Past, present, and why people struggle to establish and maintain intimate relationships

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Many people face difficulties or fail completely to establish and maintain long-term intimate relationships. This is puzzling because, given the evolutionary importance of mating, we would expect that evolutionary forces would have endowed most people with adaptations that promote success in intimate relationships. This does not appear to have happened, and the present paper explores the reasons why. In particular, on the basis of anthropological and historical evidence, it is argued that the mechanisms involved in mate choice were shaped by selection forces in a context where mating was regulated. The situation in which individuals have to find mates almost completely on their own, constitutes therefore an evolutionarily novel situation for which selection forces had not sufficient time to produce adaptive changes. The present paper nominates several mechanisms involved in mate choice which may not have been optimized to deal effectively with the demands of the contemporary mating context. This perspective can promote a deeper understanding of the difficulties people face in intimate relationships, and provide a sound basis for therapy to address them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-269
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Difficulties in intimate relationships
  • Intimate relationships
  • Mate choice
  • Parental choice


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