Marriage is hard — and there are signs it's becoming even harder. This week on Hidden Brain, we examine how long-term relationships have changed over time, and whether we might be able to improve marriage by asking less of it.
United States


00:00:00this is hidden brain I'm Shankar vedantam
00:00:09no matter how many you been to it's hard to shake the contagious Optimus in weddings couples vow to love one another in sickness and in health for richer for poorer family members dap to your shoulder rise agreeing that these two people are meant to be together forever
00:00:30but so many marriages become unhappy some dissolve some end in divorce without challenges
00:00:40no one would deny that long-term relationships are hard and in fact there's evidence they getting harder why is that this week on hidden brain will take a closer look at the history of marriage most of what we think of has traditional marriage was not traditional at all but I rather recent invention would also explore the radically higher expectations we have for marriage today lot of people argue that having tight vacations is problematic and it's harming the institution of marriage and frankly among the people who used to argue that is myself and prove our laptops sometimes by asking more of our partners and if our sales sometimes by asking less
00:01:27do understand marriage today we thought it best to go back to a time and place when marriage was very different well I've been studying many years but I specifically got interested in marriage as we got into these debates about what traditional marriage was not Stephanie kunze there's a professor at The Evergreen State College and the author of the book marriage a history Stephanie says the earliest marriages had nothing to do with the feelings of two people or their attraction to one another as you probably know marriage was much more about economics and acquiring powerful in-laws marriage originally arose in more egalitarian band level societies as a way of sharing resources and establishing a peaceful relations with groups that you might otherwise only see occasionally and you might not know if they were going to be friends or enemies I was way of circulating obligations and goods I marry my child off to you and that means you owe me things
00:02:27but I also owe you things Stephanie brought up a famous example from history the union between Cleopatra of Egypt and Mark Antony of real of the Nile this is from a 1963 film version
00:02:52the Hollywood version of the story Fortress Cleopatra and Antony as being very much in love but Stephanie paint a slightly different picture I think that the theme song for that relationship could have been What's Love Got to Do with it but it was more passion for power than a sexual although sexual probably entered into it to kill Patrick and Anthony's marriage was primarily about strategy Rome and Egypt were the two most powerful empires in the world so getting than anybody who got them together and they got an alliance between them would be Unstoppable by Cleopatra was married to her brother and without getting into all the details let's just say she wasn't too happy with that so he started an affair with Julius Caesar the ruler of Rome
00:03:43Cleopatra became pregnant when the baby was born he was named cesarean the try to give Cleopatra and Caesar a claim to each other is thrown it was something they both desperately want it sounds like an episode of Game of Thrones right well then Caesar died and Marc Anthony came along and the courses story tells that she should do stim but you know when you really look at what is happening practically this was another political Alliance based as did season
00:04:14you will marry me according to Egyptian ritual
00:04:19Santa conditioners for the word Authority cesarean to be king of Egypt
00:04:26how many photos together in his name cesarean was too young to rule and Anthony could rule in his place so it was a great big political ass just like Game of Thrones smart strategy wasn't just for kings and queens there's a common misconception that people of lower classes in this time marry for love not true Stephanie says he couldn't run a farm with one person you couldn't run a bakery with one person so people who are Baker's married other Baker's if you were a peasant you wanted somebody who had a good reputation as a hard worker and that was much more important than this frivolous luxury is the way it was really thought of as how attracted you were to the person a different idea started to become more common in the 17 and 1800's Jane Austen the famous novelist Mayweather be in the Trailblazer for those who don't remember the plot of her book Pride and Prejudice mr. Darcy who's been promising marriage to his wealthy cousin Falls instead
00:05:26for Elizabeth Bennet a woman of modest means and into a rage
00:05:38suppose you would make an offer to me you selfish girl has been planned since they
00:05:45you think you can be prevented by young woman leaving Syria birth of the shades of pemberley to Bethesda polluted all you engaged to him
00:05:56I'm not so Stephanie talk about this this is the first glimmers if you will love the idea that in some ways love was coming to conquer marriage straight to the fact that men found it easier to embrace the love match then women did men could marry down because they could go out and earn wages women had to be very very cautious you know what you can say my heart and Clyde's to hurry but you know I'd better Mary who my parents want me to and the person who is most likely to be able to support me and so there was a prolonged period of time where men actually were more romantic than women in the courtship Arena by the second half of the nineteenth Century the Austin model of marriage by taking firm hold in the United States the idea of marrying for anything other than love came to be seeing his old fashioned
