The recent announcement that divorce laws should be relaxed is welcome.
Most couples who marry hope to live happily ever after, but the brutal reality is that more than 40 percent of modern marriages end in divorce.
Why would you make divorce more difficult and more stressful than necessary? Fortunately, there are scientifically proven ways to protect your relationship.
I met my wife, Clare, at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in September 1980, when we both started our medical education.
One of the more surprising ways to predict if a couple will stay married is by studying the way they smile
It was creepy that the Dean of the Royal Free was the first to predict that we would get married. Or rather, at the start of the course, he told a room full of first-year medical students (including us two) who would marry four of us in that room based on what had happened to previous student groups. He was perfect.
But could he or anyone else have predicted that we would not only get married, but would happily continue to get married?
Over the past 30 years, psychologists have put a lot of time and resources into trying to predict which unions are likely to last and which are likely to end in divorce. They have also determined what couples should work on if they want to stay happy together.
YOU WILL BE LOVED LONGER IF YOU ARE SMILE
One of the more surprising ways to predict if a couple will stay married is to study the way they smile – because it can prove to be a real gift for your true feelings. There are basically two types of smile, a real one and a fake one. The real one, called the Duchenne smile, is named after a French doctor who studied facial expressions 200 years ago.
A Duchenne smile involves the contraction of two sets of muscles: the zygomaticus major, which lifts the corners of your mouth, and the orbicularis occuli, the muscle ring around your eye sockets. A sincere smile activates both, so that the corners of your mouth rise and your eyes wrinkle.
A fake ‘Say Cheese’ smile, on the other hand, normally only refers to the zygomaticus major, which, in contrast to the orbicularis occuli, is under voluntary control.
Based on smiles, psychologists have developed something called FACS, the Facial Coding System, with which they measure the intensity and authenticity of a smile. So what does this have to do with marriage? Well, in a 2001 study, psychologists from the University of California asked a group of women, then in their fifties, to complete questionnaires about their relationships and how happy they were with life.
There are basically two types of smile, a real one and a fake one. The real one involves the contraction of two sets of muscles that increase the corners of your mouth and the muscle ring around your eye sockets
The psychologists also analyzed photos of the same women at the age of 21 and assessed them with the help of the FACS. The women who laughed most naturally in the pictures taken 30 years earlier were much more likely to get married and remained happily married than those whose smiles were clearly more false.
In a later series of studies involving men and women, a strong link was again found: those who laughed least convincingly on old photos, compared to those who laughed most naturally, were five times more likely to be at a certain point. to separate their lives.
The principal investigator, psychologist Professor Matthew Hertenstein at DePauw University in Indiana, thinks this may be because “smiling people attract other happier people, and the combination can lead to a greater chance of a long-term marriage.”
THE FOUR SIGNS YOU LEAD FOR DIVORCE
It is clear that a happy marriage involves more than the ability to smile, no matter how natural. To find out which other factors are important, I visited the so-called Gottman Love Lab a few years ago.
The correct name for the Love Lab is The Relationship Research Center, a specialized institute founded in 1986 by professor John Gottman near Washington University.
He invites couples to his institute and then studies them intensively. This can involve wiring them to measure how their body reacts when they argue, and they also film with ultra-fast cameras to capture something like micro-expressions – subtle facial movements that are almost imperceptible, but thought to be thoughts and indicate feelings.
He then follows them many years later to see if they are still together. What his team has learned by studying thousands of couples is that there are some negative things that couples do. He calls them “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and they predict divorce.
The most important things that are toxic for a long-term relationship are:
1 Contempt: this includes making sarcastic reactions, dazzling, grinning and mocking when you disagree. Disregard is not only the main predictor of divorce, but research has shown that contemptuous couples are more susceptible to each other for infectious diseases such as coughs and colds.
2 Criticism: It is OK to say, “I don’t think that was a good idea,” but it is not OK to make profoundly negative statements about your partner’s character or personality, such as: “You are so annoying. Why the hell do you always do that? “
3 Defensiveness: this is something I occasionally get guilty of – getting angry and falling back to Clare when she challenges me. It only makes matters worse.
Making sarcastic reactions, dazzling, grinning and mocking while you disagree are all important things that are toxic to a long-term relationship
4 Stonewalling: this means that you act as if you don’t care what your partner says. Just like defensiveness, it blows up.
AND HERE IT WORKS …
On a positive note, Gottman also has recommendations for working on a happy marriage. They contain:
1 Cherish your mutual affection and admiration. This means doing things such as really celebrating the other’s successes and feeling sorry for their failures. When your partner tells you about their day, look up; occupy. Gottman discovered that couples who gave their marriage a positive twist were much more likely to stay together.
2 Turn towards each other. We regularly make what Gottman calls “bids” for the attention of our partner. This can mean that you are reading something that you enjoy reading from the newspaper or pointing at something interesting from the window. How your partner reacts is important. Turning around and saying something like “That’s interesting” is good. They ignore or “Stop drunk” is clearly bad.
In his study, Gottman discovered that it was the couples who turned at least 90 percent of the time and were still married six years later. Those who did this less than a third of the time soon ran into problems.
3 Build love cards. This sounds very American, but what it really means is showing interest in your partner’s world. Remember and celebrate important events in each other’s lives. Remember what their friends are called. Know each other’s goals, concerns and expectations.
4 Be kind to each other. Kindness is the flip side of contempt. It gets up and helps with cooking when asked, even if you feel broken. It resists the urge to say something destructive when you have a fight.
5 Solve your soluble problems. Gottman says that you should not leave problems lying around, but bring them out if both of you are in a positive state of mind. This almost always means a compromise and tolerance for each other’s mistakes.
Getting married is not everything. Many people choose to stay alone and, despite the contrary, there is no great evidence that getting married brings unique benefits. That said, I highly recommend it.