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April 19, 2005 11:08 AM   Subscribe

The Mathematics of Love - predicting, with 90% accuracy, what will happen to a relationship over a three-year period.
posted by daksya (33 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This stuff is worth having a look at, even if you're skeptical about mathematical modeling in social science. I wrote an article about Gottman's work a couple of years ago in Slate.
posted by escabeche at 11:14 AM on April 19, 2005

How is he affecting the couples with a baby in 10 hours? What is he doing, because my wife and I are JUST NOW going through a lot of this. It's amazing. Just wondering what he said in 10 hours that could've changed all that.
posted by psychotic_venom at 11:22 AM on April 19, 2005

...an acoustic startle study (that's where you shoot off a blank pistol behind someone's head when they least expect it)...

Now that sounds like fun.
posted by debralee at 11:25 AM on April 19, 2005

Gottman is also covered significantly in Malcom Gladwell's latest book, "Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking".
posted by Bear at 11:53 AM on April 19, 2005

Without knowing either party, or a thing about them, I can predict that a new romantic relationship will be over in 3 years and be correct more than 90% of the time...
posted by curtm at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2005

I feel like I do this sort of predicting anyway, which is why I don't date nearly enough.

That said, hello ladies.
posted by sdrawkcab at 12:01 PM on April 19, 2005

Without reading the article, Gottman is quoted/referenced in "Blink" the new Malcolm Gladwell book. It's very good too if you fancy an eye opening read.

(On preview: Bollocks Bear, beat me to it)

I'll go read the article now.
posted by BadSeamus at 12:02 PM on April 19, 2005

Er, "Bollocks! Bear..." not "Bollocks Bear," probably should have been better punctuated.
posted by BadSeamus at 12:03 PM on April 19, 2005

Best chapter problem ever: Romeo and Juliet in Strogatz. Holla back anyone?
posted by fatllama at 12:08 PM on April 19, 2005

escabeche - thanks for sharing your article, good stuff!

psychotic_venom - I don't actually know what he's doing but here is my guess: Gottman predicts relationship success based on very basic interpersonal transactions -- eg, I "bid" for my spouse's attention by making a joke, comment, etc, and the spouse either ignores the bid, picks up on it, or changes the subject. I bet one major thing he's doing is teaching people to pick up their spouse's bids for attention. Another big predictor of relationship success for him is whether the "four horsemen" of the apocalypse have entered the relationship. One of the horsemen is contempt... I don't remember the others.

I found his previous marriage book slightly flaky. But the one called Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child is purely fascinating.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:12 PM on April 19, 2005

fatllama, I always use "Romeo and Juliet" when I teach calculus or linear algebra. For greater realism I like to include a damping term and show how this causes the spiral of love and hate inevitably to decay exponentially towards indifference...
posted by escabeche at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2005

Darn it! I saw the words "Mathematics of Love" and was so in hopes it was a link to this musical math segment from Square One.
posted by jennanemone at 12:51 PM on April 19, 2005

I wonder if the good doctor would have predicted that marriage #3 would have ended when my future ex-wife threw an entire cooked turkey at my head.

Personally, I would have predicted she threw a salmon at me. Ah, memories....
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2005

Without knowing either party, or a thing about them, I can predict that a new romantic relationship will be over in 3 years and be correct more than 90% of the time...

Not only that, but those same individuals are always very optimistic in the beginning of the relationship and believe the other individual to be an ideal component of their perfect relationship.
posted by angry modem at 2:04 PM on April 19, 2005

Well doesn't that just suck all the fun out of a LTR.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:11 PM on April 19, 2005

The main thing he does is look for signs of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (the "4 horsemen"). People can get angry or even highly confrontational and still stay together lovingly for years, but those seem to be the deal-killing failures to communicate/cope.

The examples he gave in the TAL segment are pretty amazing - especially the one about the "nice shoes" detour in a couple's conversation about one partner's lateness and even more so the stunning example of graceful handling by a gay couple of what for straight people is a total no-go subject.

One of his observations that really struck me was that people who are "trained" to observe interactions and counsel (eg, therapists, but his group has also looked at the way pastors handle marriage counseling) may become so focused on a lock-step approach to concentration on the subject at hand and progress toward some notional resolution that they fail to acknowledge the loving and supportive ways that a couple may evolve to ease each other along through a conflict.
posted by caitlinb at 2:17 PM on April 19, 2005

Well why not ?

