General Question

anonyjelly16's avatar

Mathematical Secret to a Happy Marriage?

Asked by anonyjelly16 (747points) August 27th, 2008

I’ve been married for a few days and already the tech-nerd in me wants to “engineer” this relationship for “optimal” output. I believe that any relationship sets its course at its outset and that is why I was trying to figure out what type of behavior increases the chances of happiness.

So, I set out searching (I can’t bring myself to say “Googling”) to figure out what makes for a happy marriage. As it turns out, psychologist John Gottman and applied mathematicians James Murray and Kristin Swanson at the Relationship Research Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle have set forth a mathematical model that can predict the success or failure of a marriage with 94% accuracy. (Here’s a link to the story at BBC).

To make their predictions, the team videotapes a married couple’s conversation about an area of marital contention. Then, they quantify the ratio of positive to negative interactions during this conversation. The higher the ratio, the better the marriage. Where the ratio falls below 5:1, the marriage could be doomed.

I found this to be very interesting. Do you think there is any merit to this theory? Additionally, what do you think I can do to ensure a happy and long lasting marriage?

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24 Answers

damien's avatar

Yep. 42. Every time.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means…

osullivanbr's avatar

As long as you remember that XX > XY then all will be well.

anonyjelly16's avatar

I have no idea what 42 means.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@atharkhan see my responose.

Also go out and read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

mozartpena's avatar

i don’t get it too…
I watched Hitchikers… the movie. i don’t remember seeing any “42”

and also 42 is a title from Coldplay’s new album Viva La Vida. it’s a very depressing song. but i don’t know what the number means

Lightlyseared's avatar

You watched Hitchhikers and you don’t remember the bit about 42. The bit that was central to the entire plot. The bit that explained why the Earth was created in the first place and why the 2 mice had commissioned custom plant builders to build earth mark 2. Are you absolutely positive you were paying attention?

OK here’s a recap…
Hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings build a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Deep thought takes 1000 years to calculate the answer.

Deep Thought: “The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is…”
Deep Thought:“IS…”
Philosophers (slightly higher):“Yes?...”
Deep Thought: “IS…”
Philosophers (really high):“Yes?...”
Deep Thought: 42.
Philosopher 1:“We are gonna get lynched y’know that?”

Deep Thought predicts that another computer, more powerful than itself would be made and designed by it to calculate the question for the answer. (Hence my first response “Once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means…”)

The second computer was the planet earth…

Les's avatar

Excellent, lightlyseared. Now my day can start off right. The first thing I see on Fluther is a HHGTTG reference. Thank you, all.

SeekerSeekiing's avatar

I’ve been married a long long time. And I would marry my hubby again tomorrow, knowing everything I now know. I don’t see many couple’s around who feel this way. I can’t name all the things that make our marriage happy, but I can identifly a few.

We want the best for each other. If that means, I want to take a seminar on the other coast and it will inconvenience hubby—he still wants me to go. Because he wants me to fulfill myself.

We respect each other. This means we consult each other about decisions, yet know that the consulting is only a ‘fact gathering mission.’ If our advise is not taken, we do not feel badly. This means we do NOT use ‘you’ statements—as in ‘You make me mad.; We use “I” statements—as in “I feel angry when you don’t put gas in the car.”

We aren’t afraid to own what we do wrong, apologize, and go on—knowing it will NOT be drug up and exhibited at each and every next confrontation.

We don’t think marriage is especially easy at all times and we are not afraid of hard.

We do not think the other one can read our minds, as in—“If he loved me, he’d know what to get me for my birthday!” No, give him hints. If you need to hear the words, “I love you more,” tell him.

We will step out of our ‘comfort zones’ for each other. Example, if he isn’t used to holding hands in public and she wants to do so—he will, knowing that overall it’s a small thing, and knowing he’ll feel uncomfortable at first, but will grow accustomed to it.

We have different interests. We didn’t want to marry a clone of ourselves. He likes NASCAR, I like museums.He goes to most races by himself or with a friend, but sometimes I go, just to be with him. And same with my museums. We are not joined at the hip.

Sometimes the very thing that drew you to that person can irritate you later. For example, my hubby is the kindest person on the planet. And 3 years into our marriage, I was irritated that he didn’t CONFRONT our landlord. Hello? I realized he was being who he was——and through his, I learned to CONFRONT our landlord——which turned our really well for me;-) I learned to be more assertive.

We do something fun together once a month. Call it a date night or an adventure. We write it into our calendars.

Our communication heightens our intimacy. We MAKE TIME to talk to each other everyday. This is especially good, since we are NOT joined at the hip. We make time each day to see how the other’s day has gone. NO TV, don’t answer the phone, we have time to sit and share. Or rather, we MAKE the time…because it is important.

We appreciate each other and voice that. It’s so easy to fall into voicing only the bad. Make a point to voice the good. “Thanks for bringing the mail up to me.” Every now and then I’ll just say, “You know what? I love you.”

We are ‘there’ for each other. We support each other. If he dances, I applaud. Sometimes when we are talking, I’ll ask do you want a coach or a wife? He he says wife, I’ll say, “How could that SOB do that to you.” If he wants a coach, I’ll say, “Is there another way to interpret his action other than personal?”

