In Love Be Guided by Your Gut Feeling

I saw him across a crowded room and I thought, he's cute.  So I smiled at him and I guess the rest is history, because we've been married for 20 years (and together for 30).

A new study is making a compelling case for knowing instinctively, immediately, whether you're headed for wedded bliss, or a marriage on the rocks.

Though many are not aware of it, according to newswise.com, ". . .people’s automatic evaluations of their partners predict one of the most important outcomes of their lives — the trajectory of their marital satisfaction,” researchers wrote in a paper published in the Nov. 29 issue of the journal Science.

The study found that "people’s conscious attitudes, or how they said they felt, did not always reflect their gut-level or automatic feelings about their marriage."  More important -- at least to me -- was the second finding. "It was the gut-level feelings, not their conscious ones, that actually predicted how happy they remained over time," newswise. com reports.

“Everyone wants to be in a good marriage,” newswise.com quotes Florida State University's Associate Professor of Psychology James K. McNulty, lead author of the study. “And in the beginning, many people are able to convince themselves of that at a conscious level. But these automatic, gut-level responses are less influenced by what people want to think. You can’t make yourself have a positive response through a lot of wishful thinking.”

Let's face it.  How often do we get an intense rush of feeling about something, sometimes not even knowing where it came from?  It happens to me all the time, and it's usually right.

An experiment conducted during the study involved "flashing a photo of the study participant’s spouse on a computer screen for just one-third of a second followed by a positive word like 'awesome' or 'terrific' or a negative word like 'awful' or 'terrible.' The individuals simply had to press a key on the keyboard to indicate whether the word was positive or negative."

As part of the experiment, the researchers used special software to measure reaction time. "“People who have really positive feelings about their partners are very quick to indicate that words like ‘awesome’ are positive words and very slow to indicate that words like ‘awful’ are negative words," McNulty says at newswise.com.

The researcher went on to say that people with positive gut-level attitudes "were really good at processing positive words but bad at processing negative words when those automatic attitudes were activated." The opposite was also true. When a spouse had negative feelings about their partner that were activated by the brief exposure to the photo, they had a harder time switching gears to process the positive words.

The researchers found, four years later, that the respondents "who unwittingly revealed negative or lukewarm attitudes during the implicit measure reported the most marital dissatisfaction four years later," the Web site notes.

"I think the findings suggest that people may want to attend a little bit to their gut,” McNulty said.

Are we still happily married?  For the most part.  No marriage is perfect, and ours certainly is not.  But we've weathered a lot of rough times, including, on my part, wanting to separate, and today, somehow, we appreciate each other and what we've been through.  Was my gut right, in the end?  Yes.



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