Active areas are sensitive to social influence factors and to the instances of instrumental rationality. These are also the areas where, being involved in the conscious part of the decisional process, it is possible for subjects to exert a systematic activity of planning and control. The elicitation of the desirable characteristics of a potential partner will necessarily stimulate the active areas, in that it concerns a process of rational deliberation. However, as already observed, this does not imply that such abstract considerations actually translate into consistent choice criteria once subjects find themselves in the position of choosing real partners . This latter choice depends, as already discussed, on the interaction between the rewards from the active areas and from the receptive ones, and in the absence of a sufficient level of indirect reward, the stability of the couple is seriously at risk of being compromised.
On the other hand, couples may exist not only because of the intrinsic value of the relationship but also because of its instrumental value
These remarks seem to be supported by the relative prevalence of subcortical structures and processes with respect to neocortical ones in the determination of the choice of the partner . Between the abstract desirability of a partner and the actual formation of a long-term couple bond there is therefore a wide gulf. The formation of a couple bond implies a complex chain of favorable situations and circumstances. Not only do the reciprocal compatibility tests have to be successfully passed, but it is equally necessary for the partners to effectively implement a stable repeated cycle of cooperation, along which each one manages to appropriately feed the other with the needed indirect rewards, and vice versa. It is therefore far from strange or unlikely that a subject ends up forming a couple bond with a partner whose characteristics are different (and in some cases, very much so) than the ones s/he claimed to prefer at an abstract level. In particular, provided that indirect rewards are operating at a sub-conscious level whereas the claims about partner desirability are expressed consciously and only conforming to the logic of direct rewards, a paradoxical and only apparently counter-intuitive situation emerges, according to which each sex expresses preferences for aspects that are not those really crucial according to the logic of the RAs and of indirect rewards. In the absence of a suitable interpretive framework, such indications may therefore be deeply misleading for the purposes of personal and family counseling.
Inevitably, then, we will witness a marked sexual dimorphism in the singling out of preferential traits, which, as pointed out by extensive cross-cultural research, has men privileging the physical aspect of the partner, and women emphasizing social resources, such as wealth and status
The formation of couples is not indeed guided only by the goal of finding a partner with whom to build a profound intimacy and unity of intent, but also by a number of other purposes linked to power, financial security, freedom from the constraints of the family of origin, social prestige, and so on. The process of signaling and strategic interaction that is at the root of the formation of the couple is thus potentially subject to any possible sort of strategic manipulation, simulation, and deceit, both on the male and the female sides. Such manipulative capacities are strategically oriented to systematically avoid a deep involvement in the couple relationship , and may bring significant advantages in the extraction of short-term benefits from the mating process . In particular, pulling the partner into a position of unilateral tie-up puts the manipulating subject in a condition of special strategic advantage. A unilateral tie-up indeed allows the exercise of forms of exploitation to which the other could not be able to oppose even if becoming aware of them, insofar as such a tie-up keeps on being active and the RA keeps on generating indirect rewards, even in adverse circumstances and in the absence of a well-functioning TU-C. This is true in particular for female subjects, whose indirect reward is not linked to the dispositional attitudes of the partner but to biological compatibility, and might even be reinforced by a past history of humiliation, psychological, or sexual abuse at an early or developmental age [103,104], with its negative implications on self-worth, possibly mediated by self-blame . It