Someone asked me what I thought about using astrology as a compass for romantic compatibility.
Fair question, I think. No matter what you think of the pseudoscience, horoscopes are published in most newspapers, and a significant number of people consult astrology-based information regularly for personal guidance or simple entertainment.
Astrology involves several beliefs, and at the core of those beliefs is the idea that there is a relationship between astronomical activity—the position of the sun, moon, stars and other planets in our solar system in relation to the earth—and earthly events or human personality and behavior.
For me, there are two distinct questions to deal with:
- Is astrology real?
- How significant is behavioral and personality compatibility to relationship success?
Is Astrology Real?
Obviously, astrology is real. It’s a thing people study, practice and discuss. It’s real. But that’s not what I meant.
Better questions might be: Does astrology have scientific or spiritual merit, and should people take seriously the information astrologers offer? Does heeding astrological advice result in good things happening? Does ignoring or smiting it result in something bad?
I have, personally, never believed that the position of planets and stars could somehow be used to predict events.
Like, the love and financial advice people read in horoscopes.
It seems reasonable to conclude that if humans had discovered any type of connection between our astrological signs and romantic or financial success, we would all be rabid astrology practitioners in 2017.
Instead, most people have mountains of credit card debt and are statistical coin-flips to succeed in a romantic partnership, even after promising to love each other forever in front of a bunch of witnesses, and sharing homes, bank accounts, and children.
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying.
NOTE: For the TL;DR folk, the most important thing I want to share in this post is this guide to understanding the 10 Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability, because understanding how your specific type matches with your partner’s specific type could be the difference between you two having a great marriage, or a life-altering divorce.
I have always found there to be an interesting observable relationship between astrological signs and personality.
In my experience, true or not, it has always seemed as if astrology’s universally agreed-upon personality traits matched up with what I knew to be true about people born within the corresponding date ranges.
But guess what? Almost everyone—no matter what sign they are—thinks that, too.
It’s called the Forer effect (or Barnum effect).
Psychologist Bertram Forer conducted an experiment in which all participants took an individual personality assessment, and then later were given a list of personality traits tailored to their results. The students were asked to rate the accuracy of their customized personality report afterward, and the students collectively rated them a 4.26 on a scale of 0-5.
Forer had taken statements from a newsstand astrology book and given every student the exact same list, regardless of their astrological sign or personality test results.
The Forer effect essentially says that because the statements are so vague, people are able to apply their own meaning to each, making them “personal” to each individual.
Thorough scientific testing of astrology has been done through the years, and has found it to have no known scientific validity. The idea that the movement and positions of planets and stars could affect human behavior and earthly events defies everything science tells us about the laws of physics and biology.
Of course, scientists can only identify about 5 percent of “stuff” in existence (the other 95 percent is made up of dark energy and dark matter, which no one knows anything about), so maybe scientists can go eat a fat one.
I don’t pretend to know anything, for sure. I just ask a lot of questions and try unsuccessfully to not be a dick to people.
Does Human Behavior and Compatibility Influence Our Relationship Success?
I’m not a doctor or anything, but: Ssshhhyeah, it does.
And the irony is that most people believe they are dating or marrying someone they are “compatible” with.
Totally makes sense, too. Think about who people tend to date and marry. It’s pretty much always people “like us.”
We usually meet people who believe what we believe (same faith or belief system).
We usually meet people who live or work where we live or work.
We usually meet people with similar educational experiences (lots of people marry fellow students from high school or college/university).
We usually meet people with the same friends.
We usually meet people with the same hobbies and interests.
I think it makes sense that people believe that someone coming from any of those groups would be “compatible.”
Sometimes, they’re happily (and accidentally) right.
Often, they’re tragically (but also accidentally) wrong.
Thinking That Emotional = Weak Earned Me My Divorce
Maybe because I’m a guy who likes football, beer, women and other “guy stuff,” and grew up in a pretty traditional and conservative small-town culture, I—like many men—rejected human emotion as something relevant.
In guy terms, if you’re emotional, you’re just a weak, crying bitch. Who probably listens to boy bands and drinks a bunch of Diet Sierra Mist and white zin.
If you cry, you’re weak.
If you let your emotions control you, you’re weak.
If you let your emotions override your logic, you’re weak.
If you’re emotional in any way, about anything, you’re weak.
And I took that into marriage with me. All that false bravado, acting like I was all tough and manly and my wife was some weak-ass crier whenever things got hard.
Because crying = weak, and not-crying = strong, I thought I was clearly demonstrating the coolness, strength, smarts, and emotional steadiness to decide what was best in a given moment where my sad wife and I might have disagreed.
I can’t remember details of any of these moments, but I’m pretty sure I was being an inauthentic douchebag most of the time, peacocking with false bravado like I was tougher or smarter or better in any way than someone with the courage to let the tears fall.
Between the two of us, I was the only one pretending. I was the one actually weak and afraid.
Human emotion is significant—whether or not it’s convenient to admit.
Emotion is the No. 1 influencer on our consumer buying decisions—cars we buy or lease, brands we support, advertisements we respond to, homes we purchase or rent.
Emotion moves us in certain directions professionally, in determining where we geographically want to live, in whether we have children or pets, in where our kids go to school and the activities we involve them in.
Emotion heavily influences all aspects of our personal belief systems.