00:06:53I would the rise of this new idea came another if marriage was one seeing as a partnership between people from similar backgrounds and similar social classes the new model of marriage began to celebrate the coming together of people who was supposedly radically different from one another a union of opposites now there's an idea came that men and women were different and you could only have access to the emotions resources abilities of the other by getting married and staying married you were incomplete without it a practice with the changing economic Landscaping the country where men increasingly became the Breadwinners and women became homemakers
00:07:38the 1950s sitcom Leave it to Beaver makes clear this division between male and female roles
00:07:50start of professional I guess A Woman's Place is in the hall I suppose as long as she's in the hall
00:08:01SpongeBob mom how come you always do the outside cooking
00:08:06well I tried your son now and I have all the modern conveniences US men are better at this is this idea Stephanie so clearly gender biases play the role and how we came to think about marriage absolutely but what's interesting about this clip is that the concept of the male Breadwinner was unknown before the nineteenth Century women work in the home but so did men and men didn't go out and bring home the bacon women help raise the pig maybe the man butchered it but the woman off and cured the bacon and took the bacon the market so again this was part of this new idea of love that I talked about earlier the idea that men and women were so different that the man had to do all the outside stuff cuz the woman couldn't do it and the woman had to do all the inside stuff because the man couldn't do it and wasn't supposed to do it the idea of the love
00:09:06match me to be controversial at first about how people from different backgrounds would stay together when they didn't have the bond of shed work or the novel framework of a shed Community Advocates would love marriage sad men and women would stay together because they needed one another to feel psychologically complete this theory was later appropriated and romantic stories and movies think of the saying Opposites Attract what is the divorce rate in America search in the 1970s and 80s to think that what you should look for in a mate was not your opposite but someone who shared your interests and values it wasn't quite the same as one Baker looking to marry another Baker but more along the lines of people marrying others with similar educational background and similar cultural and political attitudes you know it's important I understand that love itself the definition has changed it's different today than it was at the beginning of the love match when it was a union of opposites and today it's really like a union of people
00:10:06who share so many values and that's one of the big challenges of Love today because we spend a hundred years trying to get people to see a difference erotic and the source of love and now our big challenge is how do we make a quality erotic
00:10:27make a quality erotic where is the scissors and consensus and compromise and childcare pickups and doctor's appointments and a lifestyle symbolized by a Honda Civic rather than a flashy Ferrari when we come back we'll answer that question
00:10:52support for NPR and the following message come from Pharma representing America's biopharmaceutical companies and cancer researchers like Ted Johnson who is worked in the industry for 17 years you have to be really resilient and research because cancer is a formidable foe but there are thousands of scientists working to make the lives of patients better to hear more from researchers like Ted and the patients who Inspire them visit goboldly.com listen support for this podcast and the following message also come from Texas Children's Hospital Texas Children's Hospital has provided care to children for more than 60 years and continues to lead Texas and the nation in pediatric treatment and research with 30,000 pairs of boots walking through the doors each year Texas Children's knows what it takes to make young cowboys and cowgirls feel right at home locations and services
00:11:52can be found at Texas Children's. O RG
00:12:00we've been talking with historian Stephanie coontz about how marriage change from an institution that was primarily about economic Partnerships and political experience to one based on romantic love once the shift too cold in the United States over the course of the 19th century love marriages became the norm soon everyone wanted to know the secrets of making love last you seen those documentaries a new stories about elderly couples who managed to stay together for most of their lives the newest members of a very elite club Helena Morris K 101 and 102 years old celebrating the 80th wedding anniversary years 60 beautiful
00:12:49people ask me how long have you been married I truthfully say not long enough for three quarters of a century 75 years there's something to do stories don't tell you that Stephanie has documented is the author of the all-or-nothing marriage and he has a very dramatic term for the challenge that many couples face today modern marriage she says runs the risk of Suffocation do understand that term Eli says you have to look at yet another shift that started in the 1960s and 70s we wanted to compliment our emphasis on love achieving love through marriage with a new emphasis on achieving a sense of personal fulfillment in the way of personal growth showing in the terminology of psychology we wanted to self
