W. Brad Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, offered students tips on Tuesday for finding successful marriages, which he said are vital to achieving personal happiness.
In a True Love Week event in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Wilcox told a group of about 15 students Tuesday that marriage is often a more potent contributor to happiness than educational attainment or economic stability. But he said society often neglects to prepare young adults for courtship and marriage, leaving them “clueless and confused.”
“Marriage is especially challenging because there are no institutional rules to guide people through courtship and within marriage,” he said.
Wilcox, who teaches psychology at the University of Virginia, said commitment to both a partner and the institution of marriage itself leads to security, fidelity and “sexual bliss.”
In searching for a partner, Wilcox recommended that people avoid “stonewallers” who retreat from conflict and “naggers” who are too quick to criticize. He also suggested that young people not rely on “the physical and romantic rush,” which “will not last and will not sustain through the challenges of marriage.” Instead, couples should seek “homogamy,” or shared interests and values.
“You want to think about the one you want to spend a long afternoon with when you’re old and wrinkly,” he said.
He advised students against cohabitation before marriage, since he said it is linked to a higher risk of divorce and conflict, he said. Cohabiting partners often are “not on the same page” because they live together with different motives, he said, and also develop an “easy come, easy go” attitude that undermines commitment. Other couples view cohabitation as a premarital test drive, but this “consumer mindset” of constant evaluation hurts marriage, he said.
He said casual sex with multiple partners is associated with higher risk of depression for women, adding that depression may make women more likely to seek multiple partners.
Sex in marriage, as opposed to casual sex, is most likely to lead to sexual satisfaction and is more likely to be “emotionally safe,” he said.
“What happens outside the bedroom influences what happens inside the bedroom,” he said.
Delaying marriage may also lead to unhappiness, he said. Studies show the happiest marriages occur between ages 23 and 28 because adults have matured enough without being too set in their ways, he said, and marrying earlier also reduces the chance of moving between relationships, preventing cynicism that may hurt the marriage.
Once people find a partner, he said generosity, commitment, shared faith and quality time are the top predictors for marital happiness, Wilcox said.
Still, while Wilcox said marriage is key for happiness, he said relying on one’s spouse for happiness burdens marriage with high expectations. Believing in an external source “larger than oneself,” such as God, reduces the pressure on the relationship, he said.
Grace Hirshorn ’15, who attended the talk, said she thought Wilcox offered “practical tips” that can be applied to all types of relationships.
“So many of us will end up married, so it’s important for us to keep these things in the back of our minds,” she said.
But Travis Heine ’14 said the presentation relied too heavily on statistics and “lacked rhetorical force.”
True Love Week, sponsored by Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, is holding seven events between Feb. 5-14 as an alternative to Sex Week 2012, which is running from Feb. 4-14.