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Eli Finkel: Marriage is Dead, Long Live Marriage — Transcript

Read the transcript of Caitlin's interview with Eli Finkel from this week's bonus episode of Simplify.
by Natallia Darozhkina | Dec 28 2017

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler. Simplify is for anybody who’s taken a look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships, or their health, and thought, there’s got to be a better way to do this.

In today’s special bonus episode, Caitlin Schiller talks with Eli Finkel, professor and social psychology researcher at Northwestern University. You might not have heard his name yet, but you may have heard about his new book—The All-or-Nothing Marriage. That title!

So Finkel basically says the age of business marriage is over. The love marriage? It’s over, too! Those just aren’t good enough anymore. This is pretty interesting, particularly when you take it in the context of our last interview with Rebecca Traister.

We’ve entered a new age—one propelled by individualism, capitalism, globalism, feminism… lots of other isms too, probably—that Finkel calls the Self-Actualizing Marriage.

And I’d define it for you, but let’s let Finkel define it himself. So, without any further “I do’s”…here’s Caitlin Schiller and Eli Finkel. Catch you guys in The Bookend!

Eli Finkel

Interview with Eli Finkel

Caitlin Schiller: Great. So I would like it if you could introduce yourself, please.

Eli Finkel: I am Eli Finkel. I’m a professor at Northwestern University in the psychology department and the Kellogg School of Management.

CS: Excellent, thank you. All right. So, aside from being a married person and having vested interests in researching modern marriage and what it’s all about, how did you get started down this road researching for your new book The All-or-Nothing Marriage?

EF: Well, one of the things that seems unfortunate to me is that there’s this scholarly field called “relationship science” or “relationship research”. This field has been doing pretty well, like thousands of people have devoted their careers to it over the last 50 years or more. And yet most of the insights from that field are cloistered away in academic journals. And so, one of the things I wanted to do with this book is to bring some of the major findings from that scientific discipline to the broader public.

CS: Excellent. What were you expecting to find out when you went picking through the scientific findings to bring them to the masses?

EF: Well, when I first set out to write the book – it wasn’t this book. The working title was “The Freighted Marriage”, and the idea was that we’re asking more and more of our marriage over time, while we’re actually investing less and less time alone with our spouse than in the past. And so in some sense we’re kind of ruining marriage, we’re kind of suffocating it. We’re asking it to do all this stuff, but we’re not providing the resources that it needs in order to thrive.

And it was really through the immersion in other disciplines – disciplines like history, and sociology, and economics, and other disciplines away from my home field of psychology – where I realized that that story is not accurate anymore. It’s not really a story about asking more and more, and more, and an institution that’s in decline. It’s more about how we’re asking more, how we’re asking less, and the ways in which that’s making the best marriages better than ever, while at the same time the average marriage is indeed getting a little bit worse.

CS: OK, right. I think this relates to what you call in the book the “Mount Maslow” model of marriage. Can you talk about that a little bit? How did that come about and what is Maslow’s triangle for those who don’t know it, if you could just take me through that?

EF: Sure. So, again I initially had this idea that we’re asking more and more of our marriages, but then it didn’t take long, before I started immersing myself in the history and the sociology of marriage, before I realized, “Wait! That’s not true!” in any sort of systematic way. And in particular, before industrialisation, to a large extent your marriage, your immediate family network was essential with the basics of survival. These days a single person can marry or not marry, but most likely isn’t going to starve. In 1800 it was a pretty precarious thing to be unmarried.

And so I started to think about ways that we can conceptualize how marriage has changed in a way that we’re asking more versus change in ways that we’re asking less. And I realized that we’re asking less in terms of basic survival needs, but more in terms of these higher level psychological needs. And that really set off bells for a psychologist of Maslow’s hierarchy.

The idea is that we have a hierarchy of needs and toward the bottom the most fundamental or foundational needs are things like physiological and safety needs, like you want to eat enough food and not freeze to death, and so forth. And marriage was really about that in the pre-industrial era. You know, people wanted to love their spouse. Love was a great thing. But the idea that you wouldn’t marry a proper person because there wasn’t enough love there would have seemed a little silly.

