When it comes to predicting a couple’s compatibility and longevity, some experts believe that a canoe and two paddles can reveal more than a crystal ball.
The “canoe test,” in which couples—you guessed it—go canoeing together, can bring to light how they handle unexpected challenges together (navigating a strong current, for example), exacerbate a power struggle (“I’ll steer, you paddle”), and induce a blame game (“Didn’t you see that rock?”).
“When you’re on a river, the situation is largely new,” writes social psychologist Dan Ariely, in his best-selling book The Upside of Irrationality. “There isn’t clear protocol. The water is unpredictable, and canoes tend to drift and turn in ways you don’t anticipate. This context offers plenty of opportunities to establish and observe patterns of behavior.”
What’s more, with fewer distractions—no phone, no television—your relationship takes center stage. “In the canoe, the din of the outside world is gone,” says Carrie Capstick, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “This makes it easier to notice the subtleties of your interactions.”
While there’s no published research specifically on the canoe test, the anecdotal evidence is compelling:
“I went canoeing with my now ex-boyfriend and it ended in him calling me names and me jumping out of the canoe and throwing the paddle at him,” writes one Reddit user. “I fully support the validity of the canoe test.”
Another found an enlightening work-around: “Went whitewater canoeing with fiancee, had disagreement about which side of rock to go on. Bought [separate] kayaks, happily married 25 years :)” wrote another.
For all you land-locked lovers, activities such as riding a tandem bicycle, putting up wallpaper, or even shopping for furniture together can test your relationship in a similar way. Any activity that “requires problem-solving, dependency, and a small dose of stress,” will work, says Capstick.
And science points to a good outcome if you make it through the challenge with your relationship intact. Several studies have found that engaging in demanding physical activities together can enhance a couples’ emotional intimacy. Happy paddling!