Evolution of partnership

  • both sexes have remnant dispositions for a dual partnerships strategy
  • humans seem to evolve into a species with monogamous lifelong partnerships
  • important to clarify expectations with the partner
Overview of topics:


Love at first sight sounds less romantic than superficial. In fact, however, humans are very well trained to assess people in their environment within seconds. Results are remarkably accurate in terms of age, health, mood and origin.

Studies show that attractive people are less severely punished at school and more positively assessed at university as well as at work. Even in court, attractive people receive less harsh punishment unless attractiveness played a role in the crime, such as marriage swindlers1

For both sexes, traits that indicate health and fertility are attractive. Young and healthy appearance, such as a firm, elastic skin and asymmetry of face and body are among them.

What makes women weak?

  1. fertility and health
  2. diversity
  3. material security
  4. defense ability

Females are thought to prefer the highest ranking males for mating. In some monkey species, however, females have been found to prefer new male members. This is also the basis for the hypothesis that females do not orient themselves according to a factual, but according to a prospective rank height2. There are two opposing motives when choosing a partner. On the one hand, the female longs for familiarity so that she can live safely and take care of her offspring. On the other hand however she feels a desire for otherness, which has probably prevailed for the benefit of diversity. Gene diversity is important, because the more similar the genetic material, the more useless it is. The need to prevent inbreeding is greater than the fear of risk3.

Material security also increases the attractiveness of a man in the eyes of the average woman. Even secured women found high earners more attractive4. In addition, most women rated men with a prominent chin, deep-set eyes and thick eyebrows as attractive.

Another finding shows that women found men more attractive who appeared to others in a dominant body language5. In order for females to take care of young offspring, males had to protect the family. On the other hand, women reject excessive dominant masculine characteristics6. Such behaviour might undergo a counter-selection, which would be reasonable, because the greater danger does not exist from strangers and outsiders. Domestic violence is the real danger for women and girls today.

What makes men weak?

  1. health and fertility (wide hips)
  2. has no child yet (narrow waist)

A study in 37 cultures with over 10,000 test persons showed which culture-independent characteristics are important for the sexes with regard to sexual attraction. The characteristics for the participants were given. Men rated younger women, good looks, wide hips and a relatively narrow waist as sexually attractive7. According to Singh & Luis, 1995, these characteristics are signs of increased fertility, health and that a woman has not yet given birth to a child. In addition, full lips look attractive, which is a result of female fat storage8.


“Love can touch us one time
and last for a life time
and never let go till we´re gone”

Céline Dion – My heart will go on

Why does the ideal of eternal love and responsibility impresses us so much today? And how does it fit in with the statistics that every third marriage breaks? Is it perhaps only a socialized romantic idea and we still have to find a realistic one? Maybe it is just not the right model for everyone? Or is the model too new and we still have to wait a few hundred generations of evolution until we are adequately equipped?

Passion comes with an expiration date. When a couple’s relationship is tied to the expectation that they will desire each other for life, it will most likely get difficult. Our genes, for example, are not prepared for contraceptives. If a woman does not become pregnant after 3 to 4 years, her attraction towards him decreases significantly. „Pooh, lucky we have children“ – well, there is other bad news. If children are socially acceptable, also after 3 to 4 years, the interest in the relationship also decreases on both sides9.

Marriage today

Figures from Germany 2017:

💑 18 million married couples

👰🏼🤵  0.4 million marriages

🤷‍♀️ 🤷‍♂️ 0.15 million Divorces

🗓 15 years average marriage duration

👨‍👧‍👦 0.4 million single fathers

👩‍👧‍👦 2 million single mothers

On average, a marriage lasts 15 years and the number of divorces has been declining for years10. The 68-ies celebrated free love did not make it very far. Apparently people have a deep urge for a strong bond. And of course there are children, who benefit from a stable family. On the other hand, there are currently 2.6 million single parents.

Marriage across all cultures, times and animals


Of all past and present cultures known to us worldwide, about 17 percent lived in lifelong monogamy.

In the animal world, by the way, you can guess who lives monogamy on the looks. The more similar females and males are to each other, the more balanced is their share in brood care and the higher is the probability that they live in lifelong monogamy. Since competition hardly plays a role in monogamous species, males do not need a fantasy uniform to impress females. In wolves and swans, for example, males and females look very similar and both live monogamously.

goose checkin in - monogam- Happy Jona

In the hierarchy of grey wolves there is not an alpha male, but an alpha pair. And swans, when their partner dies, mourn them. Within the so-called „animal marriage“ we see that the permanent reproductive community is not motivated solely by sexuality, but by a desire for a bond based on familiarity.

