Love, Self

Why Pessimists Have Longer, More Satisfying Marriages, According To Science

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19th-Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said on the topic of marriage, "It destroys one's nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being."

Turns out he was right.

A 2010 study conducted by James McNulty at the University of Tennessee revealed that couples who force themselves to stay optimistic during a rough marriage are more likely to destroy the relationship than save it.

This was contrary to what we'd been hearing from marriage counselors for ages. We were told to be patient, forgiving and even forgetful of our partner's mishaps and flaws, but what if the key to a healthy and honest relationship lies in a healthy dose of pessimism instead?

Do pessimists really have a better shot at a happy marriage than optimists?

Statistics show that half of all couples who attend therapy fail to overcome their differences — especially those who enter once the relationship's reached a state of disrepair. As such, we must consider the possibility that staying positive when times get bleak could very well backfire on the marriage.

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McNulty, a psychological scientist, studied 82 newlywed couples over the first four years of their marriage and discovered that optimism only pays off when a couple's dreams and hopes translate into reality.

When these newlyweds experienced anything but their highest expectations, they suffered extreme and often irrational disappointment.

As a result, McNulty claims that couples who approach marriage with a more pessimistic attitude end up experiencing more success and satisfaction in the long run, since their expectations were low to begin with.

The study also discovered that an optimist's tendency to gloss over a spouse's character flaws can lead to long-term problems and cause relatively benevolent issues to grow into more serious dilemmas.

While therapists generally advise couples not to play the blame game, McNulty discovered that maintaining a negative and uncompromising attitude during a discussion or argument can be an effective tactic in influencing a partner to change his or her ways, thus paving the path for a stronger marriage.

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Even forgiveness is not always, well, forgivable in a marriage. In fact, it only occasionally works. Most of the time, forgiveness only leads to a repetition of the misdemeanor committed.

McNulty discovered that couples who stand their ground in an argument and who refuse to forgive a blunder are more likely to experience the result they desire.

There is, however, only one exception to the effectiveness of negativity in a relationship: sarcasm. Making snide comments prevents an issue from being dealt with directly, and generally leads to unsuccessful marriages.

Ultimately, the attitudes McNulty labels as pessimism, we tend to think of it more as simply being practical.