Believing In Soulmates Makes Women More Vulnerable To Divorce & Domestic Abuse

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Why Believing In Romantic Love Makes Women More Vulnerable To Divorce & Domestic Violence

If you’ve read my articles before, you may know I’m no fan of the romantic fantasy. I’ve written about how these beliefs endanger your relationships, and how they are totally unrealistic when it comes to the actual day-to-day of living and building a life with another person.

However, there is even more to these beliefs than just making your relationships harder to manage.

Apparently, there are links between the belief in fairy tale romances (“knight saves princess”), intimate partner violence, and divorce.

I want to clarify something first: all of this is correlational.

In other words, there is no CAUSAL link that says between these three things, only a statistical relationship.

This means that believing in romantic love doesn’t necessarily cause domestic violence or divorce, but rather that there is an established relationship between some of the beliefs linked to it — such as a belief in women’s dependence on men and feelings of unhappiness when “happily ever after” doesn’t arrive — and many of the factors that also contribute to the likelihood of divorce and/or abusive relationships.

So, without further ado, let’s crush those romantic dreams once and for all ... (Kidding. Kind of.)

The Romantic Fantasy

It’s in the fairy tales you heard as a child. It’s in romantic comedies. It’s in romance novels and in pop songs. It’s the romantic fantasy, the happily ever after, the love at first sight. It’s the belief that romantic love is the solution to every problem. It’s the idea that if you’re not in love, you’re incomplete.

It’s the narrative of destiny, of love happening to you rather than you making love happen.

Romantic beliefs are widespread. Fairy tales, and their modern version the romantic comedy are our first narrative contact with love. The Prince sees Cinderella at the ball, dances with her and is instantly in love with her. The Prince sees Sleeping Beauty literally sleeping and kisses her and, obviously, is already in love. Or something.

So here’s a breakdown of some typical things romantic people tend to believe:

  • Love (especially passionate, sexually arousing love) should be the basis for marriage.
  • Love-at-first-sight is possible.
  • A person only has one true love.
  • True love lasts forever.
  • True love can overcome all obstacles.

The romantic fantasy is so pervasive, we barely see it for what it is anymore: a fantasy.

It’s so embedded in our stories and our conceptions of love that it’s difficult to get out of them.

Romantic beliefs have a destiny feel about them: that love is mostly out of our control, that all it requires is the right person, and then all our love troubles will be over. It’s almost passive in its outlook on relationships. That kind of romantic love requires no work, no compromising, no changing over time. It’s frozen in time, trying to hold on to a few fleeting moments when love is new and exciting, not routine and mostly boring.

According to Franiuk, Cohen, and Pomerantz, people generally belong to two groups when it comes to relationships: the soulmate group and the work-it-out group.

People with romantic beliefs tend to belong to the soul-mate group and their group of beliefs is called “ITR” or “implicit theories of relationships.”

Romantic Beliefs and Divorce

You probably have a general idea of whether you belong to the soulmate group or to the work-it-out group.

There’s plenty of evidence that when two soulmate people get together, holding these idealized beliefs actually helps. Soulmate theorists are actually happier than work-it-out theorists in one condition: when they believe they are with the right person.

Once they realize or decide they are not with the right person, however, soulmate theorists are more miserable than work-it-out theorists. Since they are not with the right person, why bother? All they’re waiting for is a better offer somewhere else, and they’re outta here.

In short, if you are a soulmate theorist, you’ll be pretty happy —​ as long as you believe that you are with your actual soulmate.

If that belief is shattered, however, you are more likely to leave than if you are a work-it-out theorist.

People with soulmate beliefs have an “all-or-nothing” concept of relationships: either you’re with the right person and the relationship works, or you’re with the wrong person and the relationship doesn’t work. If conflicts happen (and they ALWAYS do), soulmate theorists are more likely to take them as evidence that they are, after all, not with the right person.