00:13:49flies through our marriage we wanted to grow into a more authentic version of ourselves one example of this comes from the best-selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert about walking out on her husband and trying to create a more meaningful life for herself we going to play a few clips from the movies as we chat and this one comes from the movie Eat Pray Love featuring Julia Roberts
00:14:15I wanted this
00:14:19I have actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life
00:14:25so why didn't I see myself in any of it
00:14:30only thing more impossible and staying
00:14:34was leaving
00:14:36it sounds like she was searching for her true self you like yeah that's exactly right she and some sense helps to epitomize both the strengths and weaknesses of this modern contemporary approach to marriage where were looking to our spouse again not only for love but also the sense of personal growth in fulfillment and for the first time you start to see cases where people would say as as I think let's go but would say that she was in a loving marriage and he was a good man and treated her well but she felt stagnant and she really wasn't willing to endure stagnant life for the next 30 or 40 years in and she walked out this would have been Unthinkable of course a hundred years ago let alone 500 years ago
00:15:21yes this would have been a very very bizarre thing to say and marriage you know it wasn't really until the seventies that you started seeing no fault divorce laws it used to be that you had to prove some type of serious mistreatment like abuse or desertion I yes it's a very modern idea that we are entitled to a sense of real fulfillment and personal growth through the marriage and if a marriage is falling short many of us consider it to be a reasonable option to end the marriage for that alone you come up with what I think of is a riff on a very famous psychological concept many years ago Abraham Maslow proposed that human beings have a series of different needs that begin with physical security and end with a search for meaning and fulfillment and you say that is similar hi Rocky has gone to describe how many Americans think about marriage tell me about what you call Mount Maslow
00:16:14well one of the most exciting things that happened to me in the process of writing a book is I learned a lot about the history in the sociology in the economics of marriage particularly reading people like Stephanie coontz because my primary expertise is as pretty much a laboratory psychologist II bring couples into the laboratory and I videotaped him interacting and I followed them over time but these other disciplines scholars in these other disciplines adopt a different approach so I realized that marriage had in fact change radically in terms of the way we expected to have felonies in America that is and it used to be that marriage was about basic economic survival we've seen that from Stephanie coontz and others and you can think of that it is being at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy toward the physiological and safety needs really survival base needs and then as we track marriage and it becomes more about love not one more toward the middle of Maslow's hierarchy and then in the 1960s and then really up until today we're in this new
00:17:14Sarah where yes we're still looking for love but not work for the top of Maslow's hierarchy where he's talking about things like a steam and self-actualization and so our expectations of marriage have basically ascend from the bottom to the top of Maslow's hierarchy over the course of American history and one of the ideas that emerged as I was writing this book is that we can conceptualize Maslow's hierarchy not just in terms of a triangle but in terms of a mountain right and and the advantage of thinking of Maslow's hierarchy as a mountain in this way is that it brings to mind the number of metaphors related to mountaineering and one thing that we know when we climb up a big mountain is the views get increasingly gorgeous as you get to the top but the oxygen gets a little thinner and so having a a successful experience way up there the top requires that you are able to invest a lot of oxygen either bring extra oxygen with you on the mountain or invest
00:18:14lot of time and energy in the marriage to succeed up there
00:18:22so to continue your analogy it if we want to go to the top of Mount Maslow but we have failed to bring are oxygen tanks with us that's what leads presumably to what you call the Suffocation model that's right that's right that that is that is it's lovely way up there at the top and if we're looking to try to achieve not only the the sense of of love and connection but also the center of personal growth and authenticity through the marriage but we're trying to do it on the cheap that is we're trying to do it without investing the time without investing the psychological energy then we're left up there at the top of the mountain without the resources that we need in order to succeed and said that is what gives us this disconnect between where we are on the mountain the expectations that were bringing to the marriage and what the marriage is actually able to offer us and that disconnect is what I'm talking about when I talk about the Suffocation of marriage physical or psychological process this
