What can make your relationship survive?

I am trying to understand the results of this paper, which uses machine learning to identify what factors determine whether a relationship between a woman and man survives. The study was done on Germany, but is expected to be applicable to the world at large.

The following diagram is a good summary.

The trait is on the x-axis, and percentage survival on the y-axis

Let us discuss these one at a time.

Life satisfaction

At the beginning of a relationship, the more satisfied the man and woman are with their lives, the better the chances of survival. Funnily, if the man or woman are too satisfied with their lives 5 years into the relationship, they are likely to break apart. This is probably due to the fact that they don’t derive this life satisfaction from each other anymore, and hence don’t “need” each other to be happy.

Percentage of housework

Apparently, five years into the relationship, the higher the burden of household work for the woman, the better the chances of survival of the relationship. This seems bizarre. Won’t the woman appreciate being helped out by her partner? I’ve certainly heard of couples bickering over their share of housework. I think that this factor is confounded by the fact that women who agree to take on a higher share of the housework are non-confrontational, and it is their non-confrontational nature rather than their higher share of housework that leads to such relationships surviving. Correlation\neqcausation.

Working hours

How long the man works doesn’t matter at all at first, but decreases the chances of survival 5 years into the relationship. However, the number of hours a woman works is negatively correlated with the chances of survival at the beginning too. This could possibly be because women are traditionally expected to take on a larger fraction of household duties etc. Perhaps this trend may change as social mores change?

Agreeableness

At the beginning of the relationship, there are no benefits to being more agreeable than necessary for both the man and woman. However, five years into the relationship, both the man and woman need to become more agreeable for the relationship to survive, although being too agreeable leads to a greater chance of breakup. This is probably due to the fact that if they are too agreeable, they are suppressing their own inner desires and choices, which are likely to become pent up frustration, threatening to explode at the slightest provocation.

Age

The older the man, the higher the chances of breakup. The same trend is true for women, although perhaps less pronounced. In some sense, the older we grow, the less easy it becomes for us to adjust to another person. This has been my sense while talking to people who are looking to re-marry.

Number of children

Two is the optimal number of kids to have. Beyond that, the higher the number of children, the higher the chances of breakup. This claim is surprising: more traditional couples tend to have more kids, and such couples are generally expected to have lower rates of divorce, etc. What is happening here? Don’t Mormons almost never divorce (apparently they do at almost the same rate, which supports the paper’s claim)? Perhaps this is confounded by the fact that troubles couples choose to have more kids to save their marriages, and then realize that that is a failed strategy and eventually divorce? I’m not sure. Perhaps couples with a large number of kids actually had these kids with different partners? This claim is surprising to me, and would greatly change my model of the world if true.

Percentage income

If the woman earns slightly less than the man, the relationship is likely to survive. If she earns much less or much more than the man, the relationship is not likely to survive. This is perhaps not all that surprising, and hopefully this trend changes with time.

In absolute terms, if the woman and man earn well, their relationship is likely to survive. If they earn too little or too much, they are likely headed for a breakup. This also is not surprising. A comfortable income gives you freedom, while keeping the constraints in place that make a marriage work.

Extraversion

At the beginning of a relationship, the woman’s extraversion is irrelevant, while the man being more extraverted than a certain optimal amount is harmful for the relationship. However, five years in, both the man and woman have an optimal level of extraversion, and being more extraverted than that is harmful for the relationship.

I think extraversion has to be coupled with agreeableness for this trend to hold true, and being extraverted and toxic would show a different pattern. I’m not convinced that extraversion can be an independent factor here.

Neuroticism

Being “too” neurotic is bad for the survival of the relationship in both men and women. Obviously. However, what is surprising is that an optimal amount of neuroticism is actually good for the relationship in both genders! This is a bizarre finding. It has to be the case that neuroticism is positively correlated with intelligence, professional success, etc that compensates for the increased neuroticism. Otherwise this clearly makes no sense.

Summary

Be agreeable (but not too much), earn well and about the same amount, have exactly two children, be extraverted but not too much, don’t be too old, don’t work way too long, and be satisfied with your life. Although this is clearly unhelpful, perhaps there is still some wisdom in there.

A lot of people find partners to become happy or satisfied with their lives. However, the people who are already satisfied with their lives, and don’t heap all of their frustrations and toxicity, make better and more long-lasting partners.

Who knew neural nets could teach us how to love.

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Graduate student

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