Jan 22

Gray Marriages: How Do Aging Couples Last?

Although you may have heard of the rising rate of the phenomenon known as “gray divorce,” you probably haven’t heard much, if anything, about the possible staying power of “gray marriages” (a corresponding term I may have made up, as I can’t find it anywhere).

It’s not that gray marriages don’t exist, nor that people in general don’t root for couples’ longevity. For example, critic Susan Wloszczyna (rogerebert.com) says of the acclaimed new film 45 Years, which is about a long-term marriage thrown unexpectedly off balance, “Of course, we want these two people to be happy again and, as their friends gather to toast the longevity of their union, it is hard not to hope that all might end well.”

What actually sustains gray marriages? Gerontologist Karl Pillemer set out to learn from those who might know best. His recent book 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage pulls together what’s been gleaned from The Marriage Advice Project, his research with hundreds of elders ranging in age from 63 to 108.

A brief intro by Pillemer:

A. Pawlowski, NBC Today, summarizes 10 of the lessons learned:

1. Opposites may attract in the movies, but they don’t make great marriage partners–“…(E)ven though opposites can make for an exciting relationship, a lasting union often involves people who have similar personalities and backgrounds.”

2. Pay attention to what your friends and family say–“Consider that if nobody likes your partner, there may be good reasons for it.”

3. Physical attraction is important–Which, of course, is relative to the beholder.

4. Beware of the strong, silent type–“The elders sum their lesson up this way: Talk, talk, talk.”

5. Step outside your comfort zone–“‘Their view is that couples get into these grey periods after they’re married, where nothing interesting or exciting is going on and shaking it up with something adventurous is a good idea,’ Pillemer said.”

6. Be a little old-fashioned–“Once you are in love, ask questions like: Is this person likely to be a good provider? Can they manage money? Are they likely to be a good parent? ‘Because marriage is a financial arrangement in addition to a love one and one in which your economic future is entwined with somebody else’s,’ Pillemer said. ‘Their view for mate selection is you have to be in love, but after that, don’t park your reason at the door’.”

7. Observe your partner while playing a game–“The elders told Pillemer that watching someone play a game is ‘extremely diagnostic.’ You get a chance to observe how someone behaves under stress, whether they’re honest and how they handle defeat.”

8. Do a sense of humor check–“Observe what makes your partner laugh. If he thinks a whoopee cushion is funny and you don’t, it certainly won’t get funnier for you 30 years from now. It’s a simple test of whether your world views align.”

9. Watch for the big warning signs–Violence, contempt, controlling behavior, etcetera.

10. The “in-love feeling” is important–“You have to have an overpowering, gut-level sense that this relationship is right for you and that your partner is the person you want to be with, the elders told Pillemer.”

Jul 01

Opposites Attract? Or Is It the Opposite and Likes Attract?

I’ve often believed that opposites attract, or at least that complementary temperaments and traits attract.

I’ve also believed, though, that like attracts like. Having similar interests and values often breeds mutual interest.

What’s the real scoop?

Some myth-busters assert that science has contradicted the “opposites attract” theory over and over. It’s included, in fact, in 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior (2010) by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein.

Studies apparently show that similarity of personality, attitudes, and values wins out over complementarity most of the time. It’s similarity that not only sparks attraction but also is more likely to help determine long-term couple satisfaction. One example of a trait that’s especially likely to draw someone of similar ilk is conscientiousness, say the above authors.

But wait a minute. Clinical social workers Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom tell us on Psychology Today, on the other hand, that complements do actually attract.

Introverts and extroverts, morning people and night people, impulsives and planners, steady plodders and adrenaline junkies, adventure-grabbers and security-seekers…there’s no denying the idea that something in us is drawn to people who counter some of our dominant inclinations with complementary tendencies. And while this can create some interesting challenges for most couples, these differences are actually the source of what is considered by many to be the source of the most important aspect of any successful relationship: chemistry. Chemistry refers to that undefinable quality that is the basis of the attraction that fuels the impulse to be drawn to another.

Randi Gunther, PhD, also on Psychology Today, has a different take on this, however. “It is not that opposites attract, as many believe, but that the hunger to be complete drives people to vicariously live through the other. For example, people taught in childhood to sacrifice self as a chosen virtue may seek partners who do not feel conflicted when they go after what they want. Or those taught to live in the moment without regard to future security may seek out partners who feel compelled to ‘save for a rainy day.’”

This can backfire over time, though, as qualities initially liked may eventually become unneeded or unwanted.

Jeremy Dean, PsyBlog, adds yet another wrinkle, this one on the “likes attract” end of the spectrum. Fresh research apparently shows that people choose spouses with similar DNA. How’s that for taking this argument into a whole new direction.

Not such a new direction, says an even more recent source (though citing older research). “Opposites attract may be programmed into your DNA so says a study from the European Society of Human Genetics in 2009. The study suggests that people are attracted to diverse genetic differences” (Chron).


Do opposites attract? Yes, sometimes.

Does like attract like? Yes, sometimes.

Sep 06

Five Life Lessons That Might Surprise You (“Psychology Today”)

Below are some highlights of the five life lessons listed in a recent Psychology Today article, Lessons For Living: Five Surprising Principles for Living, Loving, and Playing Well With Others,” by Elizabeth Svoboda and Colin Weatherby.

  1. Lesson #1: The Role of Radical Acceptance—You can’t fix the ones you love, so focus on fixing yourself.  “…(W)hen you don’t see eye to eye in a relationship you want to keep: ‘Look inward to fix the problem rather than trying to change the other person,’ says Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel—even if that just means practicing acceptance,” write the authors. Info from Paul Coleman‘s book “We Need to Talk”: Tough Conversations with Your Spouse is also cited.
  2. Lesson #2: The Beauty of Benign Neglect—It’s more harmful to overparent than to underparent. Resources used for this principle include Hara Estroff Marano‘s A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting and David Elkind‘s The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children. Michelle Givertz, assistant professor of Communication Studies, California State University at Chico, “…found that age-inappropriate overparenting leads to depression-prone, aimless kids (and ultimately, adults) with ‘diminished self-efficacy,’ lacking the ability to put a plan in place to achieve goals…” Another outcome of parental overinvolvement is that kids develop an increased sense of entitlement.
  3. Lesson #3: Opposites Don’t Forever Attract—Seek a mate whose values and background echo your own. This is supported by a compatibility questionnaire developed by psychologist Glenn Wilson, Gresham College, London. The writers of the article add: “Still, regardless of how well the two of you score on compatibility tests, you need to feel a spark of attraction—something that can actually come from the differences between your partner’s interests and passions and your own…”
  4. Lesson #4: Social Networks Matter—The strength of your friendships is as critical for your health as the lifestyle choices you make. Multiple studies have supported this idea, including research by Bert Uchino, psychologist, University of Utah; by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Brigham Young University; and by Sheldon Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University. “Researchers speculate that the stress associated with low social support sets off a cascade of damaging reactions within the body, including cardiovascular dysfunction and weakened immune resistance. ‘Stress has potentially negative effects on health and well-being,’ Cohen says, but knowing your friends have your back can help prevent such fallout.”
  5. Lesson #5: Lust Diminishes, But Love Remains—Being inured to your partner isn’t the same as being out of love. Several books are cited: David Schnarch, Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your RelationshipHoward Markman, Fighting For Your Marriage; and Harriet Lerner, Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up. One significant conclusion:  “…Focus on the lasting bonds that remain in the relationship. Rather than asking yourself, ‘Am I still in love with my partner?’ try asking, ‘What can I do to restore our connection?'”

If anything above has sparked your interest about life lessons, you can go to this link.