The Part That Really Matters
So, in addition to me (and near as I can tell, many other guys) not respecting the significance and importance of human emotion, I think most people don’t think enough about the various ways in which different humans process emotion.
Almost everyone reading this will know their astrological sign, but won’t have the first clue how their biological nervous systems and life experiences have shaped them into some combination of the 10 ways humans manage emotions.
Not unlike Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, or the lessons imparted by visual metaphors such as Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, these Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability were identified by Dr. Brent Atkinson, the principle architect of Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy.
This strikes me as one of the most-significant things I have ever seen to help two people better understand one another and incrementally improve, rather than incrementally destroy, their relationship.
It’s not an overstatement to say it can save you.
And I’ll try to wrap this up as succinctly as I know how.
What astrologists and those who follow astrology are trying to do is make it simple for certain types of people to pair up with other certain types of people, because well-matched people have happier lives, stay married, and have rewarding family and social lives.
They are attempting to do so via a connection between planets and stuff, and things we do and feel here on earth.
Maybe it’s all super-legit. Maybe it’s all total nonsense.
I’m not sure it matters or that I care very much.
Because while sharing values and vigilantly enforcing/respecting personal boundaries is critical to effective matchmaking, I believe humanity (namely men) identifying the significance of emotion on our personal lives, and then applying intelligent matchmaking and behavioral responses to our individual emotional-makeup profiles would have the same profound effect on love and relationships as horoscopes that were never wrong.
We forget sometimes, but love is not about finding the perfect partner so much as BEING the perfect partner.
We forget sometimes that love is not always a feeling. Love is a choice. And marriage is about commiting each and every day to love regardless of how we feel about it.
Do feelings matter? Everyone gets to decide for themselves.
But, if your partner feels unloved every day, and feeling unloved significantly impacts her or him, do feelings matter EVEN IF they don’t matter to you?
Sometimes, the purest act of love is demonstrating care and compassion for those we profess to love even when their interests or opinions clash with ours.
Sometimes—no matter how insignificant they might seem to us—things have to matter just because they matter to them.
A lesson learned too late.
So, thank God there’s tomorrow.
62 thoughts on “Can We Use Personality Matching and Astrology to Have the Perfect Partner and Marriage? Kind Of!”
On one hand, I’d like to believe in something that makes life more understandable. On the other, it’s hard to believe that 1/12th of the world’s population is just like me!
In reality the whole world’s population is just exactly the same. We’re all flawed, all understandably want things to be more understandable, and can only be made good through Jesus.
“But, if your partner feels unloved every day, and feeling unloved significantly impacts her or him, do feelings matter EVEN IF they don’t matter to you?”
I really feel like love is unbreakable when people are able to think outside of their own happiness in a relationship. The only time that even works is when BOTH people are able to think that way.
When it’s a little lopsided, it’s expected. There are always times when people will need supported more than they can support. It’s give and take though. It can very easily evolve into one person giving everything with the other giving very little. That part is a choice. It also requires you care enough about the other person to REALLY know them. It can be as big as religious views and as little as what type of drink they like at Starbucks. it comes down to being a present in a team. Having each other’s back. Not being there because it’s convenient for YOU or makes YOU feel better about yourself.
So hell yes compatabiliy is a thing regardless of whether or not the planets can determine it. That’s really only a small portion of it though. The rest comes down to action.
“I really feel like love is unbreakable when people are able to think outside of their own happiness in a relationship.”
I think this is a very good statement, Natasha
“Compatibility” is such a topic…
I really like your summary near the end: things need to matter to me because they matter to my spouse, or maybe said a little differently, my spouse needs to know that s/he matters to me. Lots of us go from pretty good at that to pretty apathetic/pretty bad, I think.
Maybe the ultimate compatibility question is: is each of us willing to work to understand the other and love the other rather than walking away and blowing up this relationship?
I loved the piece from Brent Atkinson that you linked to, including this snip, which is consistent with the rest. I think it’s consistent with your point, Matt, that what ultimately matters is accepting your partner’s perspective/preferences and stretching to meet them.
“Mismatches are difficult, but most relationships are mismatched, at least to a degree, and mismatched relationships thrive under the right conditions. What are these conditions? You each accept the idea that both of your nervous systems have legitimate ways of stabilizing, and you each stretch your own comfort levels a bit so you’re able to give and take in a way where each of you gets your needs at least partially met.”
Easier said than done, of course – unfortunately… (*sigh*)
I agree that this is hard work, but IN THEORY — and I know this is the “ideal,” and not entirely real-world — but if everyone inherently knew that there were 10 different ways of maintaining emotional stability, and that pushing certain buttons depending on yours and your partners is the thing that avoids all the pain and discomfort and fighting and resentment, maybe it WOULDN’T be hard.
Maybe it’s only hard because most of us wait until it’s a blown-up pile of chaos before we ever start looking for reasons and solutions.
Hard answers, in the big picture. But not so much for us as individuals.
Just do our best at the next available opportunity. And then repeat.
Yes. And to add to the randomness, people have very different tolerances of, well, pain, I guess. I’m thinking about what it takes for one or both partners to come to realize that their marriage/relationship is a blow-up pile of chaos (nice phrase, btw).
Amplification: the “next available opportunity” should be right now, today – not the next available relationship, if yours hasn’t already become a subject for the coroner. Addressing myself, sorta, as is always most appropriate. 🙂
LOL, somewhat funny, I’ve never really believed in astrology, but hubby is a scorpio and I am a leo. We had our charts done and everything said “don’t.” Two of the most incompatible signs in the galaxy. Worse,we’re both on the dominant end of scorpio and leo.
