Valentine’s Day Stereotypes

February 14, 2013

Much of the power (i.e., commercial profit) surrounding Valentine’s Day is driven by stereotypes. These stereotypes allow us to simplify the world and ignore the complexity surrounding couples. Although every other commercial recently tells us that every woman in America wants flowers, chocolate, and jewelry for Valentine’s Day, the truth is more complex and probably less sexy. As a scientist, it is my job to look past stereotypes and try and make sense of the complexity. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are two common stereotypes surrounding couples that are in reality much more complex then they appear.

Moving in together while dating (cohabitation) is commonly thought to improve chances in marriage and to ward off divorce. The raw truth is that research just does not support this [1]. The work of Manning and Cohen did not find differences in marital instability (i.e., divorce) between those that cohabitated before marriage and those that did not, but just as important, they did not find any support for any benefit for cohabitating. A second team of researchers looking at cohabitating had a more negative view [2]. Rhoades and colleagues found that when couples move from dating to cohabitating, the quality of their relationship fell. They also talk about how the decrease was coupled with increased barriers to breaking off the relationship, potentially leading to unhappy marriages and divorces. Speaking of divorces, several of the scientists here at the Oregon Social Learning Center [3] have looked at the rate of cohabitation after divorce, hinting at how strong the belief in the benefit of cohabitating is.

Another common stereotype surrounding couples deals with intimate partner violence (i.e., domestic violence) and the belief that intimate partner violence is a problem of men being violent toward women. There is a lot of controversy sounding intimate partner violence in the scientific community, [4] and researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center are on the cutting edge of this research [5, 6]. In the last decade, research has moved away from focusing on women as the victim and on to the problem as an issue of the couple. Research has shown that for many couples, partners (whether male or female) are equally aggressive toward each other. The issue of intimate partner violence is not in any way settled, but the stereotypes are falling away as the real complexity of aggression in couples is explored.

1. Manning, W.D. and J.A. Cohen, Premarital cohabitation and marital dissolution: An examination of recent marriages.Journal of Marriage and Family, 2012. 74(2): p. 377-387.
2. Rhoades, G.K., S.M. Stanley, and H.J. Markman, The impact of the transition to cohabitation on relationship functioning: Cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 2012. 26(3): p. 348.
3. Anderson, E.R., et al., Ready to Take a Chance Again: Transitions into Dating Among Divorced Parents. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 2004. 40: p. 61-75.
4. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Controversies Involving Gender and Intimate Partner Violence in the United States. Sex Roles, 2010. 62(3-4): p. 179-193.
5. Capaldi, D.M. and H.K. Kim, Typological approaches to violence in couples: A critique and alternative conceptual approach. Clinical Psychology Review, 2007. 27(3): p. 253-265.
6. Capaldi, D. and J. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Informing Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Efforts: Dyadic, Developmental, and Contextual Considerations. Prevention Science, 2012. 13(4): p. 323-328.