00:19:22what is this effect of our expectations all of us can imagine what it would be like to suddenly wake up one morning and decide you know I'm going to run a marathon or I'm going to climb a mountain in a very tall mountain without ready any preparation and we will recognize that it's not just difficult to do but potentially food hearty that is exactly right I think if we think about what we're really asking that our marriage is these days in terms of the ambition of these expectations within we realize that if we're too tired or lazy to invest in the quality of the relationship but of course we're not going to be able to make the summit attempt of course we're not going to be able to succeed in meeting those expectations toward the very high-end of Maslow's hierarchy and so the book talks a lot about how we can in fact align what were asking of the marriage with what the marriage is realistically able to offer us
00:20:20so they made a few people over the years will try to explore the same ideas that you have Eli Esther perel of course comes to mind in her famous Ted Talk is summarizes some of these challenges I don't want to play you a short clip
00:20:33so we come to one person and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire Village used to provide give me belonging give me identity give me continuously but give me Transcendence in mystery and all all-in-one give me Comfort give me Edge give me number to give me familiarity give me predictability give me surprise and we think it's a given and toys and Lahser we are going to save us with that bypass of July but you talk about the same idea on your book are you give the analogy of a woman who wants to learn to five different friends for important things you need it but once she gets married to her husband for the same five things and he's not able to provide all of them and she feels now on fulfilled that's right in the research literature on on how we achieve our goals there's a clunky word called Malta finality and this is the idea that a given means can serve multiple goals so for example when I walk to work that might simultaneously meet my need to get to work
00:21:34but also my needs to get some fresh air and get some exercise and so this one activity can conserve all sorts of function what's interesting is that really what we've done to marriage right is that marriage for a long time served asset and relatively limited array of different functions for us and overtime we piled more and more of these emotional and psychological function so instead of turning to our close friends and other relatives for night out on the town for deep intimate disclosure to a larger and larger extend our spouse has replaced a lot of what we used to look through our broader social network to help us do you know I realize that it's not just what we expect from our partners that's changing a wheelchair now expected we can unlock special things in our partners at end and this is also reflected in the movies the 1997 movie As Good As It Gets has a scene where woman who is fed up with you know put-downs by her by the man who
00:22:34find a walker demands that he give her a compliment
00:22:39here I go
00:22:42clearly a mistake
00:22:45I got this what
00:22:54my doctor is Frank that I used to go to all the time and just didn't 50 or 60% of the cases a pill really helps
00:23:04I ate pills my compliment is that night when you came over and told me that you would never know what you said well my compliment to you is
00:23:21the next morning I started taking the pills
00:23:30I don't quite get her that's a compliment for me
00:23:35you make me want to be a better man
00:23:46that's maybe the best compliment of my life feeling in the context of your book Eli Helen Hunt's character is telling Jack Nicholson's character that the thing that makes you feel really good is not what he does for her and what she can do to unlock something special in him
00:24:02yeah he is smitten with her and his desire for her his being impressed with her and the desire to make her like him more actually makes him want to grow into a better person and in some sense that's the absolute archetype of what we see in contemporary marriage today we're looking for a spouse to bring out the ideal version of us the latest version that inside of us that we can hopefully grow into with enough time and effort in your book you call this the Michelangelo effect
00:24:38yeah this is a term I actually got from my doctor will advisor Carol rustbelt many of your listeners will know that that Michelangelo when he talked about the sculpting process talk not in terms of revealing or sculpture but in terms of unleashing it from The Rock in which it's been slumbering so the scope his job is not to create something new but merely to refine and buff and polish and maybe scrape away the rough edges of what was already nesting within within the rock that's a really good metaphor for how Partners today try to relate to each other that is all of us have an actual self the person that we currently are but we also have an ideal self a version of ourselves but aspirational like what could I maybe to come if I could be the best version of myself and we look to our partners to be our sculptors to help us until we actually grow toward the best ideal version of ourselves