He likes country, I like rock and roll. He is good at math, I am good at language. There’s nothing compatible anywhere.
The same is true in many other ways, he is one of the youngest kids, I am the oldest. Birth order has actually turned out to be a real pain in the neck. As the youngest he simply banged his cup on the table and people came running to meet his needs. As the oldest, I just cannot abide such entitlement and silent whining.
I really believe that old adage, “opposites attract.” People grow and change, your compatibility can suddenly shift. Commitment is perhaps far more important, a willingness to adapt to the changes that will come.
Sorry for the late reply, but this caught my eye.
“As the youngest he simply banged his cup on the table and people came running to meet his needs.”
My experience is the polar opposite. As the youngest in the family, I was simply told to shut up and wait for my turn. Which usually just never came around. And nothing I did was ever good enough because I was compared with my siblings who had the advantage of age and experience.
Also, as the smallest kid within the group in our neighbourhood, I was also left with the choise of playing along the rules of the other’s, or not play along at all.
So, basically, to this day I’ve never felt entitled to or even expected to have my needs met by someone else, pretty much ever.
The scientist in me says bunk but the human inner has spent a great deal of time in this arena over the last two years. I have to say the Meyers Briggs personality profiles nailed us. Understanding myself and my partner from this perspective has really impacted my approach in a positive way. What I used to consider bad behaviour or rudeness can actually be misunderstood personality traits – who knew !?!
Now the challenge is reconciling the INFJ with the INTP.
I’ve now accepted more of my traits, focussed on manifesting more of the positive and toning down the negative.
I’ve worked hard to communicate in ways that may be more effective with my partner. He’s commenting on the difference in how I approach things that would have left him feeling judged and crappy before. And I’m insisting on having my feelings respected and heard – realizing it may never have been in his personality to know how.
I think you just described every relationship ever in one fantastic comment.
Thanks – *blushes* currently reading The Zen of You and Me – A guide to getting along with everyone. Diane Musho Hamilton. Wonderful bit on differences that I’d love to paste but can’t and I’m too lazy to recopy, sorry 🙂
Marriage is tricky and I think that this is in part because people change. Some get married very young without full knowledge of who they are and what they really want. Commitment is key though… accepting the fact that you’re going to love this man or woman even though you might not feel like it everyday. I like your comment about striving to be the perfect partner rather than finding one. Gosh, if only we all thought like that, we’d have utopia here on earth.
This is a little bit uncanny…it has been quite a long time since I saw one of your posts; I probably follow too many people, and the result is that I often miss the blog posts that I enjoy the most, including yours.
But…as I recall, the last post I read of yours was “Do Feelings really matter?” So it seems we have come full circle again.
Interesting co-incidence: I was just discussing the idea of “trying to be the perfect mate, rather than find the perfect mate” with my therapist about a month ago. I even wrote about my thoughts on the subject, which are mixed, but overall it addresses a very crucial aspect of relationships.
Mutual respect and emotional stability are unfortunately concepts that most people can’t even begin to grasp, because they are too involved in trying to control each other…and “winning”.
Good luck to you Matt. You have paid dearly for your previous mistakes, and certainly done your homework as far as introspection and human growth, and you don’t cast blame or make excuses. I am sure you are the better person for it.
Happy marriages are a bit like spiritual enlightenment…you do the homework, walk the walk, and just try to be the best person we can, but it seems as if nothing comes to us until we stop seeking it. When we are completely involved in just living an authentic life without pretense or agenda, what we once sought comes to us, seemingly out of nowhere.
Happiness is a choice.
Wow. That Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Stability framework is brilliant. I saved the link to the description for future use. I’m assuming the trick is not so much to find someone who mirrors yourself with regard to the five items (which, I suppose, you could find but it might take a really long time), but for both partners to have an understanding of how the other person is wired. And taking every opportunity to soothe the other person in the ways that speak to him/her. That takes real emotional maturity and also an ability to self-soothe when your partner doesn’t show up at his or her best. Not easy stuff. But, as you say, it’s not about what’s easy. It’s about being good to your partner. Thanks for another great post.
P.S. I’d never come across the term TL;DR before. Had to look it up. I like it.
I think you nailed it, exactly.
