Social scientists for the past few decades have been trying to determine just how important a person’s attractiveness is in determining the success of a relationship such as marriage. It turns out to be more important than the conventional wisdom suggests; at least for the men!
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology last month reports on the marital satisfaction of 450 newlywed couples over a 4-year time period. It turns out that a wife’s physical attractiveness has more of an effect on marital satisfaction than the physical attractiveness of the husband. It seems to support the conventional wisdom that a partner’s looks matter more to a man than to a woman. From the abstract (emphasis added):
Whereas husbands were more satisfied at the beginning of the marriage and remained more satisfied over the next 4 years to the extent that they had an attractive wife, wives were no more or less satisfied initially or over the next 4 years to the extent that they had an attractive husband. […] partner physical attractiveness played a larger role in predicting husbands’ satisfaction than predicting wives’ satisfaction. These findings strengthen support for the idea that sex differences in self-reported preferences for physical attractiveness do have implications for long-term relationship outcomes.
It’s interesting to read that the man’s attractiveness has no bearing on whether or not the wife is satisfied with her marriage, so what is contributing to her satisfaction? An article about a study done at the Relationship Institute at UCLA a few years ago may provide some insight (emphasis added).
“The [less attractive] husbands seemed to be basically more committed, more invested in pleasing their wives when they felt that they were getting a pretty good deal. Because for men, the attractiveness of their wives is part of the deal,” said Karney, who is also an adjunct behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation.
“For women, that’s not part of the deal. The deal that women get isn’t being with an attractive man. It’s being with a protective man, or a wealthy man, or an ambitious man, or even a sensitive man. So they didn’t care as much about the appearance of their husbands.”
Essentially, this means that the more beautiful the wife is compared to the husband, the more the husband wants to invest in the relationship. The design of the experiment was interesting. Married couples were asked to discuss an issue that would have a profound impact on their marriage relationship while being secretly videotaped. The husbands of the more attractive wives were more open to discussions of those issues while men who were more attractive than their wives weren’t as engaging.
It’s no secret the men desire beauty in their partners. It was often a visual indicator that the woman was young and healthy enough to conceive and bear his children so this feature tended to get selected as our human ancestors evolved and perpetuated the species. Beauty was also a scarce commodity so a man that succeeded in obtaining such a woman probably considered himself fortunate and wouldn’t want to lose it. Particularly, if having such a beautiful partner raised his status among his peers or within the community. So men had an incentive and hence a desire to invest in the relationship if his partner was beautiful. As the experiment from UCLA has shown, men are more engaging in such relationships. This causes the woman to feel that her man is “there for her” and is interested in her well-being so her satisfaction with the relationship increases causing the man to stay invested because he’s getting a return on that investment. We can see a self-reinforced cycle of marital satisfaction if this is the case.
These studies dovetail very nicely into another study from the University of Tennessee
that I wrote about when discussing obesity in American women
. The University of Tennessee reported that marital satisfaction was higher among couples when the BMI of the woman was lower than that of her husband. Since healthy BMI is considered more beautiful, this study is basically saying the same thing. It’s just using a different metric.
The conventional wisdom, happy wife, happy life may still be true, but probably for a different reason than one might expect. Based on these studies, a wife is happy because she is simply mirroring her husband’s happiness.
This is nothing but good news for men who are seeking brides in Russia and the FSU. Men are in the foreign bride pursuit looking for a beautiful wife (among other qualities I would hope). There’s also the likelihood that when she immigrates to the USA, she’ll be completely dependent on her American husband to get established and acclimated to her new surroundings and customs. A man who’s completely engaged and devoted to making such a transition as smooth and comfortable as possible will likely reap huge dividends in terms of marital satisfaction because the RW sees him as being more invested in the relationship.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a man needs to get the RW who’s the perfect 10 in the looks department. It also doesn’t mean that a man’s appearance isn’t important initially because if a girl doesn’t know him well, then his looks and appearance is all she has to go on. She would just need to be better looking than he is, so a strong marriage to a RW is very likely for the men willing to make the investment. How much is your happiness worth?