Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2008 | Features

Before the Altar

By Kathryn Howe

The first line of defense when it comes to marriage? Pick the right person.

It sounds obvious, but some people get into patterns of choosing the wrong partner--over and over and over again. Usually, these habits form during the dating years.

UI psychology professor and researcher Erika Lawrence wants to help young people with poor mate selection skills make better choices, before they even think about long-term commitment.

Although most research into relationships begins at the point of marriage, Lawrence feels that approach ignores a big piece of the puzzle. In a first-of-its-kind study, she's examining the factors that place dating couples at risk for problems-including how and why participants repeatedly make the same mistakes when choosing partners.

The study follows about 200 UI students from their freshman year in 2005 through to graduation in 2009. In addition, researchers will evaluate how the vulnerabilities of participants (in particular, those from families with high levels of conflict and poor parental models for coping with stress) place any relationship at risk, regardless of the mates they choose, as well as how different people bring out different characteristics in each other.

Lawrence, who hopes one day to develop a relationship and family skills course at the UI, will also use the results of this study to help dating, engaged, and newlywed couples have more rewarding relationships.