If Love Is Blind, Why Can't We All Stop Watching?
What can science tell us about the fate of reality contestants? A lot.
Posted November 4, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- Higher levels of oxytocin have been shown to predict long-lasting relationships.
- Physical expressions of affection raise the level of oxytocin, which in turn increases physical expressions of affection.
- High levels of oxytocin have been found in couples with constructive coping skills.
- According to the Triangle Theory of Attraction, physical attraction is important to fuel passion, which leads to commitment.
Love is Blind is one of many Netflix trainwreck-esque dating shows hosted by celebrity couple Nick and Vanessa Lachey. Single men and women “date” in adjoining rooms that allow them to hear but not see each other. If the couple gets engaged, sight unseen, they will meet in person. They then have 30 days up to and including their wedding day to decide if they will get married.
Is it possible to find long-lasting love in this weird way? What can science tell us about which couples are more likely to stay together if they do say yes? Can we already identify which couples are likely headed for disaster?
Is Love Blind? Well… Not Really.
Researcher Robert Sternberg suggested a triangular theory of love that involved: commitment, passion, and intimacy. Passion is directly related to physical attraction. Passion paves the road for intimacy and leads to increased energy, focused attention, and goal-oriented behavior intended to win your mate.
The last part of the triangle is commitment: a social contract that binds you and your partner with the responsibility of caring for each other’s well-being and that of your offspring.
On Love Is Blind, people become emotionally intimate with a stranger and commit to marrying that stranger—who they may or may not feel physically attracted to when they meet in person. If we believe Sternberg’s triangular theory, without the physical attraction that leads to passion, there may always be a component of physical intimacy that is missing for some of these couples.
(Sadly, this doesn’t bode well for Cole and Zanab.)
Which Couples Are More Likely to Stay Together? Those With the Most Oxytocin.
A 2012 study found that the level of oxytocin at the beginning of a romance accurately predicted those couples who were still together after six months. Even more intriguing is that couples with higher levels of oxytocin also used more mature coping skills within their relationship.
What are the best coping skills to navigate conflict in your relationship?
- Express yourself with I-statements rather than as if your truth is universal. For example, “I feel sad when you don’t acknowledge my cooking you dinner,” rather than “You never appreciate anything I do.”
- Stay calm.
- Avoid personal attacks.
Fortunately, Bartise and Nancy have done a great job of handling their rough patches calmly, expressing their feelings using I-statements, and avoiding intentional personal attacks.
However, their lack of physical touch at the beginning of the relationship may have negatively affected the feedback loop of oxytocin production: the more physical affection that occurs, the higher the level of oxytocin. The higher the level of oxytocin, the more likely physical affection is to occur.
Oxytocin and Optimism
High levels of oxytocin are also associated with greater optimism about the current and future status of the relationship. Which makes it more likely that relationship cheerleaders Alexa and Brennon and Raven and SK will still be together by the time the reunion episode airs.
Which Couples Are Headed for Disaster?
Well, the easiest way to predict disaster is to turn to the Gottman Institute’s Four Horsemen: the best empirically-backed sign that the end of a relationship is near.
What are the Four Horsemen?
- Criticism: Bold blanket statements about your partner that insult who they are as a person rather than a specific action they did that upset you. Any statement that begins with “You always,” “You never,” or “There you go again” is likely to fall into this category. The problem is that these bold blanket statements shut down the opportunity for either person to learn something from the argument. Instead of gaining an understanding of why or how your actions made your partner unhappy, the argument becomes larger than life and impossible to disprove.
- Contempt: This is just a big fancy word for when someone becomes mean and spiteful. You may recognize contempt in your partner by the changed look in his eyes, the disrespectful sarcasm she doesn’t bother to contain, or the way your words or actions are mimicked by your partner, an exaggerated presentation that is intended to make you feel small.
- Defensiveness: This Horseman is essentially the Reverse card that is included in the card game Uno. Rather than take responsibility for an error you have committed, such as forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning, or an important date on the calendar that you should have remembered, you just throw down the reverse calendar and blame your partner! After all, they really should have reminded you. Or picked up the laundry themselves. Or have a job that pays more money so that the financial burden isn’t always on your shoulders.
- Stonewalling: This is what happens when someone handles an argument by leaving rather than staying to have a conversation that could lead to a resolution. This is when someone shuts down so much that their partner is left to feel incredibly alone in their argument and their relationship as a whole. This Horseman just leaves—which is a pretty good predictor of the likelihood that soon they will be leaving the marriage as well.
So, what does this tell us about our hopeful potential cast of newlyweds and their likelihood for a future that includes all the happiness that they had hoped for?
Sadly, Gottman’s Four Horsemen very much has me worried about the future of Colleen and Matt. On multiple occasions, Matt packs up his belongings and declares his intention to leave when he feels vulnerable (stonewalling). And even when the two make amends, Matt seems unable to acknowledge the huge part his own insecurity and volatile emotions play in their relationship.
Are We All Blind in Love?
Ultimately, one of the reasons this show is so popular is because, despite the atypical circumstances in which these couples meet, we can all relate to falling in love and having the other person not love us back in quite the same way that we very much need them to. And since none of us knows quite what to expect when we start a relationship with something new, we could say we all fall in love a bit blindly.
Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J.F., & Feldman, R. "Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity," Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 37, Issue 8, 2012, pages 1277-1285.
Sternberg, R. J., and Grajek, S. (1984). The nature of love. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 47, 312–329. doi: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242
Sykes, R. E., Larntz, K., and Fox, J. C. (1976). Proximity and similarity effects on frequency of interaction in a class of naval recruits. Sociometry, 39, 263.