You know what…. I am of a generation that when attempting to pick up a young woman at a saloon, would ask ” hey what’s your sign”? In retrospect what an assbag thing to ask. Really? What’s my sign? Are you Kidding? Not what interests me? Am I enjoying myself?etc. I mean yes one of the popular songs at the high school dances of yore was “Aquarius ” by The Fifth Dimension. Love beads, peace signs and a host of self awareness practices were the fad. We engaged in reading an amazing number of books dedicated to the new awareness and mind expansion,and inner peace and body language. We believed this mental masterbation. We felt that the inner self we were focusing on would be our end all endgame for all our future successes be they spiritual,financial,social mental,and of course interpersonal. Excuse my language but HORSESHIT!..this seemingly (rightfully) ridiculous collection of misguided notions did nothing but detract for the real of reality. We somehow decided that the answer to all our problems was in the stars,in the walking away from society, caring only for the moment and thrusting ourselves full force into believing the mumbo jumbo of so called sages and transcendental meditation gurus. My mom used to read me my horoscope every morning ( my eyes in full roll) . Sometimes the astrologer would seem to hit it right on the head about how my day was going to turn out….or was it so? Did I just remember what my mom read to me that morning and juxtapose my situation at the moment to have been predicted? Again HORSESHIT! What life taught me was that all the things either good or bad that happened that day at Catholic High was not in the stars but in the practice. I did well on that test because I studied all week, I struck out with the cute little Slavic girl from the South Side because she didn’t find me appealing nor did I make myself so. I was happy to be around my friends because we valued each other and we were m interested in what was important to the group as a whole (. 40 + years later and we’re all still as close as brothers and sisters). We didn’t have to rely on horoscopes or self awareness exercises or any of that other crap. Our love for each other was based on pure respect for each other and acceptance of everyone’s thoughts,beliefs and dreams…… Our marriages have to follow these models and principles. That in mind , one night 34 years ago I was at work in a foul mood and had no intention of going out even for a short time. Just about quitting time one of my best lifelong friends came by to coerce me to stop at a local saloon just to check out the action. I resisted but he knows me better than blood relatives and finally got me to stop by…. I was set to ditch him and go home when I saw this gorgeous hazel eyed long haired beautiful girl in full trot heading for the exit as she being pursued by a big smelly greaser. We made eye contact and the look of terror was clearly evident (along with her 3 sheets to the windness). I reached for her and pulled her towards me at my spot at the bar ( by the way I didn’t drink then and don’t to this day). I gave The greaser my best MAFIA hit man look ( I was in great shape then) and he retreated. I bought the hazel eyed cherub a drink and she asked me for a dance……33 years , 3 kids, a house or 2, a near divorce and a new beginning of love and respect and care later and I still look into those beautiful hazel eyes devoid of terror , soft with love and bright with the promise of a great future. None of the things that drive us has anything to do with horoscopes or gurus or mumbo jumbo or voodoo. We simply learned each other’s value and give every effort to honor and respect each other. Effort trumps quick fixes and predictions. A television Dr. Once said ” the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior ” so true but to expand on that thought that behavior needs focusing and practice, without that you might as well use tarot cards . I didn’t have to ask my wife what her sign was I had to show her what she meant to me and how she mattered. And by the way we’re both Capricorns.
I think Brent Atkinson has some truly great material. Here are some more articles, if anyone’s interested:
You introduced me to his work. I hope I’ve thanked you adequately, because it’s brilliant stuff.
I can’t for the life of me figure out how so much of this kind of work seems to be ignored by the masses.
Why aren’t these ideas at the forefront of public thought and discussion? Why do we seem to collectively care about all the random noise so much more than the things that can profoundly impact our personal home lives every day, forever?
Blows me away.
Anyway, you’re awesome. Thank you!
Matt …. I often wonder why those of the current culture of instant gratification don’t embrace some of the simplest activities that have the greatest potential of insuring success. The world, with all of its quick fixes , self absorption and outside influences that back burner consequences, has to ,at a point come to a realization that less is more. That the simple is the greatest gift. That honor,courage,commitment , care, and value makes all the difference in the world when loving someone else eternally.i work long hours and get home usually at 4 am. I generally need an hour or so to unwind so I’ll watch a little tv. Sadly,even with a very expensive cable plan there’s nothing on worth watching. One night a commercial came on that made me want to puke. A known website that arranges extra marital affairs now does tv commercials….it was sickening on a number of levels as it,to me, poked fun at a seemingly futile attempt at saving a troubled relationship and glamorized stepping out when the work involved in saving something sacred wasn’t an as much fun. To me it illustrated disposable lives and not a commitment to love, to care , to walk hand in hand with no matter what. To me it illustrated that nothing is worth it if it takes effort so just have your cake first. I’m one who wants the meat and potatoes and I can skip dessert . My wife, my marriage is my meat and potatoes…and I savor every morsel.
Aww, thanks Matt, and I’ve learned so much from you and your blog!
It was Gottmanfan who first introduced Brent Atkinson to me, it was here on this blog. 🙂 (Maybe someone else mentioned him before that, but in any case, I heard it from her first.)
“I can’t for the life of me figure out how so much of this kind of work seems to be ignored by the masses.
Why aren’t these ideas at the forefront of public thought and discussion?”
Totally agree. Not everything will work for everyone all the time, but I think Brent Atkinson is an excellent place to start. He has so much clarity on differences, skills required in a relationship, and actually how, step by step, you can maximize the chances of being fair to both yourself and the other person while navigating conflict and differences. This knowledge and clarity really should get spread far and wide,I think it goes beyond a lot of the good, but general, stuff that’s out there. I’m glad you’re mentioning his work on your blog!
Thanks again – your post got me poking around on their site again. I wanted to share a link to their “Articles” page and the articles that are linked there:
One of the links (to the Altered States article) is dead, but you can read it here:
The articles are a little heavy on brain science, but a lot of the core lessons are consistent with some of what we were discussion last week, including the approach that Terry Real takes.
