Married couples make a number of important decisions together, such as where to live, what type of house to buy, how many children to have and how to educate them. And the extent to which a person believes in powerful forces – like fate, luck or destiny – is among the personality characteristics that influence the way these decisions are made.
This is known as “locus of control”, a psychological term referring to how much a person thinks they have control over the outcomes of their lives, rather than feeling like their lives are influenced by external forces.
For example, having an “internal orientation” means you’d expect you could solve problems on your own. On the other hand, an external orientation means you think luck, fate, destiny, a higher power, or other outside influences will be more important to help resolve issues.
Our new published research, which crunched survey data from thousands of Australian heterosexual couples, showed those who felt a strong sense of control over their lives (internal locus of control) were far more satisfied in their marriage than those who put a greater emphasis on outside forces (external locus of control).
We tested the impact of “locus of control” on marriage satisfaction with a nationally representative group of married couples. Data was taken from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) project, collected from more than 7600 households between 2001 and 2017.
And we analysed questions such as whether your own locus of control, or that of your spouse, has a greater impact on how happy you are in your marriage.
There were four key findings.
First, we found having an internal locus of control and a partner who is also internally oriented is associated with higher marriage satisfaction. In other words, if neither you nor your partner believe in powerful external forces like fate, you’re more likely to be in a happy marriage.
We also found that for both men and women, your own locus of control is more important for how happy you are in a marriage, rather than your partner’s locus of control.
And spouses sharing a similar level of locus of control is beneficial to a marriage because they’d typically have similar views about how problems can be solved. But having a similar locus of control is still less important for your own marriage satisfaction than you having an internal locus of control.
Finally, we found heterosexual couples with a more externally oriented husband experience a greater decline in marriage satisfaction over time, compared with couples where the husband is more internally oriented. We did not find a corresponding effect for wives.
Locus of control is important because it affects couple interactions. It could lead to disagreements and misaligned perceptions regarding how household decisions are made.
For example, one variable we looked at was financial decisions. And we found externally oriented husbands married to more internal wives were more likely to report financial decisions were usually made by the wife, and less likely to report financial decisions were shared equally. However, internal wives perceive matters differently and view they aren’t solely making these decisions.
Our findings are particularly pertinent for couples considering marriage, because locus of control doesn’t generally change much over time, unless you make an active effort to do so – for example, through couples therapy.
Quiz: what’s your locus of control?
So before deciding to get married, couples could take this test determining your individual locus of control. This will offer a better idea of what to expect, based on the orientation of their partner and their own locus of control.
Read more: This trait could be key to a lasting romance
You can answer a few questions to determine your own locus of control. How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?
It is important to note locus of control is a continuum. Most people lie somewhere between the two extremes.
Broadly speaking, a score of 13 or lower implies you have an internal orientation, while a score of 21 or higher implies you have an external orientation. A score in-between 14 to 20 implies you have a midlevel orientation.
Now get your partner to do the test and have a chat!