00:25:42so you don't do we actually have this power this power to play sculpture and bring out the best in someone else the answer is yes we do have this power but it's not easy to do and not everybody is compatible and sometimes the version of you that you want to grow into isn't the version of you that I want you to grow into and this is a this is a very delicate dance that we play and you know what the best relationships today that the the sort of relationships that that I called the all relationships in the idea of the all-or-nothing marriage there well aligned in this sense they're able to bring out the best in each other and connect in a way that facilitate each other's personal growth and therefore helps to produce it a really profound amount of emotional connection and psychological fulfillment marriage experts say that high expectations are the enemy of happiness in marriage you compost like a different conclusion you say that it's true that on average many marriages might be on happier today than they were have a scent
00:26:42but that isn't true of all marriages who are the exceptions
00:26:47the exceptions are people who bring those expectations and are able to meet them in this is I think the Crux of the entire issue lot of people argue that having type occasions is problematic and it's harming the institution of marriage and frankly among the people who used to argue that is myself I when I set out to write this book thought I was reading a book about the decline overtime in marriage and how was throwing more and more expectations on this one institution and this one relationship but we're not investing enough time and therefore we really created a seriously problematic approach to marriage and it wasn't until I review these other scientific literature and learned more about how things have changed that I realize that's really half the story it is true that we are asking a lot more especially when it comes to these more psychological and love bass needs than we did in the past but some marriages are able to meet those needs mean
00:27:47if you have a marriage that you're looking for to meet these very highest level need safe for example in Maslow's hierarchy and the marriage succeed in doing so you're able to achieve a level of fulfillment in the marriage that would have been Out Of Reach and an arrow where we really weren't even trying to meet those types of names show at the same time that these high expectations are waiting as down and making it more difficult to achieve a healthy marriage at the same time that I married that would have been acceptable to us and I do 50 as a disappointment to us today because of these high expectation those same expectations placed within reach a level of marital fulfillment that was Out Of Reach until pretty recently
00:28:33to this idea that some people invest heavily in their marriages at the expense of careers and friends maybe even you know that children's activities you said this is perfectly captured in a scene from another movie in sideways Paul Giamatti wine connoisseur character explains to his love interest the difference between a pinot and a Cabernet thing with you
00:29:01you know I don't know
00:29:05it's a hard grape to grow as you know right it's thin skin temperamental ripens early
00:29:15it's a no it's not a Survivor like hi Renee which can just grow anywhere and thriving when it's neglected
00:29:28I can only grow in these really specifically tucked away corners of the world
00:29:37an end only the most patient and nurturing of Brouwer's can do it rely
00:29:47which somebody really takes the time to understand penos potential
00:29:54and then Cokes in the woods. Expression
00:30:00what's flavors are just the most haunting and Brilliant and thrilling and subtle on
00:30:08ancient on the planet
00:30:11Joe corsi like when we hear this and we're thinking about this in the context of marriage why wouldn't we all want to grow Pino
00:30:18well I think a lot of it should be pretty careful about peanut I mean I think that clip doesn't absolutely masterful job of providing an analogy to how marriage has changed in America in the last 50 years or more it's changed from an institution approximating Cabernet which can just grow anywhere in Thrive even when it's neglected to a much more delicate fragile institution that requires a lot of attending and maintenance so you asked me who would ever want anything other than then Pinot Noir at least according to how miles think about those grapes and I would say a whole lot of people might not want to deal with something that fragile and delicate but like you said as those of us who get it right that is well and he's keeps talking about the grapes when there's the right grower and the right contact the flavors are just hunting and Brilliant and settle in ancient and what I think he's saying is this is a
00:31:18high maintenance great it takes a lot of work and if you aren't careful and attentive you're going to be disappointed in it it's going to fail you but if you work hard enough you can have something truly Exquisite and that is where we are today with the all-or-nothing marriage
00:31:42what are the conclusions of your book is that we have in some ways to Major Alternatives when it comes to dealing with this challenge that many of us want to be at the top of Mount Maslow but are not investing the time and effort or the patience to actually get there in your own marriage you describe a trip to Seattle where it in your own and Allergy you found yourself starved of oxygen