In the case of lions, on the other hand, the females differ visually from the males and raise the young, while the males protect several females and offspring. The species is polygamous. In humans we see external differences, which are however less pronounced than in our ancestors. Maybe humans are developing in the direction of a natural lifelong monogamy.


In 83 percent of the cultures polygyny prevailed, in which a man lives with several women. However, a harem community is the exception. In most cases it was actually temporary monogamy (a man lived together with one women for a period of his life and another woman in another period) and moderate polygyny (a man with a few women but again in most cases it was actually one woman).


In 0.4 percent of the cultures, polyandry was found in which a woman has several men. This was the case, for example, in Africa and the Tibetan highlands. In the animal world we see this way of life with combat-quails. The female lays eggs in several nests and the males breed. The female is more splendor-colored than males and she is the initiator of mating. She also has the higher amount of testosterone produced in the ovaries.


Polygynandria (group marriages between several men and women) could be proved in only one society (Pahari in Northern India)11.


Faithfulness is not a man-made need. Some animal species provide much more convincing statistics than humans in terms of fidelity. And although the partner’s fidelity is important to both sexes, both struggle to stay faithful themselves.

Why is fidelity important from an evolutionary perspective?

A survey in Germany from 2008 shows that sexual fidelity is more important for women than for men. 88 percent of women versus 72 percent of men stated that sexual fidelity was „very important“ to them12. In contrast, 30 percent of unfaithful women and 56 percent of unfaithful men describe their marriages as happy. Now, of course, we would need to know how the cheated person feels.

Evolutionary, infidelity became a problem for women when there was a danger that they would have to raise their offspring on their own. Sexual infidelity of the partner could result in other offspring of his which would compete with one’s own. But not only sexuality was a problem. Feelings for another woman also could end up in the partner leaving the family.

For men, sexual infidelity was a problem because they did not want to raise the offspring of others.

A dual strategy paid off for both sexes

Profit for women

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have shown that women find very masculine men more attractive during their ovulation. In times when mortality rates were significantly higher, healthy, strong genes were very important for the chances of survival of the offspring. Thus, women benefited from mating with strong, healthy men in their fertile phase. In order for the offspring to receive the best possible care, criteria such as care and responsibility on the part of the long-term partner were important13. Since men fulfilling all criteria are rare, a dual strategy might have paid off for women.

Profit for men

Men were also able to benefit from a dual strategy. On the one hand, they felt the need to commit themselves long-term and to participate in childcare. This way, their offspring had ideal conditions. But entering non-binding sexual relationships, men could increase their reproductive efficiency. However, this was only the case as long as the low-cost connections did not impair the long-term relationship.

While men attach importance to criteria such as intelligence and humour in their long-term partner, they are less choosy in their partners for affairs14. Findings on the so called last-minute panic speak in favour that men still have a disposition towards a quantitative strategy. So, men find women more attractive the later an evening is – regardless of their alcohol consumption15. Men who have a tendency towards a quantitative strategy, find their partner much less attractive after sexual intercourse16.

» next topic:

Anatomy and genetics

It seems like our genetic predispositions do not always fit with our own wishes and social norms. Actually, even our anatomy does not always make sense to who we are today. Are we ahead of evolution? Learn more now »


  1. unibas.ch/de request 13.07.2019
  2. Martin, 1992; 3: Bischof-Köhler 2006 p. 120
  3. Bischof-Köhler 2006 p. 120
  4. Buss 1994, 2004 nach Bischof-Köhler 2006 p. 142
  5. Sadalla et al., 1987 USA
  6. unibas.ch/de request 13.07.2019
  7. Sütterlin, 1994
  8. unibas.ch/de request 13.07.2019
  9. deutschlandfunk.de request 10.07.2019
  10. destatis.de request 10.07.2019
  11. Daly & Wilson, 1983 nach Bischof-Köhler 2006 p. 140
  12. statista.com request 10.07.2019
  13. medicalnewstoday.com request 10.07.2019
  14. Kenrick et al., 1990
  15. Gladue & Delaney, 1990
  16. Haselton & Buss, 2001

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