It’s Saturday, 15 February as I write this, sitting in Loudon’s Cafe. I’m listening to early Billy Bragg, when — and he’s doing it again recently — his fascist-killing guitar machine did the job of all four members of The Clash. And this is from a John Peel session, so it’s got that fab “Billy live” sound.
Valentine’s day is over, indeed. I hope you had a nice day. Actually, I hope you have a good day with your loved one (or ones) every day. It’s axiomatic that people — well, men — in (happy) stable relationships live longer. There’s a discussion of the figures and reasons here. I’ve added the “happy” qualifier because of this report:
[N]ewly published research suggests that, to increase your chances of developing cardiovascular problems, you and your spouse don’t have to despise one another. Mutual ambivalence will do the trick.
Not only that, 14 longitudinal studies between 1979 and 2002 have shown the improvement in personal well-being effected by a “good quality” marriage has increased over time. Isn’t “longitudinal study” a great term? It’s one that I came across while preparing this post and reading stuff by the US psychological researcher, Eli Finkel.
Professor Finkel’s on my radar because apoplectic.me‘s in-house bible recently reported on him as a “psychologist who claims that dreams of ‘self-discovery’ are destroying marriage.” That makes for great click bait. But Eli Finkel describes himself as a psychological researcher who specialises in human relationships. (Nice to see The Grauniad is maintaining it’s traditional standards of fact-checking.) And as is often the case with “science” articles in lay-publications, things get a little more complicated and interesting if you dig around under the hood. Part of what Finkel actually has said is:
In the 1800s, you didn’t have to have profound insight into your partner’s core essence to tend to the chickens or build a sound physical structure against the snow. Back then, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous.
Now, however, Americans are aspiring to voyages of discovery and personal growth. And we expect our partners’ help with that. A task that requires “much greater investment of time and psychological resources.” As the Professor puts it (emphasis his),
The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore..
Or, in apoplectese, much better than if our relationship is an endless cycle of removing blackhead-disease-infected chickens from the brood and changing their litter. So, how do we get out of the chicken shit?
Well. First, one needs to meet the right partner. Unfortunately, Mrs Stroke Bloke, our relationship’s Dan Savage (even though she wants to be Terry Miller) and author of the missed and mourned Business Relations advice column, is busy knitting me a scarf with the craft group. So you’re on your own there. (And stop looking. Maybe you’ll stumble across the one in a dingy Irish bar.)
Then, if you’re committed to self-realisation and actualisation (and if not, Pourquoi pas, M. Meursault?), remember — that’s primarily your responsibility. For a second person to establish precisely what that goal means, how to get there, and help you along the route, would fall within Finkel’s irrational investment of time and psychological resources. And if I remember my economic analysis of laws classes correctly (unlikely) that would be termed “an inefficient allocation of responsibility of responsibility”.
If self-actualisation is your thing and you’ve found a well-matched partner, they’ll help as they can and you’ll be sharing a similar journey with similar priorities. But you’re the one in your head, and if each of you reach your goals, you’ll be making each other happy. If you’re mismatched, then there’s an underlying fault and it’s hardly likely your partner will be able to help, anyway.
And, the scientists tell us, there are particular things we can do to make both our partners and ourselves happier. Giving compliments. Showing appreciation. Doing something nice. Showing enthusiasm for one’s partner’s successes — asking questions, congratulating, and reliving the experience. And it turns out, “couples in the happiest relationships bring out the best in each other. They help each other get closer to being their ideal selves.”
Them science-y types have some more general advice for achieving happiness, too. Long-time apoplectics will recognise that Happify’s five signposts for getting to happy package Zen-style mindfulness in easy-to-swallow gelcaps. Like, “notice the good stuff around you and take the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment.”
Professor Finkel concludes that there are two primary things to be done to strengthen the modern version of marriage (or the “primary relationship” — Ed.). One of these is that policy-makers can stop accusing large segments of society are of taking marriage seriously enough, instead recognise that societal, political and economic changes since 1980 have made it harder for those people to devote the time needed to their relationship, and act accordingly.
But what can the individual do? Other than vote the right way next time? Finkel’s other solution is that couples “can choose to invest more time and energy in their marriage…. But if couples lack the time and energy, they might consider adjusting their expectations, perhaps by focusing on cultivating an affectionate bond without trying to facilitate each other’s self-actualization.”
Thereby missing out on the huge upside he described earlier? That seems a shame to me. Maybe a third option is the one I wrote about at earlier. Adopt habits that increase your own self-actualisation (which is more efficient than relying on your partner), while recognising that that being happy and mindful ourselves increases our partners‘ likely satisfaction. Which is a Good Thing. To be celebrated, say the science guys. And even that celebration will make you both happier. It’s a virtuous circle. Just ask this
I hope you’re having a great day, Mrs Stroke Bloke. That would make me very happy.