00:32:05that's right we went through a hard time I'm I am particular went through a hard time with the adjustment to Parenthood and I frankly I think that the reason I had a hard time is the sort of stuff that I'm talking about in the book I hadn't sufficiently calibrated a recalibrated my expectations to what life would be like with a newborn and the research on this is is in fact tricky obviously having a little bundle of joy is is a wonderful thing and you love the the new baby like crazy and kissing that little fuzzy head is one of the most satisfying things we ever get to do in our lives but the reality is it a recent estimates suggest that it's about 33 and a half additional hours a week of of extra time like a care that goes into that and I would ask the couples out there listening who don't have a kid where would those 33.5 hours a week come from and then you're complimenting that with with some sleep deprivation and frankly much less time for emotional connection or sexual connection
00:33:05your spouse and is it any surprise that the research evidence shows that the arrival of the first baby tends to be pretty hard on the quality of the relationship on the marital satisfaction for example and it was during that. Where we took a trip to Seattle to see my closest and longest longest term friend one of these life experiences that is always been a source of bliss and joy for me throughout the you know 30 some-odd years of my life at the time and I was miserable it turns out that traveling across the country with an 8 month old is not anything like traveling across the country without an 8 month old and then you're together with your best friend and there's all the stuff that you used to do but now there's a eight-month-old there and you're not doing any of those things and I really had a hard time I mean I'm I can't really exaggerated this I really struggled emotionally with with the adjustment and I said to my wife and I regret saying that I had her
00:34:05how to say out loud right now you know I can endure this like I can get past this and I certainly love my daughter but I need to stop trying to have fun because if I'm trying to enjoy my life and I'm trying to enjoy you I keep end up disappointed and she was very upset about that and you know I made her cry I'm not proud of this at all but she cried at that what is this the end of us trying to to live a good life together are we just going to hunker down and and be unhappy together but but the truth is this ended up being the lowest point but also the starting of where I started to recover a little bit it took that moment before I started to get serious about making life better again and one of the major ways I did it was by recalibrating my expectations yes but also reinvesting in a way that made sure that I was more connected to my wife then we had been and it took some work and it did require that we lower expectations in some ways and then try to meet those lower decks
00:35:05patient and we were in fact able to do it but it it certainly wasn't easy
00:35:14do you know another researchers have found that it's not especially easy to fulfill a partner's emotional and psychological needs when you're struggling to pay the bills or working three jobs this might be one reason that the institution of marriage appears to be especially for a child I'm on low-income couples when we come back we go to look at tangible Solutions if you can't afford to take your partner on that romantic trip to Paris but you still want to go to the top of my Maslow I'm going to ask Eli for simple hacks to get you there
00:35:56support for this podcast and the following message come from wordpress.com creating your website on WordPress helps your customers find you remember you and connect with you and WordPress you'll find hundreds of beautiful designs the ability to add a custom domain name and features to make your business more visible online WordPress offers 24/7 customer service if you need help get 15% off your new website today at wordpress.com brain every day there's a new headline about it well embedded its back with two episodes that lay the whole thing out start to finish so the news and makes sense listen on NPR one or wherever you get your podcast
00:36:47this is hidden brain I'm shocked Revisited
00:36:51on Today Show
00:36:54marriage is wrong
00:36:58that's right marriage
00:37:10the priest from that iconic scene in The Princess Bride describes it best
00:37:18we're taking a look at how marriage has evolved over time from a partnership of necessity to Union of two very different people who need one another's love to be complete to the all-or-nothing relationships identified by psychologists Eli Finkel
00:37:35Eli argues that our expectations for marriage both gay and straight man rich and poor have dramatically increased our expectations are happier than couples have ever been but couples who fall short are unhappy earlier than that counterparts a century ago
00:37:58Eli says there are things we can do what he calls love hacks to reorient how we think about marriage and make ourselves more fulfilled in long-term relationships some of your listeners might be fans of Marcel proust who argues that mystery is not about traveling to new places but about looking with new eyes and the lovehacks are exactly that their ways that we can try to experience the same relationship but view it in a different way and therefore be a little bit happier in the relationship itself so long talk about something called the fundamental attribution error which is sometimes when we see someone behave in a way that we don't like there's two ways to interpret that you can either say this person is behaving badly because they were bad person or you can say this person is behaving badly because there's something in the context there's something happening around him or her that's causing him or her to behave this way and one of the hacks that you suggest is to reinterpret negative behavior from your partner anyway that's more sympathetic rather than critical
