We’ve all heard couples tell stories of how they met, but the way they tell those stories could predict whether they’ll stay together. Tara Parker-Pope is the author of For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. She says that the actual details of your personal story aren’t as important as the way you and your spouse tell it. That's because relationship experts can find clues in your story telling about the state of your relationship today, and whether trouble lies ahead.
What makes the ‘how-we-met’ story so important? Normally, the early days of a relationship are the most romantic and love-struck. Brain scans of people in this stage of their relationship look like those of people who’re crazy or on drugs. Critical thinking is shut down, and we don’t care about obvious flaws like that your boyfriend lives in a filthy apartment. Instead, we’re dizzy and exhilarated by love, and every memory of that time is affected by that feeling. As long as we stay happy in our relationship, we’ll recall those early days with the same love-struck enthusiasm. However, when things go south, our perception shifts and we start to focus on all those flaws we’d previously ignored or accepted.
Spouses in happy marriages talk about their early days with humor, warmth, and nostalgia – even when the subject includes hard times and financial struggles. However, those in bad marriages tell their stories with a negative slant. For example, in telling the story of the first time a wife visited her future husband’s apartment, she could say something like, ‘The place was a wreck! Socks everywhere, empty beer bottles. It was definitely a bachelor pad.’ Or she could remember it like this: ‘It was disgusting. Even back then, he was a complete slob.’ It’s the same story about the same messy apartment, told two different ways, but it’s clear which wife is happier in her relationship. So the next time someone asks you how you two met – listen to the way you tell the story – or the way your partner does. If it’s not being told with good-natured humor and affection – you may want to see a marriage counselor.