Thursday, May 04, 2006

More relationships -- Knowledge is Love Edition

Interesting work by Lisa Neff and Benjamin Karney argues that people whose perceptions of their partners are inaccurate when they marry are, unsurprisingly, more likely to divorce:

Despite the strong positive feelings that characterize newlyweds, many marriages end in disappointment. To understand this shift, the authors argue that although newlyweds’ global relationship evaluations may be uniformly positive, not all spouses base their global adoration on an accurate perception of their partner’s specific qualities. Two longitudinal studies confirmed that whereas most newlyweds enhanced their partners at the level of their global perceptions, spouses varied significantly in their perceptions of their partners’ specific qualities. For wives, but not for husbands, more accurate specific perceptions were associated with their supportive behaviors, feelings of control in the marriage, and whether or not the marriage ended in divorce. Thus, love grounded in specific accuracy appears to be stronger than love absent accuracy.

This suggests that a key element of dating is to develop accurate perceptions of your partner. Adjust your behavior accordingly.

Update -- a friend forwards a different summary of the research from one the authors (who felt my post was slightly off the mark):

"The point of that paper really was this: the ideal circumstance for newlyweds is to understand each other's specific strengths and weaknesses accurately, and then globally to love the heck out of each other. We contrasted this position with newlyweds whose overall love was not grounded in a specific understanding. The latter group did worse. Of course, newlyweds without the global love part did the very worst."

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