00:38:58right and I'm not saying it's magic I'm not saying it's the easiest thing to do but I'm saying that was some effort we can get a little better at this so your spouse is late your spouse is disrespectful I mean not in a huge way but your spouse does something inconsiderate you have a lot of control over how that behavior affects you and in particular you have control over whether you want to explain that behavior in terms of something about your spouse that's may be stable and end a character a logical assessment like my spouse is always such a jerk you can try instead to say look my spouse was a jerk just now but he's a lot under a lot of stress at work or you can think lucky probably tried the best I could you know there was probably some traffic or some prices at work I'm just going to let it ride now I'm not Chinese or easy things to do because we do have a default to explain other people's behaviors as elements of their character but the fact is and we should be better at understanding this there are all sorts of things that can
00:39:58Mewtwo Y somebody engaged in one Behavior over another behavior and we have some control over the extent to which we interpret our partners inconsiderate or rude behavior in a way that's more generous and kind and the Kinder approach will make us happier in the relationship and our partner will probably be happier to hear what you call a growth mindset is a useful thing what do you mean by that so the psychologist Carol dweck at Stanford she's developed this idea that people differ in terms of how they think about various attribute so she said he's intelligent for example and people differ in the extent to which they think the intelligent is something that's fixed and stable and you have it or you don't versus it's malleable and it's something that you can develop over time will it turn out there's a lot of good research now on the extent to which people feel like compatibility in a relationship is something that is fixed you know you you could call this a destiny mindset
00:40:58who sang look partners are either compatible or they're not and that's the end of the story versus more of a growth-oriented mindset who think there's a lot of room where you can develop compatibility and in fact going through difficulties in a relationship isn't a signal that oh my goodness were incompatible people
00:41:18it's it's an opportunity to learn to understand each other better and strengthen their the relationship to the resolution of the conflict and here again it's not like we have complete control over the thoughts that we have about these things but we can try to make ourselves adopt a more constructive growth-oriented approach to thinking about conflict in a relationship rather than him or destiny oriented approach that can often view conflict as a deep sign of incompatibility and that's pretty destructive for the relationship
00:41:53you want to talk about more serious alternative surf people find overtime that they are just incompatible with one another and yet they have these high expectations of different things they want from their life your suggested one of the Alternatives might be to develop systems where people are actually getting different things from different people
00:42:15that's right it's the same logic again right so we have this all-or-nothing approach we expect these high-level things and many of our marriages are in fact falling short of that so one possibility is that we try to invest more in the relationship and the second possibility would be called lovehacks is how to be more efficient but the third possibility and I actually think we should be pretty serious about this there's nothing shameful about making you sort of sacrifices we should ask for Less in what ways can we in our own marriage look to the relationship and see man like I have been looking to fill fill this order need in a relationship for a long time and I'm chronically a little disappointed about how we do as a couple and helping to fulfill this sort of need is there some other way that I might be able to meet this need I have either through some other friends or even on my own and there's some research by the the psychologist Elaine Cheung at Northwestern University that looks at what you call
00:43:15social diversification but can you diversify your social portfolio if you will and she looks at the people we turn to when we're feeling emotions that can help us regulate those emotions so to whom do you turn when you're feeling sad to him do you turn when you want to celebrate your happiness and she assesses how much people look to a relatively small number of people to do all of those things versus a larger number of people and she finds across the range of studies now that people who diversify their social portfolio that is trying to different sorts of people for different sorts of emotional experiences tend to be a little bit happier and so with regard to marriage in particular we've really loved a lot of our emotional fulfillment on this one relationship and for many of us we would benefit in our marriage would actually benefit if we asked a little bit less in some respects
