Enduring bonds tend to form in sexual relationships

Couple in bed illustrating that enduring bonds tend to form in sexual relationships[1]

Enduring bonds likely involve reproduction, attachment, and caregiving

It is likely that three basic behavioral systems were involved and may still be characteristic of presentday human sexual pair bonds: the reproductive, attachment, and caregiving systems.

The reproductive system may achieve its functional outcome without an enduring bond being involved.

In the human case it is obvious that mating can occur without a bond forming, but when pair bonding does occur, the caregiving system is likely to be involved, with the male concerned with the care and protection of children either directly, or indirectly through care and protection of his mate, or both. …it makes sense to suppose that the female may also strive to give care to her partner in appropriate ways, if only in acknowledgement of the care she needs from him. Furthermore, various societies tend to foster enduring bonds through marriage customs… thus backing up biological predispositions to ensure that young are cared for and not merely produced.

In the course of a long-term sexual relationship, whether in customary marriage or not, attachment of each partner to the other tends also to be built up, the attachment and caregiving components interacting to make for a reciprocal give-and-take relationship.

Enduring bonds often start with sexual attraction, and later include caregiving and attachment

Although in many cultures sexual attraction may be the most important component at the start of a relationship, those that depend entirely on the sexual component are likely to be short-lived. As the relationship persists, the caregiving and attachment components are likely to become important also and tend to sustain the bond even in cases in which sexual interest has waned.

In many marriages there are components other than the three fundamental components that I have emphasized so far. For example, spouses may be professional or business partners, or they may spend more than the usual time together because they enjoy sharing the same leisure time interests and activities. These and other components of the relationship with the partner in a marriage or quasi-marriage are not essential, however, and may or may not contribute to its persistence over time.

Enduring bonds tend to persist long after a pair is separated

Much of the research into human sexual pair bonds has focused on the break-up of the relationship – with separation or divorce and adjustment afterwards. It is clear that the attachment component is long lasting, tending to persist long after the pair has been parted, and even when the parting was much desired. There is a tendency to miss the partner and to feel lonely.[2]

  1. “You won’t believe how sleeping together or apart can affect your health, relationship.” mid-day.com, 6 Mar. 2017, www.mid-day.com/articles/you-wont-believe-how-sleeping-together-or-apart-can-affect-your-health-relationship/17345199. Accessed 30 May 2017.
  2. Ainsworth, Mary D. Salter. “Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle.” Attachment across the life cycle, edited by Colin Murray Parkes et al, Routledge, 1991, pp. 33-51.

Self-care in marriage makes partners more positive, happy, well, and connected

Ackerman's PPIK theory of intelligence as Process, Personality, Interests, and intelligence as Knowledge illustrates the course of self-care, which, in marriage, makes partners more happy, well, positive, and connected

gp = intelligence-as-process
gk = intelligence-as-knowledge
R = Realistic interests
A = Artistic interests
I = Investigative interests
TIE = Typical Intellectual Engagement
gf = fluid intelligence
gc = crystallized intelligence

Illustration of Ackerman’s PPIK theory, outlining the influences of intelligence-as-Process, Personality, Interests, and intelligence-as-Knowledge during adult development, covering academic and occupational knowledge.

The representation indicates that measured fluid intelligence (Gf) develops out of intelligence-as-process (gp), and that measured crystallized intelligence (Gc) develops out of (or is a consequence of) intelligence-as-knowledge (gk).

Interests (Realistic, Investigative, and Artistic) and personality traits (Openness and TIE) are influenced by intelligence to some degree, and in turn, influence knowledge.

Self-care in marriage keeps partners taking small steps that add up

…many intellectually demanding tasks in the real world cannot be accomplished without a vast repertoire of declarative knowledge and procedural skills. The brightest (in terms of IQ) novice would not be expected to fare well when performing cardiovascular surgery in comparison to the middle-aged expert, just as the best entering college student cannot be expected to deliver a flawless doctoral thesis defense, in comparison to the same student after several years of academic study and empirical research experience. In this view, knowledge does not compensate for a declining adult intelligence; it is intelligence!

Moreover, the importance of personality and interests as determinants of the direction and amount of effort expended in the acquisition and maintenance of intelligence-as-knowledge should not be underestimated. Small correlations at the micro-level, when aggregated as influence over time…, may help us predict and understand why some adults continue to acquire knowledge in particular areas and others do not.[1]

Self-care in marriage lets partners build optimism 

Explanatory style is the habitual way in which people explain the bad events that befall them… Three dimensions of these explanations are of interest: stability versus instability, globality versus specificity, and internality versus externality.

A stable cause invokes a long-lasting factor (“it’s never going to go away”), whereas an unstable cause is transient (“it was a one-time thing”).

A global cause is one that affects a wide domain of activities (“it’s going to ruin everything I do”), whereas a specific cause is circumscribed (“it has no bearing on my life”).

Finally, an internal cause points to something about the self (“it’s me”), whereas an external cause points to other people or circumstances (“it’s the heat in this place”).

Pessimistic explanatory style (the belief that bad events are caused by stable, global, and internal factors) predicted poor health at ages 45 through 60, even when physical and mental health at age 25 were controlled. Pessimism in early adulthood appears to be a risk factor for poor health in middle and late adulthood.[2]

Self-care in marriage makes partners more happy and well

The seven protective factors that distinguish the happy-well from the sad-sick are under at least some personal control.

