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22.5.05

No Fights?

To Love, Honour, And Overrate

... "Whatever does she see in him?" is a common refrain from mystified friends as yet another acquaintance settles for a strange choice of partner. The conventional explanation is that "love is blind" but new psychological research suggests that long after the first flush of passionate love has ebbed away, distorted, unrealistic perceptions of one's partner are the key ingredient to a successful marriage.

... The secret, it seems, is to see your partner as a lot nicer than he or she really is.

The latest research, just about to be published in the academic journal Social Behaviour and Personality, measures a phenomenon referred to as "marital aggrandisement".

Marital aggrandisement entails an idealised appraisal of one's spouse and marriage to the exclusion of any negative beliefs and perceptions. Those who aggrandise their marriages tend to endorse items on personality tests that are extremely unlikely to be completely true, for example, "My spouse doesn't make me angry" or "I do not recall arguments with my spouse".

-- via Foreign Dispatches


I wish I could see the actual paper this is based on. I'm wondering what kind of objective standard they were comparing the subjective assessments to (some sort of data on the actual number of fights the couple has had?) If all they've got is a correlation between marital happiness and claiming you haven't fought could support the aggrandizement hypothesis. But it's also consistent with the commonsense hypothesis that not actually having fights leads to both happiness and a lack of memory of the non-existent fights. Indeed, there could be a mutually reinforcing loop, as a happy couple would be less likely to have additional fights.

Certainly the aggrandizement hypothesis remains plausible as well, and it's consistent with recent psychological research that suggests that attitudes and affect have primacy and remembered facts are put together as post-hoc rationalizations. (An attractively existentialist theory, it seems.) But I must admit to some bias, as I feel very certain that I had only one (minor) argument with my ex, who I dated for three years, and none so far with my girlfriend of five months.

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