Great Love

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With a catch in her voice, I knew what was going to pour out of her. Partly because I knew her husband and always felt he was pretty mean to her.

All I have ever wanted is for someone to love me. Is there anything wrong with that? To love me. Not be nasty to me. Not yell at me all the time. I am so tired of it all … I just don’t want to be around him anymore. I am so confused.”

Bad love
Like a lot of married individuals, Emma felt stuck in a marriage she never dreamed would become so messed up. Through tears she lifted her head and spoke those infamous words counselors and pastors have heard from the confines of their offices too many times,

I love him but I am not ‘in love’ with him. I really don’t even know who he is anymore.”

Another case of “good lovin’ gone bad.

With a divorce rate of 50% in America, most would agree that living joyfully with the one you love all the days of your life (Ecclesiastes 9:9) doesn’t happen as often as it should. It is particularly so when it seems that virtually everything in our culture is competing for or against love in marriage.

Does great love exist?
That’s a great question. And one that many individuals spend good money on to find out. Though statistics vary, there are reportedly 99.6 million unmarried and single Americans (44% of the population) looking for great love. And where are they looking? Online. With some paying as much as $60 monthly to find the love of their lives.

In fact, most of us today know at least one couple who has met—and married—online. Among singles looking for good love, 37% say they have gone to dating websites with 17% of those from 2007-2010 entering into marriage as a result. Moreover, most users of the services say they had a positive experience and believe the dating sites actually helped them find a better match. But is this true?

Compatibility at your fingertips
Do online dating sites really help in finding a better match?

Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony.com thinks so. Having researched relationships for more than 35 years, he made it his goal to reduce the divorce rate in America to less than 10% from its current standing of 50%. Unlike any other dating site, eHarmony.com is the only one that does not allow you to search an open database for potential lovers. Instead, users are matched based on the results of a personality profile and “dimensions of compatibility.”

Matching by personality is a highly effective way of getting people to have positive experiences at the beginning of a relationship. Theories of attraction tell us that we pay attention to those who are similar to us both in personality and attitudes. We tend to like those who agree with us and dislike those who do not.

But what enhances marriage—and avoids divorce—over the long run? Will dimensions of compatibility help people find great love and prevent heartache?

The good news is that research is looking into these important questions. The 2005 eHarmony Study of Marriage in America found that “eHarmony couples have significantly happier and more successful marriages than couples who met in any other ways.”  eHarmony couples also reported their marriages to be “extremely happy” to “perfect” notably more than non-eHarmony couples (77% versus 55%).

The bad news is that the research is limited. For the sake of comparison, the previously mentioned study offered no data on the failure rates of those who met on the site.

Beyond the research, a bigger issue exists: The popularity of online dating websites is only about 10 years old at best. What about long-term stability? Will the similarities couples have today hold them together tomorrow? Is compatibility really predictive of long-term marital satisfaction? Only time will tell.

Great love in good times and bad
John Gottman, one of the most prominent researchers in the world on marriage, notes that “similarity is at best, a weak predictor of marital outcomes … because [it] does not tell us anything about process … It does not tap the processes that matter in maintaining, or destroying, a marriage.”

And besides, similarity is all about perception. Studies show that happy marriages are not predicted by personality traits, per se. Instead, it is the perceived similarity between partners that is associated with marital happiness.

It makes sense that while a relationship is strong, partners tend to perceive themselves as very similar. However, if conflict builds in the relationship, perceived personality similarities decrease and so does martial satisfaction! It is only when a marriage is not going well that partners perceive problems in the other’s personality.

So what does predict marital stability and satisfaction? Accepting influence from your spouse. Influence pertains to sharing power in all areas of life, including finances, raising the kids, housework, etc. If you are unable to accept influence from your spouse, it doesn’t matter how compatible or similar you are.

For the eHarmony couple now living out that great marriage, please be wary of assuming that compatibility alone will carry you through the troubled times inevitable in any marital relationship. If you’re looking for great love, remember: Look for someone you respect.

Sources:
U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). America’s Families and Living Arrangements.
Lenhart, A. and Madden, M. (2006, March 5). Reports: Online Activities and Pursuits. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/177/report_display.asp on April 26, 2007.
Onlinedatingmagazine.com. (2006, February 5). Research Suggests that eHarmony Couples are “Happier.” Retrieved from http://www.onlinedatingmagazine.com/news2006/eharmonycouples.html on April 26, 2007.
Gottman, J. (2003). Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, p. 15, 22-23.



About

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is Executive Pastor of Family Ministries at Woodland Hills Family Church and Executive Director of TwoIgnite. Josh has served as a counselor, pastor, administrator, and professor. He is the coauthor of God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act and Feel the Way You Do About God and The Quick Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers. Josh earned his graduate degrees from Alliance Theological Seminary and Liberty University. He specializes in attachment and relationship research, the Millennial generation, crisis and trauma, marriage and family, and spiritual formation. Josh is married to his favorite Canadian, Christi. For more information about Josh, visit his website.


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