Don’t Marry Up (Or Down)

equal partnershipInteresting research from the University of Wisconsin evaluated over 500 couples to see how inequality between partners influences the satisfaction of the relationship in the long term.  By “inequality” the researchers meant a variety of variables such as unusual discrepancies in attractiveness or in wealth prior to marriage.  Curious about what they found?

Your relationship satisfaction will suffer the more inequality there is in the relationship.  Men hope to one day marry a woman of fantastic beauty with high social standing and talents.  Women grow up fantasizing about their handsome Prince Charming who will sweep them off their feet.  But research suggests we are better off finding someone who is about as good-looking as we are and of a similar caliber in other respects.

equal partnershipIt’s not just one research study making this claim.  There have been research studies demonstrating that sexual satisfaction among couples is highest for those partners who are rated as being equally attractive.

You may be wondering why.  The researchers hypothesize the reason may have to do with “equity theory,” which predicts partners do things to balance the relationship-ultimately sabotaging the quality of the relationship in the process.

For example, a woman who is far more attractive than a man feels she does not need to worry about refusing sex flippantly based on her mood with a thought like, “He gets more out of this than I do anyway so why should I bend over backward to make that part of our lives even more unequal?”  Or a man may think, “I brought the wealth and freedom she now appreciates to this relationship so if I feel like I want some alone time I don’t need to apologize for it or ask permission before disappearing when I’m in the mood to do so.”  At other times, it’s the insecurities of one partner or the other that may lead to avoidance of sex, irrational fears of losing a partner to infidelity, or avoidance of full engagement in other areas of life.

It’s kind of dumb (if you ask me) but we humans do weird things on an unconscious level.  I’d like to think we can overcome these obstacles when two partners fully embrace the concept of true love, but I thought I would share this information with you in case it helps you to realize that “settling” for someone who is on par with you may not be “settling” at all!

More to come!

James


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32 thoughts on “Don’t Marry Up (Or Down)

  1. Martha beystrom said:

    Sounds like a juggling act.

  2. Hayley said:

    My last boyfriend were opposites and we balanced each other out fine. I am introverted, he could strike up a conversation with anyone. I know how to research stuff on the Internet, he didn’t. He was much better looking than me, but I was 15 years younger and had more money.

  3. Zoë said:

    Hmmm….. Much as I see the logic behind this article, at the same time it doesn’t make sense in many circumstances, for example; many couples choose to get married & have children, with the woman staying at home as home maker raising the kids, so in this scenario has no choice but to be dependant on her man financially ;and just because two people may not be equally educated doesn’t mean they are not of similar/equal intelligence. Also I think this probably applies more (not entirely though) from a male perspective, where he is less educated, on a lower income etc., I say this not only from my own experience of men in general, but from the many published articles/advice/programmes out there regarding men’s emotional attitudes & emasculation, and some of the other comments here would seem to corroborate this. Having said that, any person ‘marrying up’, shouldn’t allow their partner/spouse to hold it over them, if the financially ‘superior’ party takes on the attitude that their partner/spouse should be grateful for their having raised their financial, ergo social standing, then it begs the question does he/she respect them, and why would you want to be with someone who treated you that way?! Ladies -own your awesomeness, learn to love yourself, flaws included -we ALL have them, and when you can do that it’ll help you to be more bold & give you the confidence to say no to a demeaning &/or mediocre relationship. Gentlemen -don’t let yourselves get stuck in the quagmire of male ego, what does it matter if your partner/wife had a better education or earns more?! If it bothers you that much either don’t get into the relationship in the first place, because if you make it a point of contention then you will sabotage a potentially happy relationship with a wonderful woman, or, do something about it -start an open/flexible learning course to further your education, which should then enable you to better your career/earnings. It seems to me a lot of the problems arising from these ‘inequalities’ are due to peoples insecurities (taking it out on the other person) or lack of self confidence (allowing the other person to take advantage). As for those who do perpetrate the ‘I’m better than you because I earn more, had a better education/upbringing’ etc. attitude -get over yourselves, it so does not make you better than anybody else, seriously! At the end of the day we all want to love & be loved, why do so many people seem to put all these stumbling blocks in the way of happiness?! Look at the bigger picture and see the insignificance of it, nobody knows what life has hiding around the corner for us, any one of us could be dead tomorrow, so don’t settle for someone who doesn’t put the effort in, doesn’t show you decency & respect, doesn’t care for or love you, get out there & enjoy life as best you can with or without a significant other. You don’t need to be in a relationship. You want to be. There’s a big difference, and when you accept that, are happy in your own skin, and trying to enjoy life for the sake of living, you may be surprised at who finds their way into your life. 🙂 xx