People with soulmate beliefs, indeed, tend to either avoid conflict or to give in to what their partner wants. Although ignoring or accommodating some conflict is okay in certain situations, in others, something truly needs to be worked out, and soulmate theorists tend to be less likely to come to a good resolution.

Although there isn’t any direct evidence that romantic beliefs increase your risk of divorce, they certainly contribute to certain conditions that can increase the possibility, like when disillusionment and conflicts hit the couple after the honeymoon phase of their relationship.

So, if you’re a romantic at heart and believe in soulmates, you’re all good as long as you think you’re with your soulmate. If you suddenly realize that the person isn’t your soulmate, or if big conflicts arise in your relationship, you’re less likely try to work it out, and more likely to end the relationship.

Romantic Beliefs and Domestic Violence

Alright, so when you’re a romantic, you tend to be pretty happy as long as you think you’re with your soulmate. No biggie here. Relationships break up all the time for all kinds of reasons, and “not your soulmate” is just one among others.

But the truly frightening effect of romantic beliefs, especially for women, is that it makes them more susceptible to domestic violence.

In 2003 Rudman and Hepper coined the notion of the “glass slipper effect” when studying the interaction between romantic beliefs and women’s interest in personal power. The two scholars surveyed women to see how strongly they believed in romantic fantasies, as well to learn about their interest in things like education, social status, income, and leadership.

It turned out that the more these women held onto their romantic beliefs, the less likely they were to be interested in having personal power.

They showed less interest in high educational attainment, high-status jobs, high income, or leadership roles.

The researchers developed several theories as to why this happens:

  • Maybe these women were socialized early to believe that they shouldn’t seek high levels of education or income.
  • Maybe some of these women, stuck in a low socio-economic status, grasp onto romantic fantasies as a way to access power via marrying a more powerful man.
  • Or maybe women develop these beliefs as a way to justify the sexist system we live in, in which women are routinely cut off from access to high-status jobs, high income, and leadership positions.

Interestingly, none of these findings could also be found to apply to men.

In short, if you are a woman with strong romantic beliefs, you are less likely to want to get advanced degrees, a high-powered job or to look for leadership opportunities — all of which also make you more vulnerable to dependence on your romantic partner for financial support.

Of course, that, in itself, doesn’t necessarily make women more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

Another study, this time by Franiuk, Shain, Biertiz, and Murray in 2012, began with the basic hypothesis is that if you are a soulmate theorist, and if you believe you are with the right person, you are more likely to rationalize your partner’s violence against you, because you believe that they are “the one” and need to have a positive view of them.

In other words, because you think your partner is your soulmate, you explain away and accept their violence against you in order to maintain your belief.

This research showed that when partners are not well suited to each other (no matter what the partners actually believe) and when the relationship is committed for the long term (marriage, children), people with soulmate beliefs were more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

There’s an interesting effect the researchers found, though: if the violence starts early in the relationship, people with soulmate beliefs were actually likely to leave the relationship, maybe because they haven’t quite firmly established that the person is “the one." However, if the violence starts later in the relationship, once the person has decided that the partner is “the one," this protection disappeared, and people were more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

What Does This All Mean?

Although having romantic beliefs can be good for relationships, it also has concerning effects.

When things are good for soulmate theorists, things are REALLY good, but once things start going badly, they go REALLY bad, because they don’t tend to work through the problems.

For women, believing in romantic fantasies makes you less likely to be independent financially and financial dependence is a well-known issue for victims of domestic violence. People with romantic fantasies who have decided that they are with their soulmate are also less likely to leave the relationship if that soulmate becomes violent later in the relationship.

Does this mean that you’re a silly, weak victim if you’re a romantic? No, it doesn’t.

I know plenty of strong, independent women who also have romantic fantasies. As I mentioned in the beginning, these things are all correlational, not causal, which means there’s no evidence of cause and effect.

But if you combine all that research together, you get a clear picture: having romantic beliefs can be a problem, especially if you are a woman.

This article was originally published at The Story Of A. Reprinted with permission from the author.