Month: August 2014

Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)

I Married My Father

I Married My Father

The research is thin on this point, but it appears many of us bond to partners whose attachment style (and other characteristics) reprise dramas from the family we grew up in. It’s often observed that many people end up married to people who remind them of the opposite-sex parent, and the attraction of the same psychological signalling games we used with our caregivers when we were children is that it is comforting and familiar, and confirms our sense of ourselves.

This is why we observe the outsize number and surprising stability (if not happiness) of Anxious-Preoccupied and Dismissive-Avoidant pairings. [For review, read “Attachment Type Combinations in Relationships.”]

The Anxious-Preoccupied would be wise to look for a Secure partner who can help build security and likely make for a happier marriage [quoting from my book]:

The preoccupied wife who had ambivalent attachment to her parent cannot believe her husband when he says, despite their fights and mutual dissatisfactions, that he genuinely loves her and wants to stay with her. She cannot assimilate it to her worldview, her internal model. She is sure he will abandon her, either because he already wants to or because her impossible and anxious neediness will eventually drive him out. But his steadfastness over the years builds her trust. It causes her to remember her relationship with a great uncle, whose love was precious and unwavering, and to think more and more about him and how good she felt about herself around him. Gradually, she assimilates her marriage to this model, and it becomes more central. Feeling more secure, she now finds herself freer to reflect on the past. — Karen, Robert. Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 404

Though is appears a preoccupied person might be better off with a secure partner, some research indicates that in this case opposites attract:

A number of studies have looked into the question of whether we are attracted to people based on their attachment style or ours. Two researchers in the field of adult attachment, Paula Pietromonaco, of the University of Massachusetts, and Katherine Carnelley, of the University of Southampton in the UK, found that avoidant individuals actually prefer anxiously attached people. Another study, by Jeffry Simpson of the University of Minnesota, showed that anxious women are more likely to date avoidant men. Is it possible, then, that people who guard their independence with ferocity would seek the partners most likely to impinge on their autonomy? Or that people who seek closeness are attracted to people who want to push them away? And if so, why? Pietromonaco and Carnelley believe that these attachment styles actually complement each other in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again. — Levine, Amir; Heller, Rachel. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. p. 91

This kind of complementary dysfunction can lead to a stable relationship, but one where both partners stay in their insecure styles, with the preoccupied battling for every scrap of attention and the avoidant one only giving enough to confirm his view of attachment as a necessary evil. These attractions are based on re-enacting the dysfunctional touch and response cycles of their early childhoods, and generally these couples report they are together despite their unhappiness.

An interesting post by Peg Streep on the Psychology Today blogs (“Why Your Partner May Be Like Your Parent”) goes into more depth on “replaying old family patterns:”

Perhaps nothing is as disheartening as the discovery—after years of trying to escape from your dysfunctional childhood—that you have actually managed to recreate it. One woman, the daughter of a hypercritical and demanding mother, recently talked with me about her recently-ended, two-decades-long marriage:

“I still have issues with feeling capable and doing things right. Unfortunately, I married my mother and was never able to feel competent in my husband’s eyes, either. I also never really felt loved by him, in the same way I didn’t feel loved by my mother.”

A man emailed me recently with similar concerns:

“On the surface, my wife and my mother have nothing in common. My wife is petite and blonde, well-educated, polished, and sophisticated; my brunette and big-boned mother is none of those things. But they both criticize me constantly. Nothing I ever did was good enough for my mother because my older brother was perfect. My wife rules the roost with a dissatisfied look on her face which is depressing and familiar.”

A study by Glenn Geher suggests that we do tend to choose a romantic partner who is similar to our opposite-sex parent. In his research, he not only asked participants to self-report on how their romantic partners were like their opposite-sex parents across various categories—he actually interviewed the parents as well. The shared characteristics he discovered between his subjects’ partners and their opposite-sex parents were robust, and not merely coincidental. Needless to say, when romantic partners were like parents in good ways, relationship satisfaction was high; when the similarities were related to negative characteristics, however, relationship satisfaction was low.

