Here are four huge myths about intimate relationships. Excerpt, interspersed with my comments:
Popular culture perpetuates a lot of poor information about intimate relationships. The systematic disinformation can, and does, lead people astray, and not just into hilariously awkward situations (see almost any romantic comedy), but into genuine misery. In fact, as social psychologist Matt Johnson made known on the very first page of his new book, Great Myths of Intimate Relationships, the largest predictor of life satisfaction is relationship satisfaction. “So, we had better pay attention to those relationships!”
In his book, Johnson tried his best to pay more than mere lip service to intimate relationships. Sorting through a boatload of scientific evidence, he dispelled twenty-five myths on topics ranging from online dating, to sex, to divorce. Here are four of those myths.
I’ll put in the first bit of each of the four, with my comments:
1. Men have a much stronger libido than women. Stronger? Probably. But the difference is much narrower that what common thinking dictates. In his book, Johnson points to pioneering studies by Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University. In a series of experiments that have been repeatedly replicated, Chivers had both men and women watch various sexually stimulating videos and asked participants to report their levels of arousal. Participants were also equipped with devices to measure blood flow to their genitalia, a physiological sign of arousal. Men’s self-reports of arousal closely matched their physiological signs of arousal, but women’s did not.
I can only speak from my own experience, but arousal in a relationship – as opposed to when watching porn – depends on interaction. Measuring arousal while participants are watching “stimulating videos” seems a poor way to measure comparitive arousal with an intimate partner. B- for social signaling, F for method.
2. Opposites attract. More than 8 in 10 individuals desire a partner with opposite traits that complement theirs. Fueling this situation is the widespread myth that “opposites attract.” But scientific evidence does not bear this belief out.
“There’s essentially no evidence that differences lead to greater attraction or improved relationship outcomes,” Johnson reports. Similarity, however, does predict attraction and relationship success. Honestly, this makes sense. While scientific fact is often counterintuitive, in this case, what’s intuitive seems to be correct. People aren’t magnets, after all.
Again, my own experience; Mrs. Animal and I are anything but opposites. We met when we were both in the Army. We both like the outdoors, camping, fishing, hunting and shooting. As close as we come to major differences is that Mrs. Animal favors semi-auto pistols, while I tend to be more of a wheelgun man.
3. You should live together before marriage. Roughly seven out of ten high school seniors and young adults agree that it’s usually a good idea for couples to live together before getting married. This majority opinion certainly seems like wisdom — a couple should probably make sure they can successfully cohabitate before deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. Intriguingly, however, there’s no evidence that premarital cohabitation improves marriage quality or reduces divorce rates.
Mrs. Animal and I lived together for a few months, mostly for the sake of convenience since we had already committed to marriage when she moved to Colorado from Kansas to find a job in my area. It worked out great for us. I know other people who lived together first and the marriage grenaded. Your mileage may vary, but the conclusion here seems to be that it doesn’t matter a hill of beans either way.
4. Children bring couples closer together. Newborns are often dubbed “bundles of joy”. In reality, they are sacks of discord. As Johnson reveals, the general consensus amongst social scientists is that children cause a drop in marital and relationship satisfaction. Moreover, marital satisfaction usually doesn’t begin to recover until children “leave the nest”. Raising kids is certainly worthwhile, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s immensely difficult.
We have four daughters. Our children and now, grandchildren, bring us both a great deal of joy. Last year we had a family photo taken, and now have a large print hanging in our living room: The two of us, all four daughters, son-in-law, and all four grandkids. I like to stop and look at it; they represent the proud sum of all I’ve done with my life. Being a father and grandfather is the most important job I’ll ever have, and our family brings Mrs. A and I more joy than anything except, maybe, each other – and yes, they brought us very close. They always have.
We can all only speak from our own experience. I guess I’m fortunate; mine has been pretty damn good.