Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Predicting successful marriages

In Brief

Predicting successful marriages

A simple psychological experiment suggests that it's possible to judge a marriage's prospects for success just by listening to the partners in conversation for a few minutes — and the basis for that judgment may be surprising.

Some 47 heterosexual couples in their thirties participated in the study. Each couple conducted two 10-minute discussions of an issue the partners disagreed about. The most common topics were finances, household chores, and mutual communication. Men and women in their early 20s, undergraduates or recent college graduates, watched videos of the discussions and rated the nature and intensity of the emotions shown by each partner in each half-minute interval.

The ratings of five or six observers were averaged and compared with the quality of the marriage and the couples' reports of satisfaction, as judged by an interview using a standard set of questions. Five years later, the researchers determined whether the couples were still married or living together.

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