Math Predicts Marital Success

Math Predicts Marital Success

Thursday, May 3, 2018


“Darling, please forgive me. I’ve been having…an invasion.”

Not a sentence you’d be likely to hear on a soap opera, but that term would make sense to researchers trying to determine if mathematical formulas can predict the long-term success of a marriage.

By the way, an invasion in this case would mean an affair.

Skye Haskell ’18 has been conducting that study this semester, and she presented her findings at Siena’s Celebration of Academic Excellence on April 27.

Haskell first analyzed the work of the world-famous Gottman Institute, which studies marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific observations. The lessons derived from this work have guided couples counseling for many years.

In this guided independent research project with Dr. Scott Greenhalgh, assistant professor of mathematics, she tried to determine if it was possible to analyze certain factors to predict whether a marriage will be successful, or whether a couple is at risk for an adulterous affair.

“Remarkably, the question about marriage success can be answered with decent precision,” said Haskell. “We made predictions based on a combination of observing couples and mathematical modeling, and found that this could provide some insight on the risk for otherwise successful marriages to be disrupted by an affair.”

The language of the report is not exactly the stuff of Hollywood drama – but the work is mathematically sound and could help marriage counselors.

“I modeled the happiness of a wife and husband through interactions based on a system of difference equations,” she said. “I then looked at the stability of predicted happiness, and then borrowed techniques from mathematical biology to determine if adultery can disrupt the trajectory of a marriage.”

The results of the study bore out Haskell’s prediction: If one or both partners – particularly the wife – have stable, consistent personalities (as opposed to volatile), the greater the chance the marriage can resist an “invasion.”

She said the study results prove mathematically that stable personality types are most likely to strengthen any marriage, not just one impacted by adultery.

“Results of studies like this one can help determine what type of marriage counseling could work best for different types of couples,” she said. “The framework can also be expanded to determine if informal advice from parents and in-laws can impact a marriage.”

Haskell, who is from Salt Point, N.Y., will further her mathematical studies this fall in graduate school, where she will pursue a degree in data analysis.