Why couples look alike
I read about the reader who wanted to know more about his wife’s wild past (November 10 issue),” says T, in his mid-60s. “I agree with you that it is better for him not to poke his nose into his wife’s premarriage days. My wife and I are also happily married, because we learned through the years to trust each other without second-guessing [each other’s] intentions. We run a family business together; and she remains my best friend.
“My question is funny, but we are often told by our friends that we now look so alike. Looking at our old wedding pictures, I can see that there is already a similarity, but now, people say we look like brother and sister. This is flattering to me, because my wife is beautiful. My question is: what does science say about spouses who look alike?”
Your question made me laugh out loud. However, studies show that indeed, many couples (especially those who have been together for decades) tend to look alike.
Why? In the first place, many individuals tend to pair off with partners who look like them. This so-called familiarity effect is demonstrated in experiments showing that many people tend to be attracted to those who share features similar to theirs. Sometimes, lifestyle factors are the reason—couples may tend to gain weight together if both enjoy cooking, or lose weight if both love hiking.
Assortative mating is also a well-known factor, though nowadays this psychology theory may be viewed as politically incorrect.
People purportedly tend to couple with those on similar ratings of attractiveness to theirs. On a scale of 1 to 10, say, many 10s tend to go with gorgeous partners, while 7s find fulfillment with those who remind them of their neighbors or siblings.
The classic exception are wealthy but not classically handsome men who pair off with extremely attractive females (in this case, their wealth stands in for physical attractiveness).
Sexual imprinting is another theory posited for look-alike couples. Stemming from Freudian impulses, psychologists say that many of us may be unconsciously attracted to faces that remind us of our parents. This may account for your observation that as early as your wedding, some sort of physical resemblance already exists between you and your wife. I assume that you had a happy childhood, and that your parents (especially your mother) might have modeled for you what your spouse should ideally be like.
But because you have been happily married for years—and you are still very much in love with your wife (your statement about your wife being beautiful is so romantic)—I believe that empathic mimicry is the most likely reason why the two of you look alike.
You are each other’s best friend, which means that both of you undergo the highs and lows of married life, of raising children, of working together. Through thick and thin, through a pandemic, your love shines through. And with love comes empathy.
“Researchers who collected images of spouses both as newlyweds and after 25 years of marriage found that partners generally became more similar in looks over time, an increase that also predicted greater relationship quality,” says California State University psychologist Karen Wu in Psychology Today. “They proposed that spouses (particularly those who are especially close) may converge in facial features because of empathic mimicry—that is, through empathy for one another, the partners may feel similar emotions and make similar facial expressions, leading, over time, to similar facial musculature, wrinkling and aging patterns.”
This resemblance may also work the other way. Couples who believe that the world is against them may frown a lot, worry unduly, look at others with scorn. This leads to premature aging, frown lines, stern visages.
This is definitely not true in your case, but let this serve as a warning to the young: in the years to come, what are the chances that your significant other will lead you to age gracefully (or not) together?
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]
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