative gut feeling who remained happy and vice versa. The best advice remains to try to make yourself aware of your gut feeling and listen to it before you start a marriage.