When we meet someone new, it’s not just our unconscious models that are in the room or at the bar; there are conscious assessments, too. So the question remains: How do we end up marrying Mom if she’s been critical, unavailable or unloving? That’s exactly what Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley asked: How do insecurely attached people attract mates? After all, we all want a securely attached partner—one who’s emotionally available, loving, supportive, dependable—not an insecure or clingy one, or someone who’s detached and uncommunicative. How do we get roped in?

The researchers suggested that what happens is a combination of misreading by one partner and a fair amount of strategizing and even dissembling by the insecure partner. They point out that anxiously attached people may seem fascinating at first—their preoccupation with themselves may easily be confused with self-disclosure and openness, which facilitates a sense of connection. Similarly, an avoidant person may come across as independent and strong. In a series of experiments, the team discovered that avoidants—despite the fact that they don’t want emotional connection—actually made lots of eye contact and used touch more than securely attached people to seem more appealing in a dating situation. Avoidants use humor in dating situations to create a sense of sharing and detract from their essential aloofness. Although the researchers didn’t use Bartholomew’s distinction between fearful and dismissing avoidant types, it’s clear that the fearful avoidant—who both wants and fears emotional connection—would be the hardest to read and identify. Eventually, though, the leopard will show his spots.


More reading on “bad attractors” in relationships that lead people to choose replays of dysfunctional family patterns and bad relationships over good ones:

Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Dating Pool Danger: Harder to Find Good Partners After 30
“The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
And this one on malignant narcissists, who often attract sensitive, empathetic partners who enable them: Malignant Narcissists
Dismissive-Avoidants as Parents

Subconscious Positivity Predicts Marriage Success…

Happy Couple - shutterstock

Happy Couple – shutterstock

..and conversely, negativity predicts turmoil and failure. In attachment type terms, both avoidant types (Dismissive-Avoidant and Fearful-Avoidant) have a negative view of attached others in general, while Secure and Anxious-Preoccupied types are positive about others.

The Wall Street Journal reports on an experiment which measures newlywed’s subconscious attitudes about their partners and found those with negative subconscious attitudes experienced a faster decline in marital satisfaction over time:

First off, they found that ratings of marital satisfaction declined over time, something reported previously. They also learned that the [written test] answers from newlyweds predicted nothing about marital satisfaction four years later.

But the scientists also measured something else in those newlyweds, using an “associative priming task.”

This involves briefly flashing a series of words like “wonderful” or “odious” on a screen; subjects have to quickly press one of two buttons, depending on whether the word has positive or negative connotations.

Now comes the subconscious manipulation.

Just before each word, the researchers flashed up a picture of a random face for an instant—300 milliseconds—too fast for people to be consciously certain about what they saw but enough time for our subconscious, emotional brain circuitry to be certain. If the face evokes positive feelings, the brain immediately takes on something akin to a positive mind-set; if the word flashed up an instant later is a positive one, the brain quickly detects it as such. But if the word is negative, there is an instant of subconscious dissonance—”I was feeling great, but now I have to think about that word that means ‘inconsiderate jerk who doesn’t replace the toilet paper.’ ” And it takes a few milliseconds longer to hit the “negative” key. Conversely, display faces with negative connotations, and there is that dissonance-induced minuscule delay in identifying positive terms.

So in the study, the rapid-fire sequence of faces/words included a picture of one’s new spouse, revealing automatic feelings about the person’s beloved. That led to the key finding: The more subconscious negativity in a newlywed, the larger the decline in marital satisfaction four years later.

Did subjects understand what the priming task was about? No, and people’s automatic responses were unrelated to their answers on the questionnaire. Was that discrepancy due to an unwillingness to answer honestly, or were people unaware of their automatic attitudes? It is impossible to tell. Did people with the most positive automatic feelings about their spouses subsequently develop fewer problems in their marriages, or were they less sensitive to the usual number of problems? Subtle data analysis suggested the latter.