And then, over time after industrialization the economy gets a little bit better, a local crop failure doesn’t cause starvation as much because we have trains and we can ship grain from other places. And also with industrialisation, there’s a surfeit of jobs in urban centres, and so more and more young people move to cities from other countries or from the rural countryside. And for the first time ever they’re geographically and economically independent of their parents.

And so those forces combine, and for the first time ever marriage becomes about personal fulfilment, and in particular, people want to marry for love. And really around 1850 or so, the idea that love is the foundation of marriage becomes a dominant ideal in this culture, and that becomes increasingly true up through the 1950s. And then in the 1960s we shift again, not because we stopped caring about love – we continue to care about love, but now love, starting in the 1960s or so and certainly up until today, love is no longer sufficient.

And now the first time ever you could hear somebody say, “I love him, he’s a wonderful man and he’s a good parent, but I feel like I’m stagnant, like, I’m not growing in this marriage and I don’t feel alive and vital in the marriage. And I’m not going to live that way for the next 40 years, and so I’m going to look elsewhere.” And so to put closure on this point in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy, he has physiological and safety needs at the bottom – that was the first era of marriage before industrialization. He has love and belonging needs in the middle, which I think characterize pretty well that middle era of marriage, say between 1850 and maybe 1965 or so. But toward the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is esteem needs, but also self-actualization needs – the idea that we want to live an authentic life and have a sense of meaning and purpose in a way that aligns with who we really are. And those are the things we’re looking for from marriage these days.

CS: Wow. OK. That seems like a pretty tall order to ask of another person. What are some key attributes of a self-actualizing marriage?

EF: Well, you know, it builds on what we were just discussing. So, those marriages that are pretty effective today, are indeed the ones that are successful in making us feel loved, and allowing us to express love, and also where both partners really help each other on their voyages of self-discovery and personal growth. I know a lot of us roll our eyes when we hear language like that and we think like those namby-pamby, you know, bleeding hearts. But the truth is, those of us who are rolling her eyes are probably the same sorts of people who would still say, “I’m not going to stay in a marriage where I feel like I’m not growing. I’m not going to stay in a marriage where I feel inauthentic.” These are things that almost all of us these days think are crucial.

But one of the things that I do talk about in the book is that nobody just sort of lives at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy all the time. It’s not like you have this relationship and learn about each other and then just sort of reliably make each other feel self-actualized and loved for the next 60 years.

So, the best marriages these days are those that, yes – are capable of bringing out the best in each other and helping each other live sort of authentic, fulfilling lives – but that also have the good sense to realize when things are chaotic right now and there’s no rule that says, we always have to be looking to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and are there ways that we can, you know, recalibrate our expectations for a limited period of time when things are chaotic. For example, when there’s two young kids at home and people are launching careers – it may not be the best time to think, “Well, how can we have soul searching conversations every night.”

CS: So, for someone who is not yet in a marriage, who, say, is in a long-term relationship with potential to be married, is there a way to assess at that point how self-actualizing a marriage has the potential to be?

EF: You know, yes and no. I mean I do think we in general put less time and effort into thinking about the future when we make our marriage decisions. So I’m not saying people don’t think about the future at all, but our decisions are heavily calibrated to how we feel. Like, why do we want to marry somebody, you know, these days in contrast to 1750, when these sorts of statements would have gotten you laughed out of your colonial hamlet. We say things like, “I want to marry you because you’re my best friend” or “I’m just so in love with you and I love thinking about you, and I just love that we have these adventures together”. I mean, you know, I wish I could sort of listen in on the vows that people make at their wedding. So I think you hear that sort of stuff these days all the time. And I don’t think those are trivial. I think those are important things.

