Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist

 Love and Marriage 

June 4, 1999

This article is one of a series of radio spots prepared by Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D. for WAGE 1200 AM RADIO

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Choosing the person who will be our life's companion, the one who will contribute half the genome for our  children, is probably the most important choice  we'll  ever make.   A  lot of us think we made the wrong choice, because  one out of two marriages in the United States ends in divorce. 
 
     Our high divorce rates don't come from the lower moral standards of contemporary society. according to Glenda Riley in her book, "Divorce: An American Tradition." The first American couple divorced in a Puritan Court in 1639 in Massachusetts.  Divorce has been part of American life since the colonial times, and the rest of the world has considered our divorce rates high as far back as the American Revolution in the 18th Century. 
 
     The Puritans, who you will remember, hated Catholicism, made  divorce a civil issue. They said that "A bad marriage is, in fact, bad for the community, so a contract is only valid as long as both parties agree to it."  Thomas Jefferson wrote that it was cruel "to chain a man to misery until death" and that a marriage, like any contract, was unenforceable without both parties agreeing to the terms.  According to public records in the 19th century, the chief reason homesteading women attempted to get a divorce was desertion, followed by cruelty, adultery, drunkenness and neglect. 
 
    It is true that in post-World War II America, the divorce rates have soared.  Riley claims this is explained by the relative increase in the lifespan during this period. Previously, Marriages were relatively short timespan and ended with the death of a partner, often the wife in childbirth. By the time you were tired of it, you were probably going to die anyway. 
 
     So, what's with the way we choose our mates?  Some investigators, in an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in 1993, have convincing data that the final choice from a field of potential eligibles is inherently random and based on combination of being ready to marry and hormones.  Seven hundred thirty-eight couples, including identical twins, provided data on their choices. 
 
     Testing the theory that we choose people with whom we have a lot in common, the authors found that the positive correlations in characteristics between spouses are small.  By far, the strongest and most commonly found similarity between spouses is in the cluster of traits that includes traditional values and religiosity, followed by educational attainment and stature. 
 
     Then there is the so-called "idiographic" theory of mate selection which holds that we each have a unique set of criteria so that we are not all competing for the same "perfect" mates. If these unique criteria exist, the authors reasoned, they must be determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including gene-environment.  So they compared the spouses of identical twins reared together.  If the idiographic theory were true, and choice behavior is lawfully influenced by characteristics of the chooser, then twins should tend to approve of their twin's choices or indicate that they are similar to the choices they themselves would have made.  It isn't, and they aren't.  Though twins, like singletons, tend to select mates from among the same roughly 50% of the candidate pool, their choices within that pool are no more alike than the choices made by unrelated pairs. 
 
     The authors conclude that although most human choice behavior lawfully reflects the characteristics of the chooser and of the choice, the most important choice of all, that of a mate, seems to be an exception.  Although we do tend to choose from among people like ourselves, another person who is almost exactly like ourselves (our identical twin) is not likely to be drawn to the same choice we make.  Human pair bonding is relatively random, based on romantic infatuation, consistent with Pascal's statement that "The heart has its reasons that the reason knows not of." 
 
     The author's speculate, rather convincingly, that it really did not matter who paired with whom as long as the female was young and heatlhy and the male strong and an attentive provider.the evolutionarily important goal being the bearing and rearing of children. 
 
     They suggest the romantic infatuation is the glue that initially binds the mated pair together, creating time for the pair bonding to mature into a more stable, relationship known as the companionate relationship. Companionate love evolved to enhance the viability of our young. However, Companionate love takes time to flower, for mutual adjustments, for the sharing of experiences, for the forging of the bonds. 
 
     In her study of 58 contemporary societies, one author finds a consistent tendency for the first divorce, when divorce occurs, to happen after around a period of four years.  she believes, the four-year period "reflects an ancestral strategy to remain pair-bonded at least long enough to raise a single infant through a period of lactation." 
 
     Other authors note that romantic infatuation is associated with increased specific neurotransmitter activity that creates the sensations of euphoria and optimism that characterize this state and that this biochemical process is self-limited to 2 or 3 years, the same interval associated with romantic attachment. 
 
     So at first blush, it looks like our marriages are doomed to failure. When we decide to marry, we initiate a passionate relationship which is limited by our biochemical software to last two to three years. During that time, we have to adjust to somebody with whom we initially have very little in common except passion. Then, because We're healthier and live longer our marriages could go on and on beyond child-bearing time. 
 
     But when you look at it that way, isn't it incredible that one out of two marriages lasts?  Why is that? 

More radio spots: 

CANCER
OSTRACISM
ROAD RAGE
VIOLENCE
LOVE
WAGE 1200 AM
 

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