I bought a copy of the book that Atkinson’s group offers last year and was looking it over. It’s pretty intense. I think what I’m going to do is see if I can get a small group of husbands together as a kind of one-shot “book club” and work it through slowly together. Link here: http://thecouplesclinic.com/resources/books/
Just for the record, I have absolutely no connection with them, and I’m not trying to promote anything other than community discussion here. 🙂
St. Augustine talks about astrology in his “Confessions”, which is widely considered to be the first modern autobiography in the Western world (written about 400 AD)
He says that if you took the example of a slave and a prince, born at the same time and in the same city, to an astrologer and had him do a chart on each…he would have to predict the same fate for each. Assuming that he knew only the facts pertinent to astrology about each individual, and not who their parents were
But clearly the fate and destiny of each child couldn’t be more different. Therefore St. Augustine concludes that astrology is bunk.
I thought that was a pretty clever argument for 1600 years ago,
Who’s to say their fates and destinies wouldn’t be the same ? Maybe different trappings and environments but trajectories and experiences could be quite similar in many ways – joys and heartaches, love and relationships. It’s not all about the robes and castles. Just sayin ?
Well, money, power, and fame is certainly no guarantee of happiness. I agree with you there. And as a matter of fact, sometimes it seems to bring greater headaches.
I believe it was the Bard who said “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
I’ve often thought about what, exactly, that magic THING is that makes people compatible. Because sometimes people who are seemingly opposites end up together. So it isn’t necessarily interests, or birth sign….
I’m starting to wonder if it’s a balance of tolerance. Some unspoken filter, or mental tool, where you understand your partner well enough to balance each other out in some areas, yet be on similar “planes” in others. Like puzzle pieces. In order for two pieces to click together, they have to have a continuing picture…yet can’t be identical shapes or they never “click.”
So he might have a higher tolerance for clutter and the fact that I always interrupt….but I keep him from being buried in paper and keep him thinking quickly. We’re opposites in politics but like to discuss varying viewpoints and to learn together, and we align on a lot of issues such as how kids should be raised and our levels of frugality.
Like a jigsaw puzzle. Slightly different shapes, same continuous picture.
Or maybe I need to switch from puzzles to coloring. LOL
I actually agree with this completely. I have long thought that those “perfect” couples you see are really comprised of two people that were lucky enough to find that person who doesn’t mind their quirks.
That might be part of it? If I were to pick two things, right now, based on my current perspectives and recent lessons, I’d say:
1. Grit/perseverance/commitment to work things out rather than give up
2 Skills about how to know and accept yourself compassionately and, at the same time, skills about how to treat those around you, especially your partner, the same
I’m not saying those very well, and those are really coming out of my current situation…
It’s sure as heck more than just the stars, though 🙂
Well of course it comes down to more than stars. I just think success in marriage can really come down to something as simple as tolerance. Some people just have tolerant personalities while the vast majority of people are just tolerant of certain things.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to be better and do better. Especially when it comes down the “dishes by the sink”. I just think people tend to be more successful when those “dishes” align with someone else’s “dishes”.
I may not be making sense but in my head it makes perfect sense;)
Not sure if I’m going to be saying something different, or whether it will be perceived as different…but hopefully it’s tolerable 😉 I think a lot of what a lot of need to be actually amounts to skills that can be learned. We can learn to be more tolerant, for example. Or at least we can learn to act more tolerantly, which probably comes down to about the same thing in real life?
Jack, regarding your first point I think you may be onto something. Here’s something I found on the Net:
There is a great joy to the early struggles of marriage. When people who “make it” talk about the early days of their marriage, they admit it was bittersweet but they say the sweet ended up outweighing the bitter. Researchers agree. In a recent study conducted by a team of leading family scholars headed by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, researchers found that “two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later. In addition, the most unhappy in their marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: Among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of ten who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.
The study went on to say that there is a kind of “divorce assumption” in America. People assume that they will either stay in a bad marriage and continue to be miserable or get a divorce and become happier. But the social science data challenge that assumption. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no evidence that unhappily married people who divorced were any happier that unhappily married people who stayed married! In no way does divorce reduce symptoms of depression, raise self-esteem, increase one’s sense of mastery, or generally improve any of the twelve separate measures of psychological well-being. Even the unhappy spouses who divorced and remarried generally were no happier than the unhappy ones who stayed married. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that unhappy people are unhappy, period—married or not.
Dr. Waite concluded, “Staying married is not just for the children’s sake. . . . results like these suggest the benefits of divorce have been oversold.” It may look as if you will gain ground by eliminating some stresses of a bad marriage, but divorce creates more stresses than people bargain for: the ugliness of a breakup between partners; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation about custody issues, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; plus the brand new relationships or marriages that also fail to make one happy.
If you are expecting marriage to be nothing but bliss, you will be sorely disappointed. It’s not that there is not bliss to be had—there is; it’s that bliss comes only after blisters. Marital bliss is the result of marital blisters—lots of hard work, where you work till it hurts, sometimes till you bleed. Marriages get happy not because partners get along so grandly, but because they stubbornly outlast the ways they don’t get along. There are all kinds of rough spots to work through when you step into life with another person: financial problems, job reversals, loss and its accompanying depression, child problems, and sometimes even infidelity. These things can destroy. But they don’t have to.
Great stuff here. Thanks for sharing this.
