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The Science of Marriage, or Weddings as a Spectator Sport

August 6, 2010

For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage
Tara Parker-Pope
Dutton Adult May 2010
$25.95 356 pages

I’m at “that age” when lots of my friends and family members in their twenties and thirties are getting married. I love going to weddings. It’s a great big party with food, music, and two people promising to be good to each other. Weddings make me grin goofily and cry. (Often both at once, which is one of many reasons I don’t wear mascara.)

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading a lot about marriage and relationship science, as well as smiling and sniffling at a few dear friends’ weddings. Right now, weddings are a spectator sport for me, which makes reading about the science of marriage an interesting, if speculative, cultural study.

I love reading Tara Parker-Pope’s writing in the New York Times, I think I might have alarmed her a little at BEA when I gleefully requested her autograph. I don’t think she was expecting a fangirl.  Parker-Pope’s writing throughout the book was wonderfully clear and conversational, exactly what I love from popular science writing, and had come to expect from her blog.

As with other books I’ve read on the subject, Tara Parker-Pope’s  For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage seemed to have sound relationship advice, backed by a rich selection of interesting scientific studies. It’s the kind of good advice that boils down to: be nice and respectful of each other. Whether you’re talking about marriage, or any other kind of relationship, even friendship, it’s a good idea to take away items like:

Don’t roll your eyes. Showing contempt erodes love and trust.

“For every negative interaction you and your spouse have, it takes five positive interactions to build trust back up.” There is a trend toward couples being each other’s everything, best friend, psychological support, and I don’t need a book to tell me that puts huge pressure on a relationship.  Being free of conflict in a relationship doesn’t mean all is well- it’s healthier to fight fair and respectfully, to get conflicts and needs out in the open, and solved or compromised.  (Drat! I like not arguing!)

Reading these as someone who’s not married (though daydreaming about it someday) I can take this as good advice for all of my relationships, not just the romantic kind. Confession time- I’m not fond of arguing, and I’m an eye-roller. I may smile affectionately when I roll my eyes, and I may mean it as gentle humor, but there keep being studies saying that’s bad news! I resolve to do better.

This post is dedicated to Chris and Rachel, who are getting married on Monday. And dedicated to the couples who will be able to plan weddings in California, now that Prop 8 has been repealed!

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