Also important is, OK well, as you think ahead 10 years, you know, whom do you want to be? Like, what version of yourself are you excited to bring out rather than maybe another version of yourself? And is that the version of you that I really like? Are we heading the same way with our lives? And I remember actually I broke up with somebody once – and this is why people should never date a relationships researcher – I broke up with somebody once because I remember we were sort of bantering and I was being, you know, a little bit playful or something, and she said like, “Why aren’t you like this more? I love it when you’re like this.” And I thought, you know, I’m happy to be like that, but that’s not the version of me that I like the best. So, the issue we had really wasn’t so much about how our relationship was going at the time. It was a lot about, is the version of me that she liked the best – the same version of me that I liked the best. And to the degree that we can think carefully about those things, then we may be able to make decisions that are at least somewhat better.

The reason why I’m using tentative language and hedging is not just because I’m a scientist, but also because, you know, we ourselves can’t predict this stuff that perfectly. So when I say to you, what are you going to want in 10 years, you’re going to be overconfident that you know what that is. But that said, it’s not like there’s no signal there. It’s not all just a random guess. You have some inclination of who you are and who you aspire to be, and those things do have some predictive value, even though they’re not perfect.

CS: So, it sounds like it really begins with being able to accurately assess your own needs and self rather than just to see how you are in the partnership.

EF: Yes. What I’m talking about when I talk about, you know, self-actualization or when somebody like Abraham Maslow talks about self-actualization – the idea is that there’s sort of an ideal version of you. The metaphor that I often like for this – even though I think it’s imperfect – is something that my Ph.D. mentor developed (it was Carol Rusbult). And she developed this idea of “the Michelangelo effect”.

Oh. So, let me talk about Michelangelo for a second, so this is obviously the famous Renaissance sculptor, who says, who had this profoundly modest perspective on what sculpting is. He says, it’s a process by which the sculptor scrapes away the edges in rough spots and reveals the beautiful form that was already slumbering within the rock. So, he doesn’t think about creating the “David”, he thinks about taking the marble and releasing the “David” that was always nested within there.

Now, in some sense that’s of course true – it’s also profoundly modest and ridiculous – but the metaphor is interesting when you apply it to human relationships. So, we all have an actual self – that is who we are today. But we also have an ideal self – that’s whatever, right? It’s going to vary by individual. But maybe she’s a little bit more patient than we are right now, or maybe she’s a little bit kinder, or maybe she’s a little less lazy, or whatever. But the idea is that relationship partners can serve as sculptors for each other, that is, you can help to bring out or help me change from this sort of rough unpolished version of myself to a more fully formed version of myself.

And so yes, the idea is that the strongest relationships these days – and this is what a lot of us are looking for from our marriage – is not only a sense of who we are, but somebody who can help us discover who we are and indeed help us grow toward that person over time.

CS: What you just said, “the Michelangelo effect”, it made me think about the concept of the process of limbic revisioning, and how when people spend enough time around each other, they end up influencing how each others’ sort of emotional psyche systems works.

EF: Oh, sure. Yes. I mean I haven’t heard that term. But social psychologists do, we in general do a lot of research on how significant others or other people around us influence how we think feel and behave. I mean that’s in some sense the essence of social psychology. And yeah, I mean it’s substantial.

But the implications, I think, of that limbic revisioning idea – which is true – is that our spouse has become really the person we’re around the most. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re around our spouse alone that much, in part because we’re spending so much time doing active parenting, relative to earlier generations. But the amount of time we spend with our broader social networks, especially the amount of time we spend with our broader social networks independent of our spouse, has plummeted, even in just recent decades. It’s dropped substantially since the ‘70s. And so if it’s true that we engage in this limbic revisioning processing or the way I would say it, if it’s true that other people, the people around us, affect the way we think, feel and behave – well, these days the spouse has more of an influence than anybody else.

CS: Do you think that that’s – maybe this is too binary a question for a scientist to answer – but do you think that that’s more of a positive or a negative thing for people? I just keep thinking about how we’re increasingly in our own thought bubbles that we see in social media use, and in how we socialize, and in our smaller groups. It seems like it could be a danger? I don’t know. What do you think?