    • James Bauer said:

      Those are excellent caveats to keep in mind. Thanks for adding your insight on the topic, Zoe. I definitely agree with the points you make here.

      James

    • Lorna (LaLa) said:

      Zoe, Thank you for those insights. You are right. I will try to remember your advice and just live what little life I may have left (I’m 69 this year – eek!!) for myself, with a spring in my step and a light in my eye – trying not to take things too seriously. I do do lots of things for myself – I do have lots and lots of hobbies and a beautiful big garden that takes a lot of looking after, a beautiful little open-top sports car that is so much fun and a camper van that I love getting out in. I sing and have lots and lots of men friends (who are all married!) – but at the end of the day, I would love to also have a loving, significant other to be there for me. As I say, to snuggle up to in bed with at night, and wake up to again in the morning. Wishful thinking, I know – but I keep on wishing and asking my Angels to bring someone special into my life – hoping that “The Secret” will eventually work. And every day I tell myself how very, very lucky I am. That has to be enough for now. Lorna

  4. Eggnog said:

    He said to me, “I hate you because your stronger than me.”
    He is a multi-millionaire who pretends he’s poor. When he actually is a cheap skate. When I first re-connected with him from 40 years past he told me he didn’t have any money. So when he moved cross country to be with me he moved in with me. It was head over heals. I was spending all of my earnings each month. Then one night he just blurted it out to me. The next morning I told him I felt deceived. He showed a lack of emotional intelligence. He also suffers from depression so I’ve become his reason when things go wrong. He says everyday he starts over. So another part of this hypothesis needs to cover Depression, Mental Illness, Bi-Polar and mood disorders, personality disorders and multi-personality disorders. Things happen along the road in life. With 2 marriages, love turns to anger will bring a suitcase packed full of surprises. I finding out on a day to day basis of all the aforementioned. The more you are beat down by the person without the last of self-esteem the more you are suffering from a form of domestic violence which is mental and emotional abuse. The real person you live with is not what the real friends see. The friends think you are what he tells them. Yes, you are a sweet, wonderful supportive person where you begin to wear down and the damage begins to set in. So I’m getting off this merry-go-around. Buyer beware and I feel this needed to be said and added. Everyone told me I hit the jackpot with him until they now see and hear that I’m in the ring everyday and am getting out. Another thing to be on the look out for. Keeping a journal and not lying to yourself and seeing people for who they really are. The good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you.

    • Lorna (LaLa) said:

      Oh, Eggnog, I read your comment and felt so sad for you!! You have managed to work it all out as to what your man is suffering from. The very fact that he is a multi-millionaire tells you something!! I also know one, who is married to my long-time best friend – I knew them both 45 years ago, before they married – who is a nightmare to live with. He was abandoned by his mother when he was 4, and I am convinced he feels he has to PROVE something. And – yes – he is as mean as muck!! He saves every penny when he can, made us walk for miles (well, it felt like it!) in high heels to save on the parking fees during a special dressed-up evening out. Beats down prices in antique shops, etc. and gloats about it – how well he has done. YET, he has a garage full of expensive classic Bentley cars – 6 or 7 – worth literally millions!! They are his babies – he works on them and polishes them. These men are nut-cases, absolutely no doubt about it, and I am convinced it all stems from their childhood. His poor wife suffers so much – he never wanted children – so no-one to leave it all to. She keeps animals as a substitute. He treats her really badly at times. He is hardly ever at home, and when he is, she has to serve him like a servant, as though he is entitled to it. She is so unhappy, and drinks to excess in her misery. Yes, as you say, he WOULD hate you for your strength – because he would expect you to be subservient. I sense a feeling of anger in you. Please, do not be angry – it is not good for YOU, for your health. Just try to view him from a distance and feel desperately sorry for this poor human being who is psychologically damaged. Maybe you can get him to open up and talk about how he REALLY feels. You never know, that might have some benefit. Strangely, this smacks of the 50 Shades of Grey story. If you haven’t read it – perhaps you will glean some insight and comfort from it – read all three books – they are VERY insightful!! But I’m not sure that in real life there would be such an outcome – who knows? I am not in a position to say. Be strong – never, EVER give in to him – keep your dignity, your sweet, kind goodness. That is the only way you can be of help to him. Best wishes – my thoughts are with you. Lorna (LaLa)