What does this study tell us, beyond suggesting that lovebirds should probably take this nifty computerized test before marrying? It reminds us, like much we learn about the brain and behavior, that we are subject to endless, internal biological forces of which we are unaware.

The original Science writeup is here.


More on Divorce, Marriage, and Mateseeking

Marriages Happening Late, Are Good for You
Monogamy and Relationship Failure; “Love Illuminated”
“Millionaire Matchmaker”
More reasons to find a good partner: lower heart disease!
“Princeton Mom” Susan Patton: “Marry Smart” not so smart
“Blue Valentine”
“All the Taken Men are Best” – why women poach married men….
“Marriage Rate Lowest in a Century”
Making Divorce Hard to Strengthen Marriages?
Student Loan Debt: Problems in Divorce
“The Upside of ‘Marrying Down’”
The High Cost of Divorce
Separate Beds Save Marriages?
Marital Discord Linked to Depression
Marriage Contracts: Give People More Legal Options
Older Couples Avoiding Marriage For Financial Reasons
Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Vox Charts Millennial Marriage Depression
What’s the Matter with Marriage?
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
Constant Arguing Can Be Deadly…
“If a fraught relationship significantly shortens your life, are you better off alone?
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
“It’s up there with ‘Men Are From Mars’ and ‘The Road Less Travelled’”
Free Love, eHarmony, Matchmaking Pseudoscience
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
“The New ‘I Do’”
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Mark Manson’s “Six Healthy Relationship Habits”
“The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications
Free Dating Sites: Which Have Attachment Type Screening?
Dating Pool Danger: Harder to Find Good Partners After 30
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
Perfect Soulmates or Fellow Travelers: Being Happy Depends on Perspective
No Marriage, Please: Cohabiting Taking Over
“Marriage Markets” – Marriage Beyond Our Means?
Rules for Relationships: Realism and Empathy
Limerence vs. Love
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
When to Break Up or Divorce? The Economic View
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
“Sliding” Into Marriage, Small Weddings Associated with Poor Outcomes
Subconscious Positivity Predicts Marriage Success…
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)

More “50 Shades of Grey” Pseudoscience Reporting

Fifty Shades of Grey cover

“Fifty Shades of Grey” cover

Perhaps it’s not really “pseudoscience” — which connotes the promotion of definitely false beliefs — but “junk science,” where research studies are done by academics who cloak themselves in the authority of Science but actually commit logical fallacies in promoting their work to appear to confirm the beliefs they already hold about the world.

My earlier post, “Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!”, reporting on the feminist junk science study trying to associate 50 Shades of Grey with anorexia and abusive relationships has company in two much-more-detailed critiques in Psychology Today blogs. Both are worth reading in full, but I’ll quote some points. First, we have this piece by Robert James King, Ph.D.:

Let’s start with the so-called eating disorders. What was actually measured? Two things.

Q1 “Have you ever fasted for a day (or more)?”

and

Q2 “Have you ever used diet aids?”

That’s the lot. No. Calling the use of diet aids an eating disorder is just scare-mongering. These people didn’t have eating disorders—at least not that we know of. I could have got the same results by dividing the group into “gym members” and “non-gym members”

The binge-drinking measure (“Having 5 or more drinks on 6 or more days in the last month”) was technically correct. For doctors, five or more drinks is a binge. For most of us—it’s a quiet night in—but let’s pass over that one to the juicy stuff, “risky sexual practices”.

The criteria the authors use for prevalence of risky sexual practices were two:

Q1: “Have you had five or more sexual partners?”

Q2: “Have you ever had anal sex?”

Really? Boy, you young people! These are the criteria for risky sexuality? ….

Running a bunch of correlations without having any controls is a thing that we scientists call (and stop me if I’m getting too technical here) “Not doing science”.

