Eternally yours?

Phillip Hodson believes that we can predict how long our relationships will last, simply by taking his compatibility quiz. Emma Gold reads on
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The Independent Online

How do you know, when you fall in love, that it will be forever? In 2003, the number of divorces in the UK rose for the third year in a row to 166,700, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), despite a decline in the number of marriages. But it may be possible to predict not only whether your relationship will last, but when you are most likely to split.

How do you know, when you fall in love, that it will be forever? In 2003, the number of divorces in the UK rose for the third year in a row to 166,700, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), despite a decline in the number of marriages. But it may be possible to predict not only whether your relationship will last, but when you are most likely to split.

You could start by taking the compatibility tests in the psychotherapist Phillip Hodson's book, How Perfect is Your Partner? 50 tests to assess and ensure that love is long-lasting. "People with similar temperaments and personalities get along best," Hodson says. "Complementarity is important when it comes to getting it on; similarity, when it comes to getting along."

His tests cover physical, sexual, psychological and economic/social compatibility; some seem obscure. For example, one relates to middle-finger length - a good match would be where both partners have similarly sized middle fingers in ratio to the norm (9.3cm in men; 8cm in women).

One way to avoid spending £13,000 - the average cost of divorce - would be to take the tests before you commit to marriage. "Couples often plan every tiny detail of the wedding, without discussing in advance fundamental aspects of marriage," says Suzie Hayman, a relationship counsellor and the author of Make Your Honeymoon Last. Longer courtships, in which there is time for difficult issues to arise and be resolved, may be the answer. Two studies have found that the longer the courtship, the more likely it is that a couple will stay together.

Another factor to consider is how much emotional baggage you carry from childhood. In Oliver James's book They F*** You Up, he states that our relationship pattern is profoundly affected by the childcare we receive from the age of six months to three years. "If you are repeatedly let down in early childhood, that's what you will expect of people you depend on in later life," he states. Certain demographic factors are also associated with increased risk of divorce, according to the ONS: marrying at a younger-than-average age; having a pre-marital birth; and having been previously divorced.

Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship counselling, saw 140,000 people last year. Top argument topics were money, children, personal habits, housework, work and sex. "A range of studies shows that sexual satisfaction correlates strongly with marital satisfaction and long-term relationship success," says Hodson. "But the same is not true of sexual frequency; having regular sex does not correlate strongly with marital satisfaction. Over the longer term, what matters is to have quality sex." His key sexual compatibility test relates to both partners' sexual history. Men especially rate equivalent sexual experience as a major compatibility issue.

But does any of this necessarily spell the end of your relationship? The key test appears to be the praise/blame ratio, devised by the psychologist Dr John Gottman, the author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. He says the relationship will survive if the ratio is five praises to each blame. In his study of 52 married couples, he was able to predict divorce or marital stability with around 94 per cent accuracy. How we respond to our partner's bids for emotional connection is crucial. A bid can be a question, a touch,any single expression that says, "I want to feel connected to you." Gottman's research showed husbands who were eventually divorced ignored bids from their wives 82 per cent of the time; men in stable relationships ignored them only 19 per cent of the time.

Dr Gottman discovered other ways to make a marriage last: set high standards right from the beginning - don't allow yourself to be treated like a doormat; be careful how you start a discussion - women often escalate a conflict by making dramatic remarks; and edit yourself - couples who avoided voicing every angry thought were the happiest. And husbands should be open to influence: "Marriages that worked well had one thing in common - the willingness of the husband to give way to the wife."

But longevity in a relationship isn't everything. "Just because couples stay together for years, it doesn't mean they're happy," Suzie Hayman points out. "But they know where they are. Separating or going to see a relationship counsellor is the unknown, and we are all afraid of the unknown." When you consider that 93 per cent of clients say that coming to Relate helped them sort out their problems, though, you wonder why most couples still seem to choose separation.

MAKING THE PERFECT MATCH

Measure those fingers

The length of each partner's middle finger should have the same relationship to the average. So if one partner has a shorter-than-average middle finger, so should the other. (The average length for men is 9.3cm, and for women 8cm).

Read the signs

If your bids for affection are more often than not ignored, your relationship could well be in trouble.

Share expectations

It's not how much sex you have, it's how much you expect. Even a celibate couple can be"sexually compatible" if the choice is genuinely mutual.

No blame, no pain

The real clue as to whether or not the relationship is in trouble is how much one partner blames the other, and how much praise they get in return. Keep the praise frequent and the blame level low.

Don't let yourself be trampled on

Successful couples refuse to accept hurtful behaviour from each other from the start.

'How Perfect is Your Partner?' by Phillip Hodson (Carroll & Brown, £12.99); 'Make Your Honeymoon Last' by Suzie Hayman (Hodder & Stoughton), £6.99

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