We practice active listening. Not the listening, just waiting until you can speak. When he is talking, I am quiet….listening. If I need some time after wards to gather my thoughts, I say so before I speak. Then when I speak, I have the floor. No interrupting.

Commitment. We took a vow to stick it out. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have hard times and we didn’t feel like running. We did, but we stuck to our commitment. What we learned is that if we work on it and give ourselves time, the road always becomes smooth again.

Love, like so many things, is what you make it.

Poser's avatar

I have heard of that study, or one very similar. When I first heard about it (I believe it was on NPR), I was in the midst of separating from my now-ex wife. From my context, what the study was saying made a lot of sense. If I remember correctly, the way they quantified the arguments was by counting the number of times that one partner diverted from the issue at hand to make some sort of personal assault on their mate, strictly for the purpose of “winning” the argument, rather than attempting to solve the problem. I could’ve sworn they were speaking about my marriage.

If that is true, then I believe this study has plenty of merit, and if you (and your spouse) can understand and adopt the lessons of the study, you will have a long, and, more importantly, a happy marriage.

lapilofu's avatar

There’s a beautiful section of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink in which he elaborates on the study that you’re looking at in great detail. It’s slightly more complex—and far more interesting—than the news article makes it sound. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you pick it up, though I doubt very much that it will help you in your quest to find out what helps make a happy marriage. In fact, it may convince you that the outcome is, to a large extent, predetermined.

Looks like you can find an excerpt here.

wundayatta's avatar

One thing they suggest to help marriages in trouble, is to think of positive things about your spouse, and just practice saying how much you appreciate those things. My guess, is that if you start doing that at the beginning, you can create a kind of prophylactic against the bad stuff happening. But I must warn you, it is possible to fall off the wagon, so to speak, and if you do, it can be hard to get back on.

I vowed at the beginning of my marriage, to think positively about my wife all the time. This was before their research came out. I managed to last 15 years, and then I couldn’t do it any more. Well, now we’re practicing it again, and trying to rebuild from the pain we caused each other, and the techniques to help us be positive are helping.

anonyjelly16's avatar

@Seeker: Thanks for answering my question! I really appreciate it.

SeekerSeekiing's avatar

Your most welcome ;-)

nina's avatar

In the book ‘The one Thing you need to Know’ by Marcus Buckongham there is a segment saying that the success of a marriage is proportionate to how lucky each of the partner considers him or herself to be in this union.
Of course, doing math problems whenever there is a temptation to argue with your spouse would be the mathematical solution. But I have not seen any published empirical results on this method.

emilyrose's avatar

I just read about that study in Blink by Malcom Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. Fascinating…..

Kind of scares me though. I would be afraid to go in there with a partner and find out we were doomed.

Poser's avatar

If my experience was typical, partners know, deep down, when they’re doomed. And if they don’t, being told your relationship is statistically doomed could be viewed as a challenge.

emilyrose's avatar

Yeah but I think sometimes people really don’t know. They know that in reality no relationship is perfect, and they are unsure if the troubles in their relationship are normal or beyond what one should have to deal with. Also, some people seem to have a high tolerance for putting up with crap even if with another partner there would be a lot less drama.

Poser's avatar

I guess I have a different view of it now. I never want to be in another marriage where there is anything other than a certainty of success. That no matter what may come, the two of us will always be “the two of us.”

Dorkgirl's avatar

@seekerseeking—I concur. I’ve been married almost 25 years. My husband and I practice what you have outlined. We have had our ups and downs, but (I’m happy to say) more ups than not. We respect each other, support each other, take time away from each other. We never engage in “tit for tat”, that’s childish and hurtful.
He likes to hunt, I don’t. I like to visit museums, he doesn’t. We do things on our own, which gives us things to talk about and share.
I suppose someone could create a mathematical model for the “perfect” marriage, but that would take the soul out of being married and making it work.
Good luck, atharkhan with your newly formed marriage. I hope you can say one day that you’ve been happily married as long as I have been.

Elumas's avatar


invincible's avatar

I think wat makes a happy marriage is the love, understanding, commitment, honesty and respect towards our partners. I’m married for 5 and a half years and I would marry my husband a million times again….
We have a friendly kind of relationship between us which makes us both very comfortable to talk to each other on any subject. Sure we do have ups and downs, we do fite n argue like any other couple but at the end of the day there is a lesson to learn n all is forgiven.
We do have fun days that we just hangout togther which again I think in a married life is important so tht the other side doesn’t feel leftout.
Not a day goes by when I let my husband know how thankful I’m for everything he’s done or doing for me and that how much I love him,....

Imsosickxxx's avatar

I don’t beilieve that math has anything to do with a relationship. Just like I don’ t beleive there is a mathematical sequence for life itself. What I do know is that I love my wife, and I tell her everyday. I think it’s true what they say that it’s not the big things in life that matter but all the little things. I try to do something special for my wife everyday to let her know that I was thinking about her. Even being her in Iraq I still e-mail and call ehr every chance I get, I write letters home, and when I am at the computer I buy flowers and candy and have it sent to her. When I was back home I would get up for work before she would so I would write her notes and leave them around the house, taped the the mirror, inside the refridgerator, and even under her windshield wiper.

I believe that you can disagree on everything in life as long as you can compromise and as long as you truly love them your relationship will be fine.

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