As one of the most famous bachelors gets ready to take his wedding vows, the question seems rather pertinent: Can perennial bachelors like George Clooney change and become longstanding husbands – able to weather the rough seas that accompany the great times?
Remember those snippets of advice our mothers offered on our love life? My mother’s wisdom was that you should never marry a longstanding bachelor, as they were set in their ways, too used to getting their own way, and unaccustomed to compromise. But leopards can change their spots, as demonstrated by Warren Beatty who, after a string of relationships with beautiful women, married in his mid-50s. More than 20 years and four children later, he and actress Annette Bening are still together – no small feat in Hollywood.
Apparently many a middle-aged bachelor finally decides to settle down as they realise time is running out to fit in a wife and family before the ‘Grim Reaper’ calls. So if my mother’s advice on perennial bachelors is not universally applicable, what do they need for long-lasting love? In the end they probably just need the same as the rest of us – although it may be harder to achieve when you have been single so long.
Seven all-purpose ingredients for long-term romantic success
Research shows that if we want our romantic relationships to last, we should search for ‘homogamy’ in a partner – that means someone similar to us, particularly in values. Borne out by several studies, showing that similarity between partners for various characteristics, including age, background, intelligence, socioeconomic status, and values predict greater relationship success.
Realistic expectations of our partner and the relationship is another key ingredient for long-term success. It’s important we recognise that no one is perfect, it won’t always be plain sailing, and it is quite normal to feel we don’t like our partner from time to time. According to the so-called ‘disappointment model’, if individuals start out with extreme positive beliefs, disappointment frequently ensues. And such feelings of disappointment do not bode well for the longer term.
Hardly surprising this one ranks as important – after all we will spend plenty of time with that ‘significant other’, so after the first flush of love is over, we need a true friend to weather day-to-day life. According to Franz Schubert, ‘Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife’.
We need to believe we bring as many desirable qualities to the relationship as our partner. Equality means we have balanced power in the relationship, that we can act independently of our partner’s control, influence their actions, and participate equally in decision-making.
Commitment is the most powerful predictor of relationship stability. But it’s not about a marriage ceremony – it’s about making the relationship a priority and being willing to sacrifice for it, invest in it, link our personal goals to it, and seek the other person’s welfare, not just our own. It’s about having ties together, such as joint possessions and family, which help keep us glued together during rocky times.
As mentioned in the best-selling relationship book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, many of our relationship troubles start because men and women are more different than we may think. When women have problems we want care and understanding, but our partner offers solutions and resentment builds as we feel we were not listened to. To help solve his problems we try to be supportive by offer comforting, unsolicited advice, but our good intentions make him feel smothered and controlled. Then we have to contend with each other’s cycles. After getting close, men need to feel independent again and become distant for a time, whilst women go up and down emotionally like a yo-yo. We need to talk and talk around our problems, whereas men prefer to be alone to mull over solutions in their cave.
According to researchers, ‘the mere presence of conflict may reveal less about the quality of a relationship than does the way in which the conflict is handled’. Conflicts are normal and inevitable in any partnership, and it seems that mutually satisfactory resolution to disagreements is key to the continued harmony, satisfaction, and even survival of the relationship.
And for Mr Clooney and Ms Alamuddin? She certainly ticks more of the boxes for similarity than many who have come and gone before. But he may need to work hard to ensure they are equal co-directors of their movie, given that his fame means that his partner’s identity inevitably becomes associated with him. In the past he didn’t seem to have a big appetite for commitment but he is older and perhaps more ready for the sacrifice and constraints that are key to commitment. Maybe a bright young lawyer is just the ticket to hone one’s conflict resolution skills, given that in his first marriage, “Instead of figuring out how to make it work, I looked for a way to get out of it. The truth is, you shouldn’t be married if you’re that kind of person”.
Only time will tell whether George Clooney can change from long-standing bachelor to long-standing husband. Let’s hope so for their future happiness.