Is it possible to predict which marriages are likely to succeed by looking at the love present in courtship at the start? Leading US social psychologist and relationship researcher Professor Ted Huston has spent much of his professional life on this question.
Love conquers all
Huston’s programme investigating coupledom and marriage, beginning with the very first date, is known as the PAIR (Processes of Adaptation in Intimate Relationships) project .
He and his team recruited 168 newly-weds in central Pennsylvania, and followed them over the course of 13 years. The team asked about many aspects of the couples’ lives together, and an analysis of the massive amount of data retrieved showed that to a large extent, the seeds for success, or failure, in marriage are already present during courtship and the very early years.
Key to a long-lasting, happy marriage? Deep and mutually-intense love, says the project. The deeper the love during courtship, the longer, and happier, the marriage. It’s love that brings couples together during courtship and which propels them towards marriage – but for the love to be enduring, it has to be there in depth before marriage takes place. If it’s not, then divorce is more likely. Lack of love, or a loss of love, does not necessarily mean divorce, but it does mean lack of happiness.
One of the very first and most revealing points for the future shows in what Huston calls ‘shared courtship reality’. Each partner was asked to plot a graph of their courtship, with the ups and downs and a note of major events including break-ups and time apart.
Couples whose graphs diverged in several points – whose own view and memory of their courtship was different from their spouses – were far more likely to be divorced within two years. The couples whose very early views and interpretations were in close agreement were at the opposite end of the spectrum – more likely to be together, and to say they loved each other, after the end of the project 13 years later.
Early days predict
In fact, happy marriages were happy in similar ways – deep and shared affection, compatible ideas about role, similar interests from the time of first courtship were the hallmarks. In contrast, the unhappy marriages and the ones that had ended, were more disparate. Some began with problems, of varying intensity, near the surface, whereas with others, problems emerged more gradually and antagonism grew in place of affection.