Self-care increases happiness and wellness

Odds ratios of happy-well to sad-sick or dead 
Variable College men age 75-80 Core-city men age 65-70
No alcohol abuse very high 4.56 to 1
Without depressive diagnosis 10.4 to 1 3.51 to 1
Smoking <30 pack-years 4.81 to 1 4.56 to 1
Some regular exercise 3.09 to 1 unknown
Body mass index >21 and <29 3.05 to 1 1.71 to 1
Mature defenses 2.65 to 1 2.98 to 1
Stable marriage 1.94 to 1 2.75 to 1
Parental social class 1.46 to 1 1.12 to 1
Education unknown 0.86 to 1
Ancestral longevity 1.00 to 1 1.00 to 1
Warmth of childhood 0.98 to 1 0.99 to 1
Childhood temperament 0.92 to 1 1.10 to 1


Self-care in marriage makes partners more positive and connected

To be well psychologically is more than to be free of distress or other mental problems. It is to possess positive self-regard, mastery, autonomy, positive relationships with other people, a sense of purposefulness and meaning in life, and feelings of continued growth and development.[4]

  1. Ackerman, Phillip L. “Domain-Specific Knowledge as the “Dark Matter” of Adult Intelligence: Gf/Gc, Personality and Interest Correlates.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 55.2 (2000): P69-P84.
  2. Peterson, Christopher, Martin E. P. Seligman, and George E. Vaillant. “Pessimistic Explanatory Style Is a Risk Factor for Physical Illness: A Thirty-Five-Year Longitudinal Study.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55.1 (1988): 23-27.
  3. Vaillant, George E., and Kenneth Mukamal. “Successful Aging.American Journal of Psychiatry 158.6 (2001): 839-847.
  4. Ryff, Carol D. “Psychological Well-Being in Adult Life.Current Directions in Psychological Science 4.4 (1995): 99-104.

Alcoholism is biggest factor in divorce in 75-year study

Long-term marirages were mostly free of alcoholism.
A lifelong study began with privileged people

This… is about how a group of men adapted themselves to life and adapted their lives to themselves. It is also about the Grant Study, now seventy-five years old, out of which this story came.

The first subjects were 64 carefully chosen sophomores from the all-male Harvard College classes of 1939, 1940, and 1941, who took part in an intensive battery of tests and interviews. That first group was joined by sophomores from the next three Harvard classes…

Marriages provided few clues at first

In 1977 I handed in the manuscript of Adaptation to Life. My editor at Little, Brown, Lewellen Howland, took issue with my contention that divorce was a serious indicator of poor mental health, and suggested gently, “George, it is not that divorce is bad; it is that loving people for a long time is good.” I liked his sentiment, but I didn’t believe him, despite the fact that I myself was in a happy second marriage at age forty. (We’re all the exceptions to our own rules.)

The numbers I’d been working with for the previous ten years didn’t look promising at all. By 1967, seventeen men had divorced. By 1973, fourteen of them had been remarried for longer than a year. Of those fourteen second marriages, eight had already ended in divorce again—you’ll hear about two of those in a little while—and four more showed weaknesses that kept them securely out of the good marriage category. In other words, of the fourteen remarriages, only two looked to be anything like happy, and they were still too new to be trusted. Louie’s a romantic, I thought. All I have to do is wait for thirty years and I’ll be able to show him his error.

Fifteen years later I was still right and Howland was still wrong. When I checked marital history against the best and worst Adult Adjustment Outcome determinations that I had established for that 1977 book, all of the fifty-five Best Outcomes had gotten married relatively early and stayed married for most of their adult lives. (And by the time those men were eighty-five, we learned later, only one marriage had ended in divorce.) In contrast, among the seventy-eight Worst Outcomes, five had never married, and by seventy-five years of age, thirty-five (45 percent) of the marriages had ended in divorce. Proportionately three times as many of the Best Adjusted men enjoyed lifelong happy marriages as the Worst Adjusted.

But as the first decade of the twenty-first century wound to a close, the men were well into their eighties and the Study was still going strong. And so were a bunch of second marriages. I could no longer get away with my flippant dismissal of Louie’s rebuke. I was also intrigued by a growing sense that as the men got older they talked about their marriages differently. So in 2010, after many years of concentrating mostly on aging, I took another look at marriage. This time I was armed with a great deal of information about alcohol use among the men and their wives (which I’ll detail in Chapter 9). And it turned out that Lewellen Howland was a very wise man.

Once again, the long picture was quite different from the shorterterm one. Not about everything. At eighty-five, twenty-six of the twenty-eight men with consistently happy first marriages reported that their marriages remained happy. Marriages that had been poor to start with tended to remain that way, whether they endured without divorce for fifty years or ended, still unhappy, in death. Of the thirty surviving men who had had unhappy marriages between twenty and eighty years of age, only five reported happy marriages after eighty. Four of these were new marriages, undertaken after the first wife had died. None of this was very startling (with the exception of the fifth husband’s mysterious report that he and his wife were “still in love, mutually dependent and the best of friends”). But it was very startling, to me at least, that twenty-three of the twenty-seven surviving divorced and remarried men reported that their current marriages were happy—and had been for an average length of thirty-three years!

68 years in, a new factor in divorce emerged – alcoholism

What magic had occurred in those final years to shed such a different light on the early statistics? None. It was just that a new calculation had cleared away a lot of obscuring underbrush. On second thought, though, maybe it was magic after all—the magic of lifetime study.

…the single most important factor in the Grant Study divorces was alcoholism; thirty-four of the divorces—57 percent—had occurred when at least one spouse was abusing alcohol.

…it looked very much as though alcoholism in a marriage often caused not only the divorce, but also the failed relationships, the poor coping style, and the evidence of shaky mental health.

Alcoholism is still, arguably, the most ignored causal factor in modern social science, and it took the Grant Study sixty-eight years to notice that it was the most important cause of failed marriage.[1]

  1. Vaillant, George E. Triumphs of experience. Harvard University Press, 2012.