  5. crissianna said:

    Wow, thank you for the words and thank you all for the comments. Straightens me out real fast before I make a mistake.

  6. Susan said:

    James,
    This is just HUGE. Thank you so much for bringing this subject to our attention–I haven’t seen it discussed this well or quite this way elsewhere. I understand and agree with all the points of view in the article and comments, but I think great caution is warranted on this subject. I ‘ve seen this inequality problem in my parents’ relationship and my whole nuclear family was pretty dysfunctional as a result. It happened again in the 2 very long companionships I’ve had which weren’t able to work into marriages, but were fulfilling enough that we eagerly wanted to stay in them for years anyway. In the latter 2 cases, inequality issues needled us all the time and were a pretty big problem along with other problems. What kept us together anyway was basically that we had a lot of fun, were very close, we talked constantly and about everything we wanted & needed to, and we were able to help each other grow fabulously in the ways that were most important to us at the time. So actually, these were better relationships than a lot of marriages, but frustrating to all parties because we couldn’t seem to work out getting married. I’m in my late 60’s now, and I’d STILL like to get married. After the second companion passed on about 6 years ago, I recently dated a man who broke up with me and I couldn’t understand why, and he didn’t have the courage to tell me why–he just left, cold turkey, and I spent months trying to sort it out. For a good portion of that time I could hardly function but did manage to keep my job. When I read this article and the comments, I suddenly understood it. This was again an inequality situation in his mind, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had a much more horrible inferiority complex than I realized at the time, and I think he decided he couldn’t keep me happy. I wish I’d had this article back then, because I unknowingly played into the hands of that in certain ways, and could have changed that and we could have gotten the outcome we both wanted if I had been more aware of this. So that situation is very sad, but I’m grateful to be armed with this information now so I can at least use it going forward. Inequality was always a foggy issue that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, though now because of this article and comments, it seems really clear. I’m hoping that sensitivity to it and frank discussion about it with a partner can help overcome it in a lot of instances, because 2 people really aren’t exactly alike, and it would be less desirable if they were IMHO..

  7. Christina said:

    I wish I could say that love overcomes all differences but experience has taught me otherwise. I have twice been with men that were on a lower income than I was because I never made a decision about being with someone rationally – I only decided with my heart. My love life has always been very passionate because of that but unfortunately, there was a lot of heartache too and most importantly, it never worked out. Which leaves me in my mid-thirties, having to handle a really difficult break-up because my ex started studying very late in his life and his priorities shifted, and I feel further away from having a family than ever before. During our relation, I neglected myself a lot because he just didn’t have the financial means to do things and he didn’t want me to support him so we could go on a nice holiday etc. I would never do this again. I really think that marrying up or down can create an imbalance in the relation right from the start that is just never great, because it always means that one partner feels inferior or dependent. I will only ever go into a relationship again when the heart and the head both say yes and we’re on a par with one another.

  8. sheryl appel said:

    In my last relationship this was true! I had a college degree, he didn’t, I had money, he didn’t, I had a blessed life, he didn’t; and it didn’t work. He was envious of me, and put me down to make himself feel better. He said to me one time, how come you get to live in a nice place and I have to go back to a chit hole? & he was mad, like it was my fault?! Or he’d say, it’s not fair you got to go to college. He’d say rediculous things! Yes even the bible says you should be evenly yoked! Finance, education, religion, age…I’d say yes! Although, I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Everything else, it would easier and therefore better!