Good discussion! I have seen references to the five year study before and have to say that when I see it discussed I frequently get, well, frankly, angry. Why? Because to me, in a vacuum, it seems to miss two life-and-death critical points:
1. Staying married, by itself, will do nothing whatsoever to make anyone happier *UNLESS YOU DO THE WORK.*
2. Divorcing your spouse, by itself, will do nothing whatsoever to make anyone happier *UNLESS YOU DO THE WORK.*
Saying that here is sort of like preaching to the choir, but it’s still true. Candidly, if just avoiding divorce alone made people happy after five years, my wife and I would be ecstatically happy, which is not the case. We are doing the work (mostly very differently, but who can say whether that’s a problem or not? – one of the things I needed to let go of and still need to keep letting go of is an assumption that everyone had to do things the same way I did…). My prayer for all of those couples out there is that you do not wait so long that you need Baker Hughes to help you out of the hole you’ve dug together. :-/
Yep, I think that’s much of it!
Long time reader / First time comment:
I just can’t stay silent any longer. Your writing has improved and the way you express yourself, unbelievably. You should be proud of yourself.
Apart from that, i find your writing helping me more often when i am in a dark place. Separating with kids hardest thing a man can do.
I really appreciate you going out of your way to send this note.
As you probably know, I struggled significantly with all facets of my marriage ending.
The loss of a partner emotionally, logistically, and financially.
The loss of time with your child(ren.)
And the mind/heart stuff related to feeling ashamed around family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
It will be four years to the day tomorrow since it all broke.
In context, four years isn’t such a bad place to be.
Hope things are okay for you today, if you’ve had to deal with the same thing.
Matt and all others that follow this blog and those that don’t but are affected by this type of tragedy…. My faith is that all will be well. I have, for whatever it’s worth to anyone, added a daily prayer for estrangements with married relationshipsin the focus. Easter speaks of sacrifice and doing for the greater good. Matt..You have done great good. I hope you and all here gain peace through understanding and Love. I don’t mean to get all religious here but I believe that introspection and application of enlightenment is critical to healing. You are all good caring people and have helped me out tremendously. I value everyone who has shared collective wisdom in the midst of their own sorrow. You are all blessed beyond measure. Peace
Kind words, sir. I’m grateful for any and all prayers. Thank you.
It has only been 6 months for me Matt & the hardest thing by far is the kids. I have a 7yr old boy and 9yr old girl & the 3 of us are struggling badly. We are very close and remain so, but i can’t help but feel like they are slipping away from me. You cant notice it day to day, but its like a layer of our bond is being shaven away every week.
I had to let you know how much your writing has helped me not feel so alone – i feel like i’ve lost everything and everyone….but also how outstanding a standard of writing you have built yourself to. You should be proud of yourself.
Mr. Shortland, I pray that you find the peace you need to heal yourself,the strength to endure any and all hardships,the courage to accept what you cannot change and the same courage to fight constructively as needed ,to show your children your strength of character and courage ,and the wisdom to guide you through any of the challenges you may face,and love sir just plain love……..your kids aren’t slipping away ( even though it may seem so) they love you and you obviously adore them….stay the course sir…take the high ground always, they are watching and will come to understand that their dad was the man! Your courage,strength, and wisdom will solidify the love they feel from you and for you. Gods blessings to you your kids ….and your spouse
“I have a 7yr old boy and 9yr old girl & the 3 of us are struggling badly. We are very close and remain so, but i can’t help but feel like they are slipping away from me.”
This is the real tragedy of divorce – the effect it has on the children.
I have to say it is my kids who have motivated me to do my work to deal with what I brought to our troubles. If it was just about me I would have likely given up a long time ago OR just insisted it was all him. I’ve had to show them the best person I can be and in doing so grown leaps and bounds. Wierd thing is – the person I’ve grown into is helping my husband work his stuff – both by being softer and by demonstrating my commitment to Still Trying Hard. And I thought I was adulting before ?
I have read many of your posts and can say is you strike me as super introspective and a steadfast advocate for your family . Bravo to you mam . Your children see what matters . By helping your husband you show selfless character and one who does what is best for the greater good . A true heroine in my opinion .
Blushing and thanking you for kind words. I’m just a human trying to do best for the ten square feet around me. Hoping it spreads through my children and those who pass through that space ?
So, here is a serious question for you -(Anyone who has any thoughts on it)
Do you think the small nuclear family model (Husband, wife and kids) has something to do with the divorce rates?
There seems to be lack of intimate involvement from trusted others in many marriages. While the American, industrialized, person in us likely recoils at the thought of others being involved in a “my marriage”, I wonder if we aren’t missing some essential things like accountability, wisdom, and load bearing.
Especially load bearing- I think this goes along with the issue of having all our sexual, emotional, relational, intellectual- etc. etc. needs placed on one person.
When you have strong trusted relationships that are really involved in your life and marriage (And again- has to be trusted, mature people) would that not good individually and relationally?
I’m not exactly sure what you are asking per say. I believe that the it takes a village concept is usually a good thing providing well established boundaries are kept . I wonder if the expansion of the concept can function in a marital setting . While I believe mature adult relationships can help guide any interpersonal relationship, usually by example , deal-breakers such as meddling , abusive behaviors, alienation of emotions and expression and host of other thoughts and practices need to be discussed in advance . I would have a considerable amount of anguish if my wife were to engage in any type of “dating ” , platonic or otherwise or intimate discussion for fear of down the road emotional attachment. Likely a clutch of well meaning ,trusted and observant friends willing to be frank with some conclusions based on observations could be extremely helpful . I’m not at all sure that I have grasped the spirit of your question . Many things have gone through my mind but I may have a generational difference with most on this blog. But thank you…you’ve given me a bit to think about ( good thing too because it helps me keep my brain cells percolating ! )
Hey Louie- NO, I wasn’t suggesting anyone “Dating”..:)
I can see how me leading the “needs list” with “the S word” could be misleading. No, I wasn’t suggesting all of those needs be shared- I am saying that one person cant take care of all the needs of another.