00:44:16I love the idea of diversification and the analogy with financial diversification I mean to the idea of course is that you might have in a Bonds in your portfolio and they don't do very well and they don't grow a lot but a very stable and then you might have some stocks in your portfolio that you know a high-growth but they're also have the potential for losing a lot at and what you're suggesting is that by having different things accomplished different parts of what you need on the whole your portfolio as a whole and Zapp be more stable than if you put all your eggs in one basket of thinking about it that I hadn't fully processed previously and some sense what we're doing with marriage these days is we've got a heavily stock loaded portfolio and that means that when the market is up we make huge gains but that's a lot of eggs to put in that one basket and when the market goes down we're going to get hit pretty hard and to some degree that that's also a reasonable metaphor for the self-expressive marriage where we look to
00:45:16one person to fulfill so many of our emotional and our psychological needs the payoff can be huge but there's a lot of risk now for people to actually consider diversifying their portfolio romantically an emotionally presumably this also creates dresses on what you think of his marriage so if people are looking outside the marriage for emotional support or other needs some people are going to say well are you really married anymore I think this is a valid question and this is a complexity that comes up when you think about how an institution like marriage changes over time I suspect that if somebody transported from 1752 today they might look around and say wow that that doesn't look like marriage I don't even really get what you guys are doing or better yet if we transported back to 1750 and look at what people were expecting and how little they were looking for personal fulfillment from the marriage we would be bewildered
00:46:11Joe one of the more controversial ideas that I play with in the book is when I'm talking about ways that we can ask less of the marriage by the way when I am doing that I'm talking about how can we strengthen the marriage by asking less of it one of the places that I consider is in the romantic or sexual domain so is it reasonable for some people to consider some type of consensual non-monogamy now this is not cheating that's the whole idea of consensual non-monogamy this is an understanding that we don't need to have complete monogamy all the time and you can negotiate an alternative in fact among Millennials this is becoming an increasingly common way of thinking about the ideal relationship so this is an ideal option especially for people who generally are connecting pretty well and they love each other and they're good co-ceos of the household together but they're really struggling to sustain a mutually satisfying
00:47:11sex life together those are particularly good opportunities to consider could we would do some of the disappointment and pressure by opening up the relationship in some ways that we can both agree to it certainly a high-risk option but it's an option that probably will benefit some relationships have developed a shorthand of sorts after the times that you want to communicate affection but I stopped have time and it has to do with this song
00:47:44imagine she's pretty nice girl but she doesn't have a lot to say I Majesty's a pretty nice girl but you change from day-to-day I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I got I got a belly full of wine imagine he's a pretty nice cuz that's Paul McCartney at the end of The Abbey Road medley it's like a little 23 seconds bonus track and it's interesting I haven't heard it in a while and even as as I listen to it as you just played it I should have teared up a little bit because it's it's been a very significant song for my wife and me and our marriage when we were first dating you know people are falling in love and they often say I love you or whatever but I was very partial to this idea of belly full of wine right and I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I got to get a belly full of line and eventually sang belly full of wine was our little replacement for I love you and what was need about the way we used the phrase belly full of wine is it
00:48:44how to contain like a whole terabyte of information about love and respect and affection in this like one second phrase we we could turn to each other and just a belly full of wine and just really communicate so much information in that very little just those few words and this is an example of a broader idea that we don't appreciate enough which is that every marriage has its own culture that has its own language and its own expectations and we can leverage the features of how culture works to benefit the marriage with a sort of emotional shorthand that can help Express affection and it can be especially crucial if you're going through a difficult time and maybe things are getting a little hot and maybe you're on the verge of a fight and you can say hey baby belly belly and you might be able to diffuse some of what could have been a pretty problematic episode is a social psychologist at Northwestern University he's the author of the all-or-nothing marriage how the best man
00:49:44just work you die thanks for joining me today on hidden brain thank you so much for having me
00:49:55this week's show was produced by Gabriella saldivia and parth Shah and edited by Tara Boyle Rana Cohen and Jennifer Schmidt NPR's vice president for programming an audience development is Anya grundmann hero this week is Rebecca share if you have a child you may know her as the host of the storytelling podcast Circle round to help us find the actor to perform scenes for last week's episode if you haven't heard that show please check out the episode titled why now we're really proud of it
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