Can a quick glance tell you if a couple is happy?
It can with older couples. Happy marriage partners grow to look more similar as the years pass.
Couples often start to look alike as they grow older, because one consequence of mimicking a partner’s facial expressions after years of cohabitation is that the repeated use of the same facial muscles means that faces start to look more similar. If one partner smiles in a certain way and the other is likely to copy it, similar patterns of wrinkles and molding of facial muscles will occur. Because empathizing is likely one key to marital bliss, it follows that spouses who look more alike after many years of marriage— because of the mimicking of expressions and mannerisms— should report being happier together. This is exactly what research has found.
In one study, more than one hundred people were shown photographs of men and women in their first year of marriage and then again of the same couples twenty-five years later— on the spouses’ silver wedding anniversary. The researchers went to a lot of effort to remove extraneous information and crop the photos so that only the couples’ faces could be seen. People were asked to judge the physical similarity of the couples.
The researchers found an increase in similarity of appearance over a quarter of a century of marriage. This finding can’t just be explained by the idea that all people generally look more alike as they get older, because when the researchers randomly matched older couples together, they weren’t rated as any more similar than randomly matched younger couples.
To see if the couples who looked most alike at their silver wedding anniversary were really the happiest, the researchers mailed surveys to the couples and asked them to rate their marital satisfaction. Each questionnaire was mailed separately to the husbands and wives to minimize the chance of one spouse influencing the other’s responses. The greater the resemblance increase over the twenty-five years of marriage, the higher the couple’s reported happiness.
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