I don’t think that part is a completely foreign thought ..just like a child gets one set of needs met by one parent, and another set of needs by another parent. Different people in our lives fill different needs.
In our current idea of romantic love partners are supposed to be lovers, best friends, care-takes, business partners..what other roles?
The family unit is supposed to be the place where we have our physical safety, belonging , spiritual, intellectual, and emotional (And sexual) needs met, and where those parts of ourselves can be fully expressed. (I mean, that doesn’t really happen very much, but ideally, maybe it is supposed to.)
Because of how our society is, very individualistic, goal/achievement oriented, money oriented the we tend to be fairly isolated and also tend to believe that the issues going on in the marriage are unique and shameful.
You said ” I would have a considerable amount of anguish….(if) platonic relationship or intimate discussion for fear of down the road emotional attachment. I don’t think you’re the only person who feels this way, although I tend to believe this is one of those things that keeps us away from knowing how to love authentically. I will try to explain more at the end of this comment.
You mentioned some not uncommon maladaptive relationship behaviors, which I agree are a real reality in our society. But, I question whether those things are symptoms of a culture that is so mixed up when it comes to knowing yourself, loving yourself, and knowing and loving others.
“Likely a clutch of well meaning ,trusted and observant friends willing to be frank with some conclusions based on observations could be extremely helpful . “- I believe that is all you really need. Except you shouldn’t really depend on someone’s observation of dynamics. My goodness, who would be the fool to venture into that territory without invitation? Meaning I believe that there has to be a level of openness, and involvement in each others lives.
This are some of my original thoughts about it. (With some slight edits)
I realize in our current culture it isnt very practical to open ones family life up to others. But, what about 100 years ago? We didn’t have the small nuclear family unit – there were very large families, often combined with cousins and uncles etc. If you were a single woman over 25, you were an old maid and it was sort of expected you’d live with siblings if you had them, or with some other family members. It wasn’t unusual to have a single sister stay with a married sibling.
I realize we aren’t talking about family members in the original scenario but I just want to point out that extensive social support . Everyone took care of one another.
Some cultures still do the close knit extended families. Those in Pakistan get married and move into a parents home. I know that sounds rife with dysfunction, (I think that could be our American mindset) but perhaps it requires a greater level maturity. …
It has also been demonstrated that people with schizophrenia in poorer countries where everyone relies on family have less symptoms and function better…sometimes symptoms resolve for long periods of time (without medication).
But in industrialized countries, which are highly industrialized people with schizophrenia are isolated and have worse symptoms, low function and the disease almost never improves.
I don’t think medication creates these outcomes, it’s human interaction. (There has been some studies with First episode of psychosis being treated with medication along with enhanced social support that has been shown to be pretty effective.)
My point with this is, although I absolutely respect marriage and family – I can’t say for sure that we are living in the most healthy context of it. I can’t say small nuclear families are the best model of family. I can’t say that having increased social influence that comes from having significant relationships outside- or how about along side of marriage isn’t a more beneficial and appropriate way to live.
My point isn’t that married’s should “adopt” singles as much as its that marrieds should have other strong and personal relationships that gird up both the individuals and the marriage..
My interpretation of the question:
I’ve been thinking around this question off and on all day. I’m of the “older generation” and my single years were pre: internet and my perspective is different. I married at 35 and so had many years of being “on the outside”.
I lived away from family in a new town where I knew no one at first. Went there for job out university. I was involved in music and sports and travel. I met many people (married and single) involved in the same things and built my “community”. I am not a member of a church and so did not have that structured community. People were warm and welcoming and inclusive – but there were only so many of them and so connection was valued differently I think.
Has that changed in the post-web era where people are warm and welcoming and inclusive although not always physically present ? Has the breadth of exposure to people become so vast that intimate relationships (platonic and otherwise) are redefined but somehow less satisfying because there are so many of them ? Are we longing for more connection in an overconnected society ?
Just sayin ?
STH- I honestly don’t think we have an excessive amount of kindness on the inter-webs. I think MBTTTR is unique in the sort and level of discussion that happens here. So, while you may be experiencing that people are warm and welcoming and inclusive here, I don’t think it a widespread thing.
I don’t think people can really have more than a few intimate relationships. I don’t think people need that many. That feeling of intimacy, to me, equals being known and being involved with one another on intimate levels.
So, yes- maybe if one tried to be close with the whole world it would spread very thin- and you wouldn’t be close to anyone. ..Because it takes an equal amount of giving and taking. And if you were intimate with everyone (ewww! 🙂 ) then there wouldn’t be much of you to offer.
I think we are longing for connection in an “over connected” society because communication doesn’t always equal connection.
We need recognition of what we are saying, and some reciprocation .
While I admit, I am speaking from a voice of being on the outside,
the thing I am saying isn’t just for my (and those in similar circumstances) connectivity.
I really feel like we are being foolish if we think we can be a functional society by doing it on our own.
We need others. It doesn’t have to be everyone- just the right ones.
I think the short answer is yes, and you can find a lot of commentary to that effect (not that volume equates to truth…).
