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May 2003
COURTING BEHAVIOR PREDICTS WHICH MARRIAGES WILL LAST
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Ted Huston, Ph.D. a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has made some interesting observations about the relationship between courting behavior and the longevity of marriages. He has studied 168 marriages since 1979. He found that there is a lot to learn about the viability of a marriage from the way couples negotiate closeness and distance and the sentiments they report about the relationship.

Huston found that when men were ambivalent about the relationship, they were likely to have a rocky courtship and marriage. But when women are uncertain, they often do not express their feelings until after the marriage. That is when the problems arise. Huston believes this is because women are more interested in getting married and therefore do not express concerns that might disrupt the courtship. Their concerns are not expressed until after the marriage.

Huston’s Colleague, Cathy Surra, Ph.D. was able to distinguish “event-driven” and “relationship-driven” courtship. Event-driven relationship evolves from some external factor such as moving in together to save on rent money. Relationship-driven courtship is based on a couple’s feelings of intimacy and affection for each other. Those couples in event-driven relationships report more conflict and greater uncertainty about the relationship.

Another interesting finding by Huston was that couples who divorced within two to seven years were more likely to have dated casually and did not make a commitment to date exclusively for a long time. Indeed, the marriage became the couple’s attempt to make the commitment that had alluded them during the courtship.

Highly romantic couples, on the other hand, are associated with a less quick exit from the marriage. Marriage in which the couple felt deeply in love and committed quickly to each other survived beyond the seven-year mark even if there were marital problems. These couples dated around eighteen months before marrying and were engaged even earlier. Huston speculates that couples may be likely to hold on longer if they felt very positive toward each other in the beginning of the relationship. Huston believes that premarital problems are a precursor for the problems in a marriage. They make the bond vulnerable.

From Psychology Today, June 2003, pp11-12.

The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.


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