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The Juliet Effect: Why your mum and your sister don’t like your hunky boyfriend

Why do we choose the partners we do, and why do we get flak about it from our parents? Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and Associate Professor Robert Biegler from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Psychology say it comes down to simple genetics.

“We see a conflict between mother and daughter because of opposing interests,” says Biegler.

The researchers knew this was the case from their research several years ago. They even know why, and named the conflict the “Juliet effect” after the conflict between Juliet and her mother Lady Capulet in Shakespeare’s drama.

Juliet’s mother hates Romeo

Juliet’s mother would rather have Juliet marry Paris, who is from a good family. Juliet has set her sights on the heartthrob Romeo from the archenemy’s family.

But what’s new is that you find the same opposing interests between sisters.

Your sister would choose the steady fellow for you

It’s the old story. The daughter of the house brings home the handsome hunk and proclaims that he is the love of her life.

But her mother prefers the respectable fellow with promising prospects, or maybe the rich guy from a good family.

As it turns out, your sister would probably agree with your mother, and would rather you have a steady, boring partner, too. This despite the fact that mother and sister would both rather have a hunk themselves.

Everything is ultimately about genetics and mathematics.

“For their own partners, women focus on an attractive appearance that suggests good health and an ability to pass on their genes. At the same time, they prioritize qualities in their sister’s partner that can provide direct benefits for the whole family,” say the researchers. “This is consistent with our previous studies where we compared mothers’ and daughters’ choices,” they add.

Studied sisters

The context for this new insight is a survey that the researchers undertook among female students and their sisters.

Participants were asked to rank 133 different characteristics that described the perfect partner for themselves or their sister. A similar survey was conducted among mothers and daughters a few years ago.

“For the most part, women choose the same ideal partner characteristics for themselves as for their sister. The qualities of faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness and reliability score highest when women are asked who would make an ideal partner,” says Biegler.

But some clear differences also emerged. “The women perceived characteristics like being understanding, empathic, responsible, helpful, sensible and kind as more important for their sister’s partner than for their own,” says Biegler.

Women found being sincere, humorous, charming, sexually satisfying and fun as more important for their own partner than their sister’s.

Relative’s partner must contribute directly

The reason is really simple. You are more closely related to your own kids than to your sister’s kids or your grandchild. The transfer of your own genes is ultimately most important.