One of my favorite phenomenons to study are celebrity divorces. Why do celebrities who seem to have a partner who has it all (fame, wealth, looks, personality) often divorce so quickly? Usually, in a few months or a couple years, they’ve split. Obviously, temptation and cheating play a role in the Hollywood world, but it can’t be that simple.
Surely, most of these people wanted their union to last forever. But something went wrong. My concern for finding the right partner grows when I think about the popular statistic mentioned that 50% of marriages end in divorce. After some research, I discovered that this statistic is likely inaccurate, and it’s actually close to 30%, but that’s still high (it’s still one in three).
After going through various books and research on marriage and divorce, I may have come closer to the secrets of what makes marriage last than the average person.
I discovered a researcher named John Gottman who has spent decades conducting experiments on thousands of couples to identify why divorces happen. He is one of the most respected scientists in his field for good reason; he has a 94% accuracy rate in predicting divorce whereas the average marriage counselor has a score of 50% (no better than a coin flip).
This article summarizes what I discovered from him and various other experts. First, here’s my theory on why celebrities divorce.
I believe men overemphasize the importance of looks and under-emphasize other qualities. Women overemphasize wealth and status over other traits. That’s not to say that the average person doesn’t pay attention to other factors. I’ve seen men I know admit they care more about personality and a little less about looks when it comes to finding a wife. And we all know women care a lot about personality. But I believe, especially for celebrities, certain extreme levels of flashy external and internal traits and possessions, like mansions and charisma, overshadow other things one should consider.
This point is obvious, so I won’t elaborate much before moving onto the more important stuff. It’s enough to say that beauty, while important as biological signs for fertility and health, fade over time. Just remember that you’ll get used to someone’s looks quickly. And you’re left with your partner’s other traits for the rest of your life.
According to research by Dr. David Buss and Dr. Geoffrey Miller and associates, we also unconsciously screen for partners with intelligence and willpower based on their humor, small talk, skills, and behaviors. These help lead to an effective life and better children, but aren’t essential for keeping marriages together.
The following sections are split out by each expert’s opinion on what makes marriage last.
Then, you have world famous personal development blogger and author Mark Manson saying there are three keys to a relationship: trust, respect, and affection. Coincidentally, Howard Marks, reputed investor, explains how respect is essential for business partnerships too (32:00 of this Tim Ferriss interview). He has had a 30+ year partnership.
Now, we’re getting closer to the mark. Affection is an interesting one. But trust and respect are something John Gottman affirms, as you’ll see, which makes sense since Mark sourced John Gottman in his writing.
Mark also said to avoid:
- Passive-aggressiveness (This one’s never a good thing. This type of behavior can lead to confusion, anguish, and bottled up emotions. That was an insight for me since I’m guilty of this in the past and wasn’t sure before if it was good or bad.)
- Keeping score of how much stuff you did for them and what you’re owed or expected back
- People who are avoidant or dependent on you
Now, let’s what John Gottman recommends.
First, he says there are four horsemen of the apocalypse (a.k.a. divorce):
- Stonewalling (ignoring any attempts to communicate)
- Contempt (the worst one)
These four behaviors will slowly destroy a marriage. While a relationship may usually not start with these behaviors, they can creep in as you take someone for granted. When there are more negative experiences than positive experiences on a daily basis, you are in the red zone!
In addition to the horsemen, John mentions looking out for these behaviors most often in his books:
- Is there admiration and fondness for that person? Or contempt? (even after you have gotten used to each other)
- Similar Values
- Supporting Each other’s Dreams
- People have different dreams based on their childhood experiences. One person may consider an expensive Disney trip as crucial to their parenting since they didn’t have that as a child. Another may find that a waste of money since they learned they had to be frugal to become rich. What’s important is supporting eachother in achieving their dreams even if they’re different dreams from you.
- High Standards for a Relationship
- Wait, what? Won’t high standards make things more difficult. John has found that while counter-intuitive, healthy couples have high expectations of eachother.
- The cornerstone to a marriage.
- Think of trust like a bank account. Every action you take adds or withdraws from that account. If you’re not careful, you’ll hit a point when you can’t withdraw anymore.
- Someone who really gets to know you and details about your life
- John calls this concept a Love Map. While it may sound obvious that you should know details about your partner’s interests and life, you’ll be surprised by how little some couples know about each other (as illustrated in examples in the book).
