One of the most active areas of research in psychology involves the scientific study of relationships. The connections we have with others matter for our overall sense of happiness, as well as our personalities and health. See how well you’ve been keeping up by taking this brief, 10-item quiz. After you’ve completed it, check out the answers and the science behind each, and give yourself a grade:
As you can probably guess, many of these questions don’t have simple YES/NO answers.
Read the explanations below to find out how close your own answers came to those based on the research literature:
1. Couples best survive a divorce by protecting each other’s self-respect. One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce is the feeling that you’re a relationship failure. According to research conducted by Brandi Frisby and her associates (2012), the couples who are most likely to adapt well to divorce are those who try to protect each other from these feelings of shame. By protecting each other’s identities, they minimize the damage associated with a relationship’s formal ending. They don’t have to emerge as best friends, but couples who adapt most successfully to divorce respect each other’s need to save face.
2. Living together before engagement increases the likelihood of divorce. The cohabitation effect refers to phenomenon of couples who live together before they get engaged having a higher likelihood of becoming divorced. Living together after the engagement, however, doesn’t seem to have the same consequences. The apparent reason that the cohabitation effect exists seems to be that couples who live together without first committing can drift into marriage for pragmatic, not romantic, reasons. That lack of commitment eventually plays out in the unraveling of the couple’s ties after marriage.
3. Bad relationships don’t get better with time. The existence of relationship pathways was introduced by University of Texas psychologist Ted Huston and colleagues (2001), who found that the most frequent pattern shown in the early years of a couple’s relationship is the “enduring dynamics” path. Couples who don’t get along well when they first make a serious commitment never really improve their relationships over time. Even if they’re able to smooth things out enough to get through the wedding, their poor conflict-resolution methods only make it more likely that they’ll be unable to navigate the inevitable strains of everyday life.
4. Opposites don’t attract, but they may learn to live together just fine. The similarity hypothesis states that “like attracts like,” and in many ways, this is true for the initial phases of a relationship. You’re more likely to seek someone whose personality is like yours, who lives near you, and who has similar interests. However, this is something of a trick question for our quiz, because opposites can actually manage to work out their differences, should they become attracted to each other, and even benefit from their complementary personalities, attitudes, and interests. Based on research by Vanessa Bohns and her colleagues (2013), as long as couples share the same life values, they may benefit from being polar opposites when it comes to how they achieve their shared goals.
5. The 50% divorce statistic is an exaggeration. We typically hear that half of all marriages end in divorce, but there is ample evidence to show that this is a myth. Even though divorce rates are rising in the 50+ age cohort, the overall rate is by no means reaching 50%. The reason is statistical: The divorce rate is calculated by dividing the number of divorces per year by the number of marriages in that same year. Now, unless half of all just-married couples make a disastrous mistake and recognize it within weeks of getting married (an unlikely scenario), there are different people getting married and divorced within that same year. Some of the divorced may have been married for 10, 20, or 30 years. (The average length of a first marriage is about 8 years.) In addition, divorce rates are higher for certain sectors of the population—the younger, the less well-educated, and the so-called “divorce prone,” who will marry and remarry several times. If you’ve got wedding plans, there’s no reason to feel pessimistic about your relationship’s future, especially if your statistical risk is low.
6. Equity matters early in a relationship. Several theories of relationship satisfaction approach the question of who gets along with whom from an almost economic standpoint. Equity theory proposes that you’re most likely to seek a new relationship partner when the "investment" seems worthwhile. Later on, other factors take on greater prominence, particularly when couples develop strong feelings of intimacy and commitment. So, it’s fine to evaluate the relative contributions you and your partner are making early in your time together, but as your feelings deepen, an unusual focus on equity might threaten your relationship’s long-term health.