EF: I mean this is the idea. Remember that the title of the book is The All-or-Nothing Marriage, and the idea is that, as our expectations have gone from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy have gone from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy toward the top, as we’ve gone from expecting basic physiological and safety need fulfillment through marriage to these relatively deeper, more sophisticated, more complex, more idiosyncratic sorts of need fulfilment, that you really need deep understanding of each other’s emotions and psyches in order to fulfil. You end up with this bifurcation, this divergence in how marriage is going these days. And, in particular, as those expectations have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy, it’s become less simple to meet them.

So a marriage today, that would have been fully satisfying in the 1950s, now disappoints us. Because even though the outcomes were getting – the circumstances of the marriage are comparable, the expectations are different. And, therefore, it’s falling short, which is why the average marriage is getting a little bit worse. But at the same time, Maslow was quite clear and he’s right that it’s really those top level needs, those needs toward the top of his hierarchy, that yield a profound sense of fulfilment in his phrase, “richness of the inner life”.

So I mean, obviously he understands that eating enough food is a big deal, but it’s not the sort of thing that makes the difference between having a fully solid life and a truly exemplary life. It’s really belonging, yes – esteem, and, in particular, self-actualisation that makes us feel this rich sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

And so, while at the same time the average marriage is getting a little bit worse, because it’s falling short of these elevated expectations, we’re now at least shooting for the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. And those of us who are able to build and sustain a marriage that allows us to fulfill the needs toward the top of that hierarchy, we’re achieving a level of fulfilment, a level of meaning and purpose from our marriage that would have been out of reach in an era where people weren’t even trying.

CS: I want to talk a bit about growth beliefs versus destiny beliefs, and what they are, and how they affect a partnership.

EF: So there’s research going back a long way on the nature of intelligence. And some people believe that intelligence is like a fixed entity you sort of have a lot of it or you don’t and that’s that. And other people believe that it’s something that you can develop, that it’s malleable, and that with some effort you can become more intelligent.

Now it turns out that this research, which has been going on at least since the 1980s, has shown that when people have a setback – they do poorly on an exam, for example – people in that first belief, who think that intelligence is fixed, tend to give up because their attribution, their explanation for why they did poorly on the exam is, “Oh, I’m just not smart”. Whereas, those of us who adopt a more growth-oriented perspective on intelligence – when we do poorly on an exam – we think, “Oh, we better work harder on that, that’s something I’m going to need to cultivate.”

Well, since at least the 1990s, people have been applying a similar set of ideas and relationships. So it turns out that there’s individual differences. Some of us believe that partners are either meant to be or they’re not. And that you could call a destiny belief: you believe that things are fixed, either these two individuals, either my partner and I are compatible or we are incompatible, and that’s the story.

And then there are growth beliefs. And the growth beliefs say that relationships develop through the resolution of incompatibilities, through taking the opportunity to learn about each other and become better partners.

And if you have a destiny mindset and you have a big fight with your partner, it’s a little bit hard to know what to do. Because what does that big fight signify? Does it signify, “Well, I guess we’re not compatible. I thought we were compatible, but we’re not.” Like, that’s not a crazy conclusion if you have a destiny belief about relationships.

But if you have a growth belief about relationships and you have a big fight, this is an opportunity to learn about each other and to try to reconcile and to become closer, as a result. And so, given that, conflict – including serious conflict – is pretty much inevitable, I mean almost nobody is going to go through a 10-year much less a 50-year relationship without having some serious conflict. Having a growth belief tends to be beneficial for the relationship in terms of helping us become, you know, more forgiving and and willing to work to try to resolve what the conflict was and to try to become better as a couple.

CS: It sounds like Carol Dweck’s research.

EF: That’s right, yeah. When I was referencing that work from at least the ‘80s on intelligence that was Carol Dweck. That’s exactly what the lineage is for these ideas.

CS: You were just speaking about how if you have a conflict with your partner is an opportunity to learn from it,and find strategies that work for both of you to do better. Can you share a couple of these love hacks if you’re already in a relationship that is pretty good, but maybe is moving through a rough patch. What are some things that people can do to have a more harmonious relationship, and stay in it, and stay engaged?

