2. The Opportunistic Couple: An Adequate Reference Model for the Study of the Formation of the Monogamic Heterosexual Couple?
Likewise, the psycho-relational aspects that may threaten the stability of the couple, such as the affective deterioration of the relationship, may be tackled by means of couple therapy or through the shared enjoyment of rewarding experiences
In its current formulation, the tie-up theory can only be applied to heterosexual couples. It is important to stress that such a theoretical focus should not be read in any way in terms of heteronormativity. The only reason behind this choice is that extending the theory to other couples in the LGBT spectrum is not immediate, as it calls for significant further conceptual development. We are aware that this is a limitation of the theory, and we consider its extension in this respect an especially relevant and necessary avenue for future research.
A widespread commonsense warns, for instance, that the elements of novelty (and thus of curiosity and discovery) in the relationship become rarer, one’s physical aspect changes with aging, the memory of past conflicts fuels misunderstanding and resentment, and so on
Among the many approaches to the formation and dynamics of long-term human heterosexual couples, one of the most controversial but also most considered is that of Gary Becker , which explains the creation (and possible dissolution) of couple bonds in terms of the working of specific market mechanisms, whose competitive forces lead individuals to choose partners with comparable mating value. As the mating value of a given individual does not only depend on innate traits and characteristics but also on acquired ones (such as, for instance, wealth, power, and fame), and can be influenced by unanticipated shocks, like invalidating incidents and illnesses, such as stroke and dementia, which lead to caregiver burden on spouses [19,20], the individually available assets to be deployed in the ‘marriage market’ may vary from time to time. A given couple bond that looks stable for a given constellation of individual assets might thus be subject to serious stress, insofar as the value of one of the assets it builds upon undergoes major changes in either direction, positioning the individual in a different market segment from the original one, with a possible consequent dissolution of the couple and the creation of new couples with different partners whose mating values are aligned to the new situation. It is worth remarking that our reference to Becker’s ‘ount to an assumption that marriage plays any kind of necessary role in the formation of a couple, and more generally in human mating. No part of our theory rests on this kind of assumption or implies this.
As mating values are only partially observable due to the high number of actual characteristics that contribute to the benefit that a given couple bond ensures to each partner on the basis of their preferences, it becomes necessary to focus one’s own evaluation on the subset of characteristics that are more amenable to observation and assessment in light of personal desirability criteria. With time, the acquisition of more information deriving from direct interaction makes one’s assessment of the partner more thorough and reliable, but on the other hand some of the partner’s characteristics evolve in ways that could in turn influence the evaluation.
However, in the perspective of a competitive marriage market, even characteristics that as a first approximation enable to change, such as the physical aspect, may be improved to increase one’s personal assets or to contrast their depreciation, for instance, by means of regular workouts or aesthetic surgery [22,23], so as to increase or at least preserve one’s mating value and curb the potential competition of the carriers of more desirable traits . The psychological script associated to such compensatory strategies is, however, the ‘limitation of the damage’-that is, a program of reparatory actions that re-enact as closely as possible the ideal situation, identified with the relationship in its nascent state, heavily charged with psychological and sexual excitement, sense of novelty, and expectation of future gratification -rather than the common cooperative pursuit of a growing physical and affective intimacy rooted in shared life experiences .