There is not only the shrinkage of the family unit, but also the shrinkage of non-familial social groups. Even 50 years ago men and women tended to have other groups, formally or informally organized, that they were involved in. The pace of our lives today, combined with how and where we live – more physically isolated, longer commutes, etc. – all tend to place a greater load on the nuclear family.
And then there is the shocking (to me) lack of general knowledge about what we’ve learned about relationships in the last 20 years (one of Matt’s favorite points, and one I think is very true). At one point I had a minor personal epiphany about that – I was thinking “I wish I’d known these things 35 or 40 years ago” and then realized that the research in nearly all cases simply did not exist until the 1990s or even 2000s.
Grrr….lost my previous comment.
I think youre right that in the last 20-30 years there has been more research related to couple dynamics, divorce and marriage statistics etc.
But there have been relationship books out there for a long time. I read Erich Fromm’s “Art of Loving” when I was 18. The book was already 40 years old at the time. The ideas presented in that book haven’t changed a lot (but our understanding of dynamics, etc have).
I cant tell if it were a good thing or a bad thing for me to read that book when I did, because even though I bought into the ideas, others around me didn’t.
That just makes me think…similar to Matt’s points about not having the knowledge is that he also just didn’t care. It was psycho-babble to him and didn’t matter in his life. So, even if you knew there were books and materialist still wouldn’t matter, until it MATTERED.
You cant know until you know.
But it still counts – you can still do something good with what you now know. (And it sounds like that is what you are doing. )
I just wanted to mention two things:
#1) Matt, I remember today was THE day, and I hope you did something super spectaculous to make THIS April one memorable. (If not- you ought to make some plans for next year…maybe?)….another serious question: not that I think you are moping around at all, but I am curious if you feel like you would be in someway dishonoring what the last 4 years has done for you, and maybe even your ex, if you didn’t recognize today as an anniversary ? ..I know it will likely take many more years, but I hope eventually you will remember today for other things.
and, #2) Terry Real seems to agree with me. So, ha! I’m not completely crazy. 🙂 .
Thank you for the explanation of your
question Lindsay…I want to apologize if I made my
statement relative to “dating” etc seem as though that was what
you were implying. I tend to use extreme examples when
trying to explain my view and that , in retrospect was
extreme.However I am hypersensitive to some of the morays
of the world. I have read other blogs that suggest ” openness ” with others as a means of enhancing their relationships and that gives me the heebie jeebies. I do not in anyway believe that you or anyone else that follows or contributes to this forum espouses that belief. I agree with you with respect to the spirit of your point. Yesterday, 2 of my best friends from high school and I had breakfast together. Our friendship of 45 plus years has made us as close as brothers. Our wives are friends,our kids are friends our biological family members are friends and so on. Although we were seemingly cast from the same mold and have an enduring friendship/ brotherhood,our life experiences followed different paths. We talked of relationship issues ( yes the “s” word came up lol) fears frustrations and a wide gambit of topics. We are the same in feeling comfort in knowing we are not the only ones enduring certain struggles but are also the same in the feeling that we refuse to accept that as a matter of course. Yes we know that things change in our relationships as time goes on. But we also know we are not the type to merely take that laying down. Our conversations were not simple commiserations but actual sharing of what was wrong and how we can enhance or fix our individual situations based on our collective experiences. The honest,truthful,loving parts that drew us together in our brotherhood is what made the difference whereby the 3 of us left the restaurant feeling more encouraged,more empowered,better armed with unique processes and more focused to succeed, more at peace. Thank you Lindsay for posting your insight and care.
Thank you, Louie. What you describe is beautiful and one thing I think is sometimes missing in many people’s lives. It took you guys 45 years to get there. And I’m sure it wasn’t exactly on purpose.
It does take intentionality to really develope good relationships as an adult. But it can be done – and worth it!
I have got a tsunami of obligations in front of me. I likely won’t post for a while, but I wanted to say thanks. And, I have appreciated a lot of what your have shared, as well.
Hope everyone gets to enjoy some awesome Spring weather! (Except if you have allergies, in that case stay in doors at all costs!!)
I’m not sure. I distinctly remember pulling up Alex’s horoscope on our 4th date and finding out that Scorpio’s are known for certain things and ITS ALL TRUE, Matt.
Just kidding. Kind of? I sometimes wish I bought into all of that stuff. There was a woman at a crystal shop in some mountain town and she was talking about how she could feel her vibrations as she sent them out into the universe and a small part of me envied her. Haaa…
Anyways: Glad to find my way back here. I appreciated this entire post. I am obnoxiously happy with Alex but I still have this sort of cynical feeling towards romantic relationships in general. I think people are always looking to G E T something and less aware of all they should be putting into it.
I’m going to go read the emotional stability article now, then make obnoxious sounds until Alex comes to investigate, so I can make him read it too.
As always, you’re the funniest.
Good to see you here! I admit that the Zodiac personality profile situation seems to have merit.
But I also believe all the smart science people have merit too.
It’s like one big merit badge festival on all accounts.
Be well, you! My best to Mr. Lorens, please. (Haaa.)
Astrology is true in a way , it’s or mind that does not want to accept it .. there are things beyond astrology which would be psychology and nurture ..But to understand one really have to get deep down the facts and truly get the gist of it
I can tell facts about any zodiac sign that would be correct…?
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