Let’s say I have a hunch that there is a nefarious plot that links people who have been killed by falling out of bed and the number of lawyers in Puerto Rico. It correlates .96 over twelve years—I bet you didn’t know that. Well, how could you? It’s a plot by Puerto-Rican Lawyers…

Well, I can search around for some correlations—but all this really tells the world is that I am obsessed with Puerto Rican lawyers (for some reason). (3) That’s why scientist control for certain factors. Here are some possible ones that don’t seem to have occurred to the authors:

Did their sample read other books? Other erotic books? Do they even have sexual partners? Have they ever had sex at all?

Here’s the thing—if you build in your assumptions at the start (that kink is bad) then maybe you can find a correlation there. Without controls all the authors have done is import their moralising and attached some numbers to it.

The next piece is by Jen Kim (who has read the books!):

“The study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books.”

Lead researcher Amy Bonomi says it’s a potential problem either way, but I have to disagree.

The distinction is quite important, because one interpretation suggests that girls who read the book already have a proclivity for certain behaviors, while the other suggests that the book creates such behaviors.

As a reader of two (!) out of the three books by E.L. James, I have a difficult time seeing the latter case.

Ana Steele, the dimwitted ingénue of the story, chooses to participate in a consensual S&M relationship with handsome stalker, Christian Grey. As far as I can recall, she enjoys (or is at least, open) to this arrangement. Furthermore, Christian has more of a predilection for physical spanking than verbal abuse, right?
For some reason, Ana forgets to eat. It is certainly never implied that she is purposely trying to lose weight or suffers from an eating disorder. The girl just doesn’t like to eat.

I haven’t read the third book, but I believe Ana gets drunk once in the first book (to the point of getting sick) and then gets tipsy a few more times. How does this behavior differ from any other 21 year old’s?
Ana’s only sexual partner was and is Christian, which hardly makes her as promiscuous as this study claims its readers to be….

A lot of this criticism is reminiscent of the blowback against violent video games and films like The Matrix in the wake of the Columbine shooting. Keanu’s kung-fu skills were to blame, not the shooters’ mental health or upbringing.

But, a recent study from the University of Oxford, The University of Rochester and the company Immersyve, has found that playing so-called violent video games (e.g., Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto) do not give rise to real-world aggression.

Previous post on topic: Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!


For more on pop culture:

“Game of Thrones” and the Problem of PowerThe Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family

Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!

Fifty Shades of Grey cover

“Fifty Shades of Grey” cover

Not really.

Echoing the previous post, we have here a “study” that tells us that young women who have certain tendencies are more likely to have read 50 Shades of Grey. The study authors (as reported in Science Daily) try very hard to make it sound like reading the book causes anorexia and abuse [my annotations in brackets]:

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners. All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator. And while the study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, it’s a potential problem either way, she said. [Ed. note: By “problem” she means “pay me to study bad literature and develop a censorship agenda.”]

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading ‘Fifty Shades’ might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” said Bonomi, chairperson and professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

“Likewise, if they read ‘Fifty Shades’ before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.” [Possible but unlikely.]

The study, which appears in the Journal of Women’s Health, [which apparently has very low standards] is one of the first to investigate the relationship between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women. [Pioneers in finding problems that don’t exist.] Past [ideology-driven] research has tied watching violent television programs to real-life violence and antisocial behaviors, as well as reading glamour magazines to being obsessed with body image.

The researchers studied more than 650 women aged 18-24, a prime period for exploring greater sexual intimacy in relationships, Bonomi said. Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.

Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime. [This is some evil book! The public health consequences are so severe, we must consider censoring all popular entertainment that might hurt young women.]

Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life. However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship. Toward that end, Bonomi said parents and educators should engage kids in constructive conversations about sexuality, body image and gender role expectations — and that these conversations start as early as grade school. [Nobody’s been talking about any of those things with kids. Uh-huh.]

A previous study led by Bonomi found that “Fifty Shades” perpetuated the problem of violence against women. [Another unsupported conclusion which will now be cited as fact by feminist “scholars” — “studies show….”]


For more on pop culture:

“Game of Thrones” and the Problem of PowerThe Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family