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Strange relationship advice

I've been coming across some strange relationship advice for husbands over the past few days. First, this study says they shouldn't be more attractive than their wives.

In the current study, the authors examined how observer ratings of each spouse's facial attractiveness and the difference between those ratings were associated with (a) observations of social support behavior and (b) reports of marital satisfaction. In contrast to the robust and almost universally positive effects of levels of attractiveness on new relationships, the only association between levels of attractiveness and the outcomes of these marriages was that attractive husbands were less satisfied. Further, in contrast to the importance of matched attractiveness to new relationships, similarity in attractiveness was unrelated to spouses' satisfaction and behavior. Instead, the relative difference between partners' levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

And this survey suggests they shouldn't be happier than their wives, either:

Controlling for the level of life satisfaction of spouses, we find that a higher satisfaction gap, even in the first year of marriage, increases the likelihood of a future separation. We interpret this as the effect of comparisons of well-being between spouses, i.e. aversion to unequal sharing of well being inside couples. … [C]ouples are more likely to break up when the difference in life satisfaction is unfavorable to the wife.

The studies aren't very specific as to how men should regulate their happiness and attractiveness, however. Maybe eat too much and be self-loathing about it?

By Ezra Klein  |  January 29, 2010; 3:59 PM ET
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The first one sounds like an excuse for a schlubby guy to shoot down "average" looking women in favor of super-models. "Sorry, baby, I'd love to hook up with you but you're not hot enough in comparison to me for our relationship to work."

Posted by: CaptainNoble | January 29, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

We women don't actually care if our husbands are better looking or happier than us ... because the dirty little secret is: they are never SMARTER than us.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 29, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Well, a good looking man would have an easier time attracting a new and better mate so they can "trade up"? It also doesn't say how long the relationships last. Possibly, the longer they are together the bigger the difference in looks grows?
Maybe unhappy women are more likely to ask for a divorce than unhappy men?
It would be interesting to see who initiates the divorce.

Posted by: cminmd1 | January 29, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

My guess is the latter finding is driven largely by work imbalances. Men are more likely to work and work more hours and therefore a greater proportion of their life satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) is likely work-related. Women who spend more time at home and for whom home life and family life are synonymous (a subset, obviously), so their dis/satisfaction is more likely to be marriage-related. So this might not be as weird as it sounds. If this is good research then they controlled for this. But research that ends up being tossed around in the Times is usually not good research, paradoxically.

Posted by: j-ray | January 29, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Well, that explains John Edwards.

Posted by: jeffwacker | January 29, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I would never marry a man who's prettier than I am, and have strongly advised my daughters not to do so either.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 29, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein,
I love to read your political and economic posts, but normally you don't talk about social issues, so you may want to read a bit about women's inequality and feminism. The idea that society expects women to strive for beauty more than men should not be a shocker; of course people think women groom themselves more than men because they want to, rather than because they've been taught to (including strange looks for negative reinforcement). The following comment is what irritates me.

"The studies aren't very specific as to how men should regulate their happiness and attractiveness, however. Maybe eat too much and be self-loathing about it?"

To make another generalization: if men want to even out the "happiness" statistics then they should support their wives' careers or help increase their options. This could include making sacrifices in order to provide primary care for children; you know perfectly well that women are usually the ones to give up long stretches of their career to raise children and then have trouble getting jobs afterwards. Furthermore, the study specifically says that though both spouses behave less well, the more attractive husband is the "dissatisfied" one. Is there some reason either partner should be so focused on attractiveness?

Posted by: elizabethsqg | January 30, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Poor kid, looks like your going to have trouble maintaining a successful long term relationship (and don't tell me you already have, you're way to young to have had a long term relationship with a non-pedophile -- long term doesn't mean over one year).

Sigh. There but for the grace of God go I. It's sad that not all men can be as ugly as I am.

Posted by: rjw88 | January 31, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't think there's anything surprising here. The ugly implicit traditional trade off in relationships, which probably has some evolutionary base, is that the woman brings the looks (which are a marker for good child-bearing capacity) and the man brings the money. Consequently, a good-looking man is going to feel cheated by being married to a less good-looking woman, especially since good looks for men often translate into better job opportunities and hence more money. The second is even more easily explained: women are the ones who initiate divorces in about 75% of cases, so a marriage in which the wife is more dissatisfied is likely to end. I've seen this plenty of times in my psych practice. P.S. I'm very satisfied by my 27 year marriage, and my husband and I look a lot alike, so we're good.

Posted by: beckya57 | February 1, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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