Dr. Robert Glover
Next, we move onto advice from Dr. Robert Glover, author of the best-selling marriage and relationships book No More Mr. Nice Guy. If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s very popular in the manosphere and which many men has used to build healthy relationships through setting boundaries, taking time for oneself, and being more assertive. Here’s his advice.
- Never try to get a woman to like you or be with you.
- You’ll end up putting up with more than you should in a relationship. You probably won’t be happy. And you won’t have boundaries.
- Instead, as you’re dating, find out a woman’s nature
- Men fail to do so because they’re working too hard to get women to like them. Find a woman that aligns as much with your passion and purpose.
- Find out if she is generous to others.
- Is she fun to be around?
- Is she funny?
- Beauty fades. Moody, stupid, and bitchy last forever.
- See how she will fit into your life, not how you will fit into her’s.
- Bring her around your friends to see if they see something you missed.
- Take her in a lot of different or difficult situations: public transportation, camping, traveling abroad, etc.
- kind, intelligent, and funny are what Robert looks for most. You don’t want to be around someone who doesn’t treat people well.
- Don’t just take a women for beauty for your ego.
- Never try to get a woman to like you or be with you.
Other Traits to Consider
Here are some of my own recommendations for traits you may want to consider. You probably naturally look for some of these when looking for a long-term partner, but the more you can consciously plan around these, the better your results.
- Conscientiousness and willpower
- Good communication
- Trust and loyalty (the research in this article is self-explanatory)
Men Are from Mars and Women are from Venus
This book doesn’t use any research. It’s frankly based on this author’s opinions. Despite my skepticism, I’ve read the book and have to give some respect to it since it’s sold millions of copies, which is very rare.
According to the book, your partner doesn’t have to have any common interests. In fact, the author suggests getting a partner with different interests because it is more interesting and fun to share your hobbies and discover new experiences with someone. (The only thing is I was recognized in public for the first time by a reader, and he mentioned he got divorced. When I asked him why he think the relationship ended, he said they didn’t have anything in common. After dinner, they would go off to do their own things. Maybe the author is saying some interests can be different, which leads to a more interesting life. Maybe you have some common interest with your partner, but you also have fresh hobbies that the other person hasn’t considered or thinks he or she doesn’t like and you’re both open-minded enough to try it out and moderately enjoy these new hobbies.)
I find it difficult have conversations with people who I have no similar interests with. My conversation skills are above average and I’m open-minded yet I can only pretend to be interested in something for so long. Plus, it’s hard to meet people with different interests if you have no or little interest in the hobby they like. And even if you get into a relationship, you may find it hard or unsatisfying to hang around that person because they’re participating in a hobby that you aren’t into.
The book also urges men to understand that sometimes women just want you to listen and show them they were heard, not for you to solve their problems. I’ve heard this advice from countless individuals, including my mother and Ashley Weston, a successful celebrity men’s stylist. I 100% agree. I’ve found that men are more problem-solvers and women often just want to vent and solve it on their own, but men often mistake someone’s ranting or venting as a plea for problem-solving. I’ve made that mistake too, but I’m fortunate to have learned this lesson early.
Putting It Into Practice: Building A List of Non-Negotiable’s
When you really dive into what you want in a partner, everyone will be a bit different since they have different tastes. To do so, you have to dive past the surface of vague traits that everyone can agree on. In this section, I walk through what we’ve learned and apply it to my own list of what to look for as an example. The instructions here would be to incorporate some of the traits that John and others have mentioned, and then add in a couple based on your own preferences.
Everyone should have some list rather than go off gut. If you’re not making some conscious effort to make sure certain things are there, you may be won over by looks or charm, only to realize what they’re missing when it’s too late. Here are some examples, but of course, don’t make your list too long or get too picky.
If you’re too picky, you may never woo this woman, let alone find her. To find the unique traits that you’d prefer, it requires experience and trial-and-error. Common hobbies may not matter as much as you think compared to having similar values. You may think you need someone who is into nerdy topics like Doctor Who and Pokemon until you meet them and discover that they’re close-minded and hates certain characters you love, for example. Then, you may discover that what you really want is someone who is open-minded and likes to have fun (and liking nerdy topics is a bonus)!
In the hit reality show, Jersey Shore, Snooki create a long list of things she wants in a man in Miami. Fast forward a couple of seasons, and the man she marries has a fraction of the things on her list.
The truth about dating is that we all live in a marketplace of supply and demand. You’ll likely going to have to compromise on some of the traits you want in a mate given what you have to offer in a competitive market. Therefore, it’s important to define your non-negotiable traits that you must have in a person so that you’re aware of what you’re looking for and can screen candidates efficiently.
Challenge yourself to see what you can move from the need-to-have to want to have since you may start with a list of 25 or 50 and that may be too much.
Here is a list of possible non-negotiable traits you can have in a partner based on the research.
Avoid overly broad traits. “Personality” is vague, so instead…
- Humor is a good proxy indicator of social and soft skill intelligence, which is why women look for it
- Socially intelligent is important (well-adjusted, street smarts)
- Can get along well with me and we can be ourselves around each other
- At least a handful of similar interests
- Positive interactions most of the time (At least a 5-to-1 positive to negative interaction ratio based on John’s research)
- Will never cheat on you
- Good Communicator
- Doesn’t Stonewall
- Hard-working, effective at their good career and life, but not a workaholic (I’m bringing out the science on this one as well. Men tend to consider effectiveness over just beauty when considering long-term partners.)
- Has her life together
- Takes care of her home and herself
- Pretty (Physical beauty is subjective, so I’ll leave the specifics up to you.)
- Similar Values
- Supports Each Other’s Dreams (This is a big one for John Gottman. Couples often separate because they have different end-goals, such as living in California to become an actor versus living secluded near nature.)
Other than the traits that I learned about from my research, it seems what I’m looking for is someone who is effective at life, which make sense from a biological angle. It’s funny to me because I really did just go off my gut when writing out these traits, and only in retrospect do we find that it’s aligned with what most humans look for in mating for survival and reproduction based on evolutionary biology.
One item on Snooki’s list was “big, juice-monkey gorilla.” Fast forward a few seasons and Snooki meets a man who is just as short as her and isn’t as jacked though still fairly big. She has one of the longest relationships she’s had with this man, and now, they’re married with kids.
We all have traits that would be nice to have. But when faced with a competitive dating market, we must compromise or sacrifice certain traits as long as others are met. These nice-to-have traits are worth looking out for in case you luck out and find a stellar woman beyond your expectations or your mate value increases. You can have more fun here. Here’s a sample:
- Can cook a variety of delicious, healthy food and loves doing it.
- Super smart and rich
- You can dream can’t you? Remember, this is “nice to have.” Although, maybe keeping it somewhat realistic will help you actually filter through.
- Values a frugality and investing in the future
- I learned from the investor Jim Rogers’s book A Gift to My Children that his first marriage failed because his wife was a spender while he needed to save to make more money in the future.
- Kind and Caring
- Appreciates health and fitness and willing to work out with me
- Chill / Light-hearted / Doesn’t take life too seriously all the time
- Positive / Optimistic
- Resiliently Happy / Fun to be Around
- My friend and I both seem to respond to women who are upbeat and doesn’t let negative life events get her down for long. From a scientific standpoint, this attraction may come down to a signal for good mental health and intelligence, as research shows women screen men for the same thing for that reason. This trait can also imply she has a strong friend network since those who have that network usually have more resilience.
- Can see joy and happiness from the simple things of life
- Does not:
- Party much
- Do drugs
- Only Alcohol in small doses socially
- Has similar hobbies
- As a reminder, I’ve found that this criteria doesn’t matter as much as you think sometimes. But other times, it matters.
The Nice-To-Have’s section is fun to add to, and I believe it’s okay for it to be long. The caveat is that you have to go in with the expectation that they are optional. If you don’t get them, it’s okay. But it’s a good list to draw from when you’re deciding between who to choose as a partner when necessities are met. Likely, you’ll still be able to incorporate a few.
Marriage is one of the most important parts of many people’s lives. Yet so many people spend so little time researching and thinking properly for who to look for that they get divorced. It’s rather tragic.
Fortunately, by using the research I’ve compiled here (and reading John Gottman’s books), you’ll be one of the few who marries the right person.
Did I miss anything? Is there anything anecdotally from your own experiences or through scientific research that you’d like to share with me? Leave a comment.