7. Avoidance is a poor conflict-resolution method. In the heat of the moment, some cooling-off might be beneficial, especially if you’re around other people such as your children or friends, or even the crowd at a supermarket. However, research on couple communication and intimacy shows that couples who avoid conflict will invariably grow apart from each other. Of course, using destructive tactics in an argument, such as putting your partner down or escalating the dispute even further, is not the solution, either. But if you’re so afraid to bring up disputes that you keep your feelings under wraps, your anger and resentment will only build, causing your relationship ties to grow ever weaker.
8. The transition to parenthood doesn’t have to kill a relationship. It’s natural for a couple to worry that having children will mean the end of their romantic lives together. Not only does becoming a parent involve a radical lifestyle change, but it would seem to take a couple’s focus away from each other as well. For many years, family researchers talked about the “transition to parenthood” as the beginning of a downward trajectory in a couple’s marital satisfaction. However, through using more sophisticated research methods, we now know that it’s only certain couples who don’t make it past their early parenthood days. A large analysis of 37 studies on the transition to parenthood (Mitnick et al., 2008) showed that new parents didn’t decrease in marital satisfaction any more than other couples married a similar length of time. The people most likely to show the transition to parenthood effect, however, were those who were younger, more impulsive, more involved with their careers, and psychologically less stable.
9. Parents of young adult children who provide help serve a vital role in their children’s mental health. We hear a great deal about how bad it is for parents to become over-involved in their children’s lives. To be sure, parents who suppress a young child or teen’s development of a sense of independent identity and self-reliance may be sowing the seeds of later problems. However, by the time children reach early adulthood, they may truly need their parents to help them, especially if they’re suffering economically or socially. In a study of young adults (some as old as 41), Karen Fingerman and her colleagues (2012) found that when parents help them through these rough times, young adult children benefit psychologically. Parents who worry about being too “intrusive,” then, may actually be doing more harm than those who provide the necessary support during their kids' times of stress.
10. It’s fine to relive the past with your romantic partner. You might worry that it’s better not to think about the old days, as you’ll invariably feel that your present circumstances pale in comparison now that the passion has cooled. If you think too much about the past, you might fear, you’ll feel dissatisfied with your more stable, less exciting lifestyle as an established couple. However, research by Susan Osgarby and Kim Halford (2013) showed that positive reminiscence can be a surprisingly effective relationship tool. So go ahead and pull out your old scrapbook or Facebook photo albums; revive your feelings from the old days; play “your” songs; and share some laughter from your shared past.
If you received a passing score on this quiz (6 or more correct), that’s great. Even if you’ve got some learning to do to bring your “relationship IQ” up to snuff, these answers can help you now to achieve the fulfillment you seek in all of your closest relationships.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Bohns, V. K., Lucas, G. M., Molden, D. C., Finkel, E. J., Coolsen, M. K., Kumashiro, M., . . . Higgins, E. T. (2013). Opposites fit: Regulatory focus complementarity and relationship well-being. Social Cognition, 31, 1-14. doi: 10.1521/soco.2013.31.1.1
Fingerman, K. L., Cheng, Y. P., Wesselmann, E. D., Zarit, S., Furstenberg, F., & Birditt, K. S. (2012). Helicopter parents and landing pad kids: Intense parental support of grown children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 880-896.
Frisby, B. N., M. Booth-Butterfield, et al. (2012). "Face and resilience in divorce: The impact on emotions, stress, and post-divorce relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 29(6): 715-735.
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Huston, T. L., Caughlin, J. P., Houts, R. M., Smith, S. E., & George, L. J. (2001). The connubial crucible: Newlywed years as predictors of marital delight, distress, and divorce. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(2), 237-252. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11
Mitnick, D. M., Heyman, R. E., & Smith Slep, A. M. (2009). Changes in relationship satisfaction across the transition to parenthood: A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 848–852. doi:10.1037/a0017004 pii:10.1037/a0017004.supp (Supplemental)
Osgarby, S. M., & Halford, W. K. (2013). Couple relationship distress and observed expression of intimacy during reminiscence about positive relationship events. Behavior Therapy, 44, 686-700. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2013.05.003
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