We’re doing it all wrong, you know!

happilyThe Science of Happily Ever After
By Ty Tashiro
Harlequin, 2014

The thing that the vast majority of us do wrong is the way we go about choosing  life partners. This issue was sharply brought into focus for me after reading relationship scientist Ty Tashiro’s book The Science of Happily Ever After in which he says the numbers of people who manage to achieve ‘Happy Ever After’ relationships is a woefully small percentage of the population.

He reckons that the percentage of marriages that end in divorce is up around 70 percent and the scenario starts to look even bleaker when you add to that the number of people who separate never having married, those who separate and don’t file for divorce and those who remain in unhappy partnerships for some reason.

Ty puts the situation down to the fact that we try to use too many criteria (or wishes as he puts it) when choosing a partner and/or that the fact that the criteria we mostly use are irrelevant to maximising the chance of achieving enduring love.

The first point that he makes is that you really only get three wishes when choosing a partner and while the exact number might be open for debate, in my opinion the principle is not. Each wish you add to your list reduces the number of possible mates out there and after three, he says, you have cut down the pool of possibles down to such a small number that you’d have to be very, very lucky to ever meet one.

The book contains a number of charts and graphs showing how this works and a entertaining story about a school friend of his who decided that she needed to experience sex and, with Ty’s help in applying her list of wishes, discovered that there was only one boy in the school who fit the bill.

In my own case, I can wish for a tall, beer-drinking, non-smoking, rich, photography and walking enthusiast who cooks brilliantly, doesn’t like reality TV and looks like Cameron Diaz as much as I like, but I’m going to be doomed to disappointment because there are few of those around.

This is why, says Ty, it is so important to spend your few wishes wisely and not to waste them in wishing for things that will not increase your chances of achieving enduring love. He makes the point that, in the past when survival of one’s offspring was a real issue, choosing a partner based on reproductive fitness (looks) and assets made perfect sense.

In our society the survival of our offspring to reproductive age is pretty much a given but we’re still using the same old criteria to choose our partners but Ty explains that they do not play much of a role in determining how satisfied we will be and whether our relationships will endure.

Ty writes that you should be looking for certain traits which he defines as characteristics or disposition which remain stable over time.  The first is the person’s attachment style which almost always mirrors the attachment they had with their parent or primary caregiver in childhood.

Styles range from secure through to avoidant and anxious depending on the degree to which they found they could depend on the love and nurture provided by the parent. Research has shown that people who were in secure relationships with their parents will carry that through to their adult relationships and will be more likely to be there for you whenever things go pear-shaped.

Other things to look out for are agreeableness, neuroticism [a low level there is good], openness and conscientiousness.** Ty particularly points to low levels of conscientiousness and high levels of novelty seeking as markers of people more likely to cheat.

A final useful piece of advice given in the book is that couples wrapped up in the first flush of love and lust are not much good at assessing whether their relationship will last. However, research shows those outside the relationship are able to predict the fate of the relationship with a high degree of accuracy. I guess the lesson there is to introduce potential partners to friends and family sooner rather than later and give some weight to their opinions of the potential partner.

I’d thoroughly recommend The Science of Happily Ever After as essential reading for anyone interested in achieving enduring love. At the very least it will give you a good handle on why you made the relationship choices you did and how to improve them in the future.

** Ty does mention John Gottman in the book which reminded me of an article I’d read on research conducted by him and his wife Julie. This revealed that kindness is the major factor that decides whether a relationship will last or not. I suppose that would fall under the agreeableness heading.

It’s worth Googling ‘Gottman and kindness in relationships’ for the full story but basically what they say is that people constantly make bids for attention from their partners. They observed that the masters of love responded positively most of the time to these bids and that their relationships tended to endure. The disasters, on the other hand, didn’t tend to engage all that often with their partners and their relationships didn’t last.

A bid could be something big such as when one partner announces a success they’ve had at work or something small such as the fact they’ve just seen a pretty bird. The partner receiving the bid then has the choice to be a master of love or a disaster. Luckily for the disasters, it is more than possible to learn to be kinder to their partners and so there is hope for them. 😉


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