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Some people like to predict whether a marriage will last in the same way baseball fans speculate on the World Series. From the disapproving mother-in-law to the nosy neighbor, everyone seems to have a theory.
However, new research published in the journal Science found if you really want to determine ahead of time which marriages will prove happier, the gut instincts of the bride and groom would be a good place to start.
For their report, researchers interviewed 135 heterosexual couples every six months for four years. Each couple had been married less than six months at the start of the study.
While the researchers were looking for indicators of trouble ahead in the extensive interviewing they had completed, their real breakthrough was related to an experiment testing the gut-level instincts of the couples.
It involved having the individual husbands and wives gauge certain ideas as either positive or negative while words and images were displayed on a computer screen. During certain entries, very brief images of their spouse would also appear.
“Couples who revealed negative attitudes
also reported low marital satisfaction.”
Some words and ideas were pleasant by nature, such as “awesome” or “terrific,” while others had very negative connotations like “terrible” or “awful.” The idea was to understand how the individuals felt about certain concepts aside from what the interviewing had revealed.
However, as researchers continued checking back in with the couples every six months, they began to find the couples who unwittingly revealed certain negative attitudes in the experiment also consistently reported having the lowest levels of marital satisfaction.
James K. McNulty, an associate professor of psychology at Florida State University, led the research. He believes while new couples may not be able to verbalize their doubts or concerns, on a gut-level they appear to know when something is wrong.
“Everyone wants to be in a good marriage. And in the beginning, many people are able to convince themselves of that at a conscious level,” he said. “But these automatic, gut-level responses are less influenced by what people want to think. You can’t make yourself have a positive response through a lot of wishful thinking.”