But the link page sucks :o ! Both videos seem gone and I've yet to see any equation ..I'm mildly disappointed. BAD BAD advertisting.

Amazon link to sample pages of book
posted by elpapacito at 2:29 PM on April 19, 2005

selfmedicating, I've read Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child and concur that it's a fascinating book. I have it on my desk right now, as a matter of fact. Anyone want it?
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:32 PM on April 19, 2005

Wow, jennanemone, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I saw that phrase and immediately thought "I night..."
posted by oaf at 3:37 PM on April 19, 2005

Eye Eye hearts
were overflowing
Eye Eye Eye words ...

I love that song.
posted by almost incandescent white tuxedos at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2005

Oooooooo - I just recently read Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" and totally loved it. I shall have to check out his latest offering! Interesting stuff.... "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" also sounds interesting. Thanks!
posted by shoppingforsanity at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2005

MrMoonPie: I'll take it.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:59 PM on April 19, 2005

Well doesn't that just suck all the fun out of a LTR.

Not as much as applying an acronym to it.

Right when me and pips first hooked up, I was coming off a rather bizarre breakup with a lesbian, and everybody figured that I was merely rebounding. My best friend even said to somebody, "I give it two months before she's wise to him."

We'll have been together a decade in July. My best freind has been through three girlfreinds since and recently married a fourth woman, with plenty of casual hookups in between. You simply can't predict this shit.
posted by jonmc at 5:18 PM on April 19, 2005

Wow, that was really interesting. Thanks.

If I could become a psychomathematician, I would do it right now.
posted by blacklite at 5:45 PM on April 19, 2005

People would probably have many many fewer relationships if they could all realize how doomed most of them are. I wonder if that would be good or bad. Hmm.
posted by blacklite at 5:51 PM on April 19, 2005

Artioe Shaw, often married, said: when the marriage is over, make two calls. Call your lawyer and call a cab. But before this, many judges will insist that first you try marriage counseling.

Alas, this is seeminbg a total waste of time, as this study in today's NY Times points out:
posted by Postroad at 6:42 PM on April 19, 2005

You got it, leo.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2005

The Four Horsemen

7 principles to make a marriage work

First three minutes of conflict predict divorce

I find it intriguing that the present link says he is investigating domestic violence. Now that he's conquered the basics, he's finding ways that this research can be applied to more pressing matters -- such as saving lives.

As Postroad's link indicates, most therapists -- Gottman now counts himself as formerly among them -- have no real idea what makes relationships work. If a couple has a different conflict style than their therapist, they may indeed be simply wasting time. The energy of a conflict does not correlate directly with the negativity, as anyone who grew up in certain my-big-fat ethnic families can attest.

One of the more interesting tidbits from his studies, in this case the third link, is that since women initiate 4 out of 5 "conflict interactions", it turns out that it's the reaction of the men that is critical. The male shutdown is a bad move, they find.

I'm trying to apply this all to a *cough* something that I'm in right now. The worst of it is that the more I think about what Gottman says, this something is doomed. I'd like to think otherwise, of course.
posted by dhartung at 7:08 PM on April 19, 2005 [2 favorites]

As that great poet Lem once wrote,

"...I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a^2 cos 2 phi!"
posted by kaibutsu at 7:25 PM on April 19, 2005

Another study I read said that couples married for a long time (30+ years) also use a technique of conflict avoidance when the issue is clearly irreconcilable. Maybe she doesn't like his smoking, or he doesn't like her best friend. The conversation will edge toward one of those hot buttons, then back away.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it's not always best to try to discuss and resolve issues openly and honestly blah blah blah. Giving your partner space to do things or act in a way you don't like but can't change is a sign of respect.
posted by mono blanco at 7:28 PM on April 19, 2005

I'm there with you, dhartung.

mono blanco, my sig other and I were far worse off until we gave up expecting each other to become something else. Now of course, is the question whether this other person is close enough to what we want without that (naive) expectation.
posted by dreamsign at 7:34 PM on April 19, 2005

Thank you for that.

gunthersghost, The Public Radio International was a great listen yesterday. I learned a lot from it.
posted by nickerbocker at 8:37 AM on April 20, 2005

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