EF: Yeah, I mean one of the most fun things about writing the book was writing this chapter on “love hacks.” And so this is a term that I introduce in the book – most of your listeners will be familiar with the term “life hack,” which is just some sort of quick and dirty procedure you can use to be a little bit more efficient or a little bit more effective. And so love hacks apply that same idea in the relationships domain.

And so the rule that I set up for something being a love hack is that you can do it by yourself – that it doesn’t have to be something you coordinate with your partner – and that it doesn’t take much work. Maybe something on the order of, you know, 10 minutes a month of just trying to rethink things in a way that’s beneficial for us, and for the relationship, and for our partner.

There’s a bunch of examples – again, all of them are science-based – I’ll talk about one of the ones that we developed here at Northwestern. This is one where we train people to adopt a third party perspective on conflict in the relationship. And in particular, we recruited 120 couples, married couples, from the Chicago and Evanston area. And every four months for two years they wrote about the biggest conflict they’d had in their marriage over the previous four months. But then in the second year, we assigned people to this third party re-appraisal condition – half the couples were assigned to this condition, half just stayed in the control condition.

And in this third party condition, what happens is you still write about the conflict, just like everybody has been doing all along. But now you spend an additional seven minutes writing about that conflict from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved.

And what we find is that people who do this – we assigned people to do it three times over the course of the year, so it’s a total of 21 minutes of writing over the second year of the study – we find that those people don’t have less conflict, but they have less distress about the conflict that they do have. And, consequently, they tend to feel greater happiness and trust and intimacy in the relationship than people who are in the control condition, who didn’t do that third party condition.

CS: So, then what would that look like? It would look like, I don’t know, my partner went out and came home later than he was supposed to, and woke me up from sleeping, and I’m really mad about it. What would it look like to appraise that from a third party?

EF: I mean, look, each person is going to do it differently. But I could take a crack at it. It’s like, when you’re there and you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, you went out. That’s fine. But now I’m awake. You know that I have trouble falling asleep, how could you be so inconsiderate?” Like, it’s pretty easy to go down a spiral of angry self-righteousness when we’re in a conflict. In fact, I think that’s probably a default for many of us, to feel very self-righteous.

And then you sort of try to adopt a benevolent third-party perspective. This could be the perspective of somebody a good friend, it could be the perspective of God, like this will vary from person to person. But it has to be somebody who wants the best for both of you. And that person thinks, “Yeah, definitely was inconsiderate. He was kind of a jerk and he certainly could have come home quieter. On the other hand, like, he’s had a hard time at work and this was an opportunity to see his old college friends that he hasn’t seen in a while.” And it’s not like it makes you think, “Oh I’ve been wrong.” It just makes you adopt this more panoramic perspective where the extent to which we perceive things as “I’m the good guy and you’re the evil guy” tends to dissipate.

CS: A lot of what you’ve said sounds a little bit – or to my ear – sounds kind of daunting. The idea of having to find a partner who is ideally capable of filling your needs now, and someone who can help you grow in the future into who you want to be. Is this a thing that you think people should feel more hopeful, or more worried about? Because I’m having a hard time over here.

EF: I do think it’s daunting. And I think people know that. I mean in an era where you were likely to meet four eligible potential people – you know, people didn’t hold out for some type of perfection or at least some type of extremely deep psychological connection across all these different elements. And so, I do think it’s harder to get it right these days than it was in the past.

But if we could broaden the question a little bit to say, you know, am I optimistic or pessimistic about where we’re going as a culture in terms of marriage, I’m more optimistic than pessimistic. Because I think compatibility is real. I was saying that earlier and I think it’s true. There is definitely reality to compatibility, but a lot of what makes for a good relationship is the decision to work on the relationship, and to try to understand each other better, and to try to respect and appreciate who the partner really is, even in those cases where you might have preferred that in this one dimension you had married somebody a little bit different. But overall this is a decent person and you have been able to build something special and had a couple of kids and you just resolve you’re going to make it work.

And one of the things that we know again from a lot of social psychology research is, once we feel committed, once we decide we’re going all in on something, we tend to be pretty good at a generous sort of self-delusion. And this comes highly recommended. So one of the things that I like is this line of research within social psychology, where we look at how people respond when they’re presented with an attractive potential alternative. And it turns out that to the degree that you’re highly committed to your current partner, you tend to derogate that alternative. You tend to think, “Well yeah, I mean sure, he’s good looking, but I’m sure he’s like totally annoying.” This is like a default reaction that highly committed people tend to adopt.

And what’s interesting about it is when the person isn’t particularly attractive on a relatively objective metric, if a person is deliberately made out to be sort of neutral in terms of attractiveness, overall attractiveness, commitment isn’t related to how appealing you think that person is. It’s only when the person is particularly appealing, only when that person might be a real threat to your relationship, that you tend to say, “Nah, I’m sure he’s totally arrogant.”

And so I’m not pessimistic. I’m optimistic that we can – most of us – that we can find somebody who’s compatible with us, certainly compatible enough, and then just resolve we’re going to do a good job.

CS: What is something that you found in your time researching this subject or even living a marriage, what’s something that you found is actually a lot simpler than you initially thought it was?

EF: Savouring the good times. It’s not that it sounds like a hard thing to do, it’s something that we don’t think to do enough. You know, there a lot of advice out there about how to navigate conflict. There’s relatively little about how do we go about talking to our spouse about the little daily wins. And and it turns out – I mean this is research from people like Shelly Gable at UCLA and her colleagues – it turns out that little gestures of enthusiasm carry tremendous power.

And so, if your partner says, you know, “This is neat. My boss actually gave me a pretty big compliment today.” You can say like, “Hey, congratulations!” and then move on, or you can say, “Whoa! I’m getting out a bottle of wine.” Just savour the little stuff in a way that might not seem self-evident or not seem intuitive because it’s almost too small to bother. But that’s the wrong way to think about it, at least for most of us. For most of us, it’s stopping to savor those little wins, those little daily things and enjoy them together that can add this extra layer of beauty to the relationship and to life in general.

CS: That is a really nice answer, I have to say. If you could give anybody out there in a marriage, or thinking that someday they would like to be in one, or just in an important relationship to them, if you could give them a piece of advice what would it be?

EF: I would say, play to your strengths. You know, try your best to understand who you are, understand your spouses, and once you do that, you can figure out what is it that this marriage is going to be about. Again there’s no rules that say that every marriage has to be about the same things. What are we going to do? What are we going to prioritize? What sorts of conversations are we going to have together? And look, you don’t like going to the theater – that’s great! Turns out I have lots of friends who like going to the theater and that gives us separate time to cultivate our friendships separately.

But until we’ve thought seriously about what we’re going to ask of this particular relationship, we’re going to find ourselves disappointed about the fact that this relationship isn’t meeting every need that I’m bringing to it. And we’re going to end up – most of us are going to end up – with too thin of a life, that we’re going to end up with too thin of a broader social network. We’re not going to engage in enough fun time and meaningful time with friends, other family members and so forth.

CS: I always like to ask people I talk to about books they’ve read lately or books that have had a profound impact on them. Do you want to give me a couple that you really like or you’re reading lately or you think are good reads for people who are interested in your sort of fields of study?

EF: In terms of people who I think think well about relationships, I would highly recommend Esther Perel. She is widely famous at the moment. She’s got a terrific podcast on Audible.

CS: She does.

EF: Yeah, it’s really good. Her first book is called Mating in Captivity. It was one of the most eye-opening books that I’ve read. And again I study this stuff for a living. She is a clinician, so she comes at things from a different perspective and I think she has all sorts of novel and exciting insights.

And in terms of history of relationships, if somebody wants to get a sense of how relationships have developed over time, certainly my book gets into that, but my book owes a great debt to Stephanie Coontz. She’s got great books one of which is called The Way We Never Were, where she talks about this idealizing of the 1950s as if that was like traditional life. And she has to remind us that “Leave It to Beaver” was not a documentary, because we tend to over-perceive that that was the way things always were, just because that’s when television came in. But the 1950s were like a weirdo eyeblink of time and then her book called Marriage, a History. I forget the subtitle, but it’s something like ‘how love conquered marriage,’ it is just fascinating.

CS: Awesome! Eli, what still gets you excited about the field of research that you’re in? What are you still passionate about and interested in about this?

EF: So, I want to understand more deeply how people can sustain passion in a long-term marriage. We have a lot of different projects going on right now including with my post-doc Katie Carswell, trying to figure out: OK, on average we know that passion declines and yet it doesn’t for everybody. There is a minority of people who are able to sustain a reasonably high level of romantic desire for each other, not only in the course of five to 10 years, but over the quite long term.

How are they able to do that? That’s I think one of the biggest questions that we have, because passion tends to thrive on things like novelty and excitement. And how do you sustain that sort of stuff? When you go to bed next to somebody and listen to them berating the AT&T guy on the phone and walking the baby around all the time, how does that stay hot?

And I’m also excited about the fact that we’re starting to do a better job at communicating some of the findings in our field to the broader public, you know, blogging or writing books. And I think that’s beneficial because, as fun as it is that we go to conferences and talk to one another and learn a lot and talk about complex statistical procedures for analysing complex data, it’s also fun to make sure that that word gets out about how the rest of us can improve our own relationships.

CS: Great. And on that note is there a place that people can follow your work? Are you a Twitter person? Do you have a blog?

EF: Sure. I’m a Twitter person, I have a newsletter. On Twitter I’m @EliJFinkel. And if they go to, they can sign up for my newsletter which is just a once a month. I send some thoughts about relationships and including what’s happening in the science.

CS: Very cool. Alright, that’s it. Do you have any final thoughts or questions for me, or something that you really wanted to say but didn’t get to?

EF: No, it was a pleasure. I’m glad we had the chance to chat.

CS: All right. Thanks so much, Eli. Take care.

EF: Bye-bye.

CS: Bye.

The Bookend

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end with books. Caitlin is ill so we have a special substitute today, my esteemed colleague Emily Phillips. Yes, that Emily.

Emily Phillips: Hey! Thanks for having me on here.

BSS: For sure!

EP: And this is exciting because it’s the last Bookend we’ll make until Season 3 rolls around.

BSS: Yeah! Let’s make it a good one. But first, let’s talk about that interview real quick. Can you answer the questions that Caitlin usually does? Like, normally I ask her why we wanted to have a particular guest on Simplify, but I know that you’re also a big Finkel fan. So, maybe I can ask you: Why did we want to have Eli Finkel on Simplify?

EP: Well, I read Eli’s interview in The Atlantic, and quickly realized that his take on marriage gave heft to something I’ve been speaking about with contemporaries and friends—about how the partnerships we want look really different from what our parents have. Eli gets into why that is by addressing this new idea of the self-actualizing marriage.

BSS: Yeah, and I think he’s really got a lot of good points to make in terms of what we can do to make marriage better—his “love hacks” I mean. It’s cool that they can be done alone, like little mental resets for yourself, to make the relationship stronger.

EP: That’s cool, right? I’m so glad that Caitlin and he got into that. So much of what you work on in a relationship is stuff you work on together, but there’s really a lot improvements you can make, just yourself, just by adopting a new perspective.

BSS: Yeah, interesting. So, what do you think is the one thing we should all remember from this conversation?

EP: Well, this idea that a relationship depends on basic compatibility, sure, but that at the end of the day, how successful that compatibility feels has a lot to do with deciding.

BSS: Mmmm. Like…deciding how? What do you mean? Like deciding to commit?

EP: Yes. Deciding to commit, sure, but also deciding what you want a partnership to be about—what the goals you want to achieve together are, how you hope it will help you grow. That’s taking a bird’s-eye-view perspective on relationships that, I think, is really important to do every now and then. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.

BSS: Right. Relationship tree. So—zooming out, and thinking “What do I want this partnership to be about?” Cool. So. I guess we’ve all got some things to think about, but for right now, books! Thanks for making the booklist this week. Let’s go through them.

EP: Sure! I’ve got a few for us here. We’ll start with Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

BSS: Ah, a classic.

EP: Yup. Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford, and she’s influenced so. much. research out there today. Her work’s been a huge influence on the positive psychology movement and touches everything from new experiments in social psychology to how business coaches work with their clients.

BSS: Nice. What can people get from the book?

EP: Basically a look into how important it is to adopt a growth mindset—one that breaks up this dogmatic “you’ve got it, or you don’t,” system and is instead patient and focused on improvement and change. It’s really the foundation for Finkel’s idea about growth versus destiny beliefs in relationships.

BSS: Cool. OK, what’s next?

EP: The next one is a bit of a…well, a surprise! Because it doesn’t have to do directly with relationships or marriage. And yet it does!

BSS: What? OK. Explain.

EP: It’s called Surprise, and it’s by Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger. It talks about the many ways that surprise creates the most fulfilling life we can have. And—important! Here’s how it relates!—it includes research by grand dame of all relationship counselors, Esther Perel.

BSS: Finkel mentions her, right?

EP: Yes. One of her big things is how, in modern relationships, we crave stability, but what we really need is to introduce surprise. And this book has some further research on that.

BSS: Ok! Neat. We don’t have Perel’s books, though?

EP: No, we don’t yet, but her first book, Mating in Captivity, is so something that people have been asking for. I predict it will be joining the Blinkist library soon.

BSS: Great. So, last book, best book?

EP: I dunno about best book—there are so many good ones! But the last one is by David Whyte.

BSS: Isn’t he a poet? An English poet?

EP: Yes! Exactly. He’s best known for his poetry, but he also wrote this lovely book that explores the three loves we develop in our lives: the love for a vocation, the love of ourselves, and the love of another special person—and the ways in which they intertwine. It’s called, appropriately, The Three Marriages. Check it out!

BSS: Cool. OK, so, that’s it, then! We’ll put that up in the show notes on the Blinkist Magazine so everyone can read through it. And we might as well remind everyone that all the past episode book lists are also online at the Blinkist Magazine.

EP: Great. Well, thanks for having me on!

BSS: Absolutely, that was great. And thanks everyone for listening to the last episode of season 2 of Simplify! It was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Emily Phillips, Nat Darozhkina and Ody Constantinou, whose Dogue de Bordeaux (also known as a French Mastiff) won third place at Crufts in 2010.

If you enjoyed this episode or feel that you learned something cool, could you, please, do us a favor and send it to one person you like. Especially if this person would particularly get something out of this. Just send it to one person, spread the word, we really want to have more people get in touch with us and to hear what we’re doing over here. So yeah, send it to one person, we’d really appreciate it!

And a big shout out already to the people who’ve subscribed to us on Google Play, Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, wherever you listen. And if you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to add a review or rating – a star, a heart, or a thumb, or a face or whatever – we’d be really appreciative, it helps us.

We’re also on Twitter. Caitlin’s at @CaitlinSchiller and I’m @bsto

Simplify is made by the same people who make Blinkist. Blinkist, if you don’t know, is a learning app that takes insights the world’s bestselling nonfiction books and condenses them into these focused little capsules of knowledge available in audio or text that you can listen to or read in just about 15 minutes.

And we made another voucher code for this episode. You can get 14 days free if you go to and type in the voucher code: marriage.

And last thing: thanks so much for sending in Voice Memos about the answer to the question “What have you learnt was much easier than you thought it was?” If you haven’t done it yet, record a Voice Memo and email it to [email protected].

Yeah, we’d love to hear some good stories.. Alright so, we’ll be back next week with another episode of Simplify. In the meantime, be good. This is Ben…checking out.


Read the show notes for this episode here!

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