The childhood game “He loves me, he loves me not” early on sets the parameters for what we can expect in our future adult relationships: Either the object of our affection truly loves us or they simply don't. Even as adults, we still experience doubt about any major life decision, including intimate relationships, which is inevitable but healthy. Now, according to a recent study published in the journal of International Economic Review, scientists claim to have found a fool-proof way to give us clear empirical evidence about whether we have found our perfect match by asking two key questions:

  1. How happy are you in your marriage relative to how happy you would be if you weren't in the marriage?
  2. How do you think your spouse answered that question?

They challenged psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36 questions test, which claims it can make you more likely to fall in love with a stranger. The test explains that by asking a stranger personal questions, then answering those questions yourself, you create intimacy, making you more susceptible to fall in love.

Those exhaustive but effective 36 questions can be narrowed down to the two simple ones mentioned above, argue economists Leora Friedberg and Steven Stern, at the University of Virginia. The researchers analyzed data from a relationship survey of over 4,200 couples that was originally conducted in the 1980s. The respondents were asked to rate their answers on a scale of “much worse” to “much better.” The couples were then asked the same questions six years later to see how their answers had changed over time.

The findings revealed that those who thought they would be no worse off single in the first round of questions were more likely to have broken up by the second round six years later. Surprisingly, partners who overestimated their spouse’s happiness were even more likely to be divorced after six years than those who simply said they might be happier unmarried. Less than half of the participants were able to accurately identify how their partner felt about their relationship. About seven percent of the couples surveyed had a divorce six years later.

Friedberg and Stern believe this provides a new kind of evidence that bargaining takes place. This is the idea that the more a spouse overestimates their partner’s happiness, the more likely he or she will bargain too hard and make a mistake. For example, Stern said: “If I believe my wife is really happy in the marriage, I might push her to do more chores or contribute a larger portion of the family income. If, unbeknownst to me, she’s actually just lukewarm about the marriage, or she’s got a really good-looking guy who is interested in her, she may decide those demands are the last straw, and decide a divorce would be a better option for her,” The Independent reported.

While these are simple questions, the answers can speak volumes about a relationship. Friedberg and Stern’s main advice for couples is to “pick your battle,” because driving a hard bargain all the time will only push your partner away. This means there has to be some give-and-take in a relationship from both partners for a successful union.

The secret to a happy relationship and a happy marriage may just be getting to know how your partner feels about the relationship. The best way to know how they feel? Just ask.

Source: Friedberg L and Stern S. Marriage, Divorce, and Asymmetric Information. International Economic Review. 2015.

Aron A, Aron EN, Bator RJ et al. The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1997.