    • James Bauer said:

      I like your point about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, Sheryl. Thanks for reminding us of that. Many women downplay their own attractiveness, having difficulty understanding why a particular suitor finds her so attractive. We should keep that in mind.

    • Lena said:

      Historically, men were always providers to the families, so a woman would be seeking for a provider, not a handsome toy to spend time with. Now, when women are working as much as men do, we all are even in opportunities to provide for the families we are trying to create or start. But obviously men still are making better money (in general) and women are still need to be pretty first to be able to have enough choices to pick from.
      How does it apply to the research in your article, James?

      • James Bauer said:

        Interesting insights, Lena. I would agree that these factors have an impact. However, the ability to provide equally on a financial level is not as important because of the cultural expectations we all carry somewhere in our subconscious about historic relations between couples. However, it doesn’t work as well when a man is a much lower wage earner. Though that seems to be changing. People have become more accepting of that. The “story” and belief system we hold about what that means is changing rapidly.

      • Lena said:

        Thank you for the reply, James.
        In my world, and I live and work in the capital of this country, it is still very traditional about the couples. Working and financially independent women are still spending a lot of time and money on their outer beauty, just to be able to be “noticed” by men in their surroundings. The inner beauty of a woman is Not that noticeable at first site as her outlooks. And as a result, women are looking for a financially stable and successful men just to be able to start a family and have kids with them.
        It feels like there is something wrong with the man, if he is not able to support financially his family or wife, when she is expecting and nursing a child and can’t work for that reason.
        I’ve seen that type of situation and do not find it attractive from any point of view.

  9. MaryAshley said:

    does this also apply to the personality of the person?

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s a good question, but I would say the answer is no. Personalities either mesh well or don’t mesh well. There’s really not a status hierarchy to personality types the way there is for financial status or physical attractiveness.

  10. gbemi said:

    I think James is right, and this is on a personal note. I feel more relaxed wth a guy on my social level than lower or higher. Higher, am tryin to impress…Lower, am worried he is into it for some financial gain.

  11. Waterfall said:

    I don’t agree. There is no two equal people on earth. Don’t exists. Yes they may be equally attractive, age range, social background , money. But at the same time be different people. Like she is more kinde ( why shall I apologize she will forgive me anyway ), one can love the other more, they may have different sex desire intensity. Actually this is good , differences create interest , curiousity novelty. I think relationship with equal people are boring and passionless.

    • James Bauer said:

      Interesting perspective.

  12. My guess based on being around a long time and a student of relationships (Including a PhD) is that men who are less comfortable with who they are tend to marry down thinking a more attractive, higher social status prospective life partner accustomed to the finer things in life is out of reach and will have higher economic expectations and are more likely to seek extramarital affairs as recent research has shown. See “What Do Women Want? Adventures in Female Desire,” by Daniel Bergner.

  13. alma said:

    Thanks for great info. and comments. Very interesting and make sense. Please keep me posted.

  14. lm said:

    “But research suggests we are better off finding someone who is about as good-looking as we are and of a similar caliber in other respects.”

    As with so many other nuggets of your advice, it’s my strong hope that men are being told this too these days.

    • James Bauer said:

      This site is exclusively for women. That’s why you do not see advice for men on this site. Yes, of course I agree that some of these concepts are equally important for men to learn from if they want to become better partners.

  15. What ever happened to if we love each sincerely and honestly we can make things am sorry but I have to disagree with this theory

    • James Bauer said:

      Yeah, that’s true. Love conquers all. The research can only tell us about “averages.” It does a poor job of telling us about two specific people and what is possible for them.

