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Extreme Marriage Experiment Suggests It’s Better to Be Right Than Happy

A husband was asked to agree with everything his wife said for research purposes, but the study had to be called off after 12 days because it was proving so harmful to the marriage

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A New Zealand man who was asked by scientists to agree with everything his wife said had to call off the experiment after 12 days because it was proving so harmful to his mental health.

The study was set up to examine the old marriage advice about whether it’s more important to be happy or to be right. Couples therapists sometimes suggest that in a bid to avoid constant arguments, spouses weigh up whether pressing the point is worth the misery of marital discord. The researchers, who are doctors and professors at the University of Auckland, noticed that many of their patients were adding stress to their lives by insisting on being right, even when it worked against their well-being.

So they found a couple who were willing to record their quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10. They told the man, who wanted to be happy more than right, about the purpose of the study and asked him to agree with every opinion and request his wife had without complaint, even when he profoundly didn’t agree. The wife was not informed of the purpose of the study and just asked to record her quality of life. The results were published in BMJ, albeit in the esteemed publication’s lighthearted Christmas issue.

(MORE: This Test Can Determine if Your Marriage Will Last)

Things went rapidly downhill for the couple. The man’s quality-of-life scores fell, from 7 to 3, over the course of the experiment. The wife’s scores rose modestly, from 8 to 8.5, before she became hostile to the idea of recording the scores. Rather than causing harmony, the husband’s agreeableness led to the wife becoming increasingly critical of what he did and said (in the husband’s opinion). After 12 days he broke down, made his wife a cup of tea (New Zealand is, after all, a Commonwealth country), and explained the experiment. At this point the Data Safety Monitoring Committee, as the researchers called it, stopped the study because of “severe adverse outcomes.”

“This was a genuine piece of research where we hoped that both parties would be happy as part of one person agreeing with everything the other said,” says the study’s chief author, Dr. Bruce Arroll, who seems to have a pretty well-developed sense of humor. “We thought that we would find a method of creating marital bliss (and probably a Nobel Prize if we had succeeded).”

The researchers concluded, shockingly, that humans need to be right and acknowledged as right, at least some of the time, to be happy. In politics, people often note that there can be no peace without justice, and that’s true of the domestic sphere as well. The researchers also noted that this was further proof that if given too much power, humans tend to “assume the alpha position and, as with chimpanzees, they become very aggressive and dangerous.”

(MORE: The Key to Happy Relationships? It’s Not All About Communication)

Obviously the results are to be taken with extreme caution, since this was just one couple with who-knows-what underlying issues beforehand. But Arroll maintains that the question of happiness vs. rightness, theoretically, could be settled by scientific inquiry with a wider sample. “This would include a randomized controlled trial,” he says. “However we would be reluctant to do the definitive study because of the concern about divorce or homicide.”

The couple, whose identity is confidential, have reconciled and are even now hopefully having healthy and constructive arguments about whether the husband was right to agree to the experiment.

10 comments
Phlunked
Phlunked

This was one couple with their own unique chemistry. There is no way this is Scientific, at all. 

JoAnneSchmitz
JoAnneSchmitz

Too bad no one on staff realized this is a joke article.  Others featured on that website include one about what candies get left over in medical wards. 

They make it clear in the section, Strengths and Weaknesses:

"The study has some limitations. There was no trial registration, no ethics committee approval, no informed consent, no proper randomisation, no validated test instrument, and questionable statistical assessment. We used the eyeball technique for single patient trials which, as Sackett says, “more closely matches the way we think as clinicians."

RobSimpson
RobSimpson

Makes no sense about why this article question ed if preexisting issues influenced the results..of there is. This study looked to show that if husband agrees to everything wife says then they would be happier as a result. Its dumb. Might as well try to adapt what jim carey did in "yes man" to life...wouldnt work. I wish they would flip the experiment so wife agrees with husband 100% time...thats a situation where could be interesting.

postingonline42
postingonline42

my opinion is that Americans as a culture (especially women) don't know how to argue. Russian saying "argument is the mother of truth" isn't always true, since both sides could both be partially right or totally wrong. But our kid comes home from kindergarten saying "I don't think you and dad are truly friends. because friends don't argue". That's what they teach in school. 

I work in a male industry and hang out with men because women can't handle argument at all. If you don't agree with women you're evil, yet they take argument personally. 

(Men only get a little upset because they often don't expect a woman to argue with them, and it hurts some of their egos, and others who argue with each other constantly will belittle me if i join, but that's easier to get along with then walking on egg shells around women -- only talking about celebrities and relationships and clothing because other subjects can lead to an argument)


I'm lucky my husband and I can argue for long times and while we get tired sometimes about arguing about stupid things, we never get mad or think less of each other afterward. We just waste our time doing it.


Women are supposed to talk about things and be good at 'verbal communication' but when it comes to understanding that a smart person might be wrong -- and talk about being wrong -- or even be right and convince THEM they were wrong (making them smarter) -- that they can't do.


Example: i will probably get emotional insults for my argument here rather than reasoned rebuttals!!!


Glad to see these pro-arguing studies coming out, maybe we will see argument / debate classes join the self-help movement.

BorisIII
BorisIII

Maybe you don't have to be right a lot, but voice you opinion.  Could make people more agreeable and relaxed.

KathyMartin-Willis
KathyMartin-Willis

@postingonline42 What I don't appreciate are the condescending generalizations that women can't handle arguments. Perhaps it's the lack of a well reasoned case that sends us up a wall.

TanmayLololAnaisPradhan
TanmayLololAnaisPradhan

@KathyMartin-Willis "Sends 'us' up a wall" ? That is a generalisation right there. Its the opposite of what OP said. She said women can't take the heat, and you said, no, its the men who 'make' us not take the heat. That's how idiotic your argument is. :)

I think what you wanted to say was: "Not all women are like that. Many women are capable of being logical. Many men are capable of being illogical. It depends on the person."

I personally would echo what you said, but culture make a difference. In Europe, I find men and women to be equally logical and illogical. I can't say the same for America :)

I feel you guys divide yourself extremely based on everything. Your upbringing is more - men are from mars, women from venus.

So, my generalisation is culture based, than gender based.