      • Orsolya said:

        The few truly happy couples I have been were people who were amazingly similar. One couple I know positively come over like a pink and a blue version of the same person… and they are inseparable and balanced and happy and have been for many years. But similarity is something I as a psychologist have seen to work in many cases. The wider the difference, the more dissatisfaction there is. ‘He/she should be grateful to have me at all”, one party might say, while the other might be full of anxiety or self-belittlement. Men particularly hate to feel that their woman is more educated or potent and therefore cannot possible admire him… it is enough to make them run. He can never be your hero if you are of a higher standing – a cause of tension and failed relationships I have seen in real life. but women also hate to feel that they should feel obliged or grateful. Usually, people like to be able to be relaxed and behave naturally in a relationship. If the similarity principle works, and gender roles are in some ways close to the traditional set-up, then you stand a really fair chance of a successful couple…. provided that both parties are mature enough (and yes, I mostly mean men…… sorry about that!)
        Orshoya

  16. I think this is a valid hypothesis in any area that we socialize, or have connections with others. Especially people who may not be equal in standing as it were.

    Firstly, I think that it surely happens as outlined above,that resentments arise, because when things are done with a particular mindset it follows, not is not to settle or not go for what you want because of attempting to be on “equal” footing is a “mental mistake” because it attributes a superior or inadequate meaning to people..Never, ever compare oneself. Those who do think like the examples listed in the blog, “don’t marry up or down.” . is, in essence correct. but I ‘m relating that to mentally, emotionally being not right for anyone if this type of attitude is present.

    Everyone do the work that makes you a good human being, and not the material surrounding yourself. this is not how to relate or the lack of it. Know that you are worthy in every respect and should be treated it the utmost respect, if you are not no matter how much someone has it is not good if you sell yourself out, your values.

    Define yourself, know who you are and go from there. If you want a certain relationship go for it. Its there!!! Do it from a place of love, given and received, that is the equalizer/

    • Tracey said:

      wise words …i love a man he is African but we connect spiritually mentally …is a little scary at times …but life should be exciting and full ..Bless

  17. I can believe about the unconscious issues…. but I think this is taking it much too far. I’m in my 40s, on a very low income, no assets and very low social skills….. so does that mean I have to look for a partner who has equally low material wealth and social skills (which would be seriously limiting my options, as well as the obstacles that would go with a couple being financially poor AND finding it hard to get communication right between us), or else make sure that a prospective partner is much less attractive or intelligent than myself to even out the balance?? Frankly, I don’t think so! Perhaps this is more realistic for people who are more “average” in these regards, i.e. it wouldn’t limit their choices so much…. but all the same!! So you meet someone, you try living with them, you gradually figure out how to balance both your needs, re housework, earning, time spent together/alone, sex etc., it all seems very promising….are you then supposed to say “We’re doing really well now, but we’d each be better off with someone who is more our ‘equal’, so we’d better part ways”?? OK, I get your point that if these great potential partners you meet who aren’t rich or gorgeous or high in social standing, cause you to think “I’d like to do better than that”, it’s a good wake-up call to know that that dream might not work, and that these people who see you as a catch might well be your best bet for the long haul. I also see the point in regards to where to look for potential partners, i.e. a person with only average looks and income might feel tempted to go mate-hunting in places where the beautiful and wealthy tend to flock (and this includes of course people who hope that they’ll end up with enough combined wealth that when they have kids they won’t both need to work full-time, and that their kids won’t miss out on other important things due to lack of money), so it’s good to be warned that this can have its pitfalls. I think what’s most important of all is that the partners discuss honestly what is important to them in married life (and let’s be honest: serious poverty CAN adversely affect people’s happiness), and be openly aware of any inequality as to what they are each “bringing” to the relationship, and this will go a long way towards having their unconsciousness work against their better intentions. We’re not animals: perhaps the hunter/gatherer genes do play a part in what our unconsciousness mind thinks we need, but we can choose not to let it rule our lives!

    • James Bauer said:

      Good points, Katrina. Here’s a good way to look at it. This article is encouraging you to be less stressed out about trying to find the best looking or most wealthy or most…whatever…person. It’s okay to go for a person who’s like yourself.

      But you’re right in pointing out that you don’t need to limit yourself if you feel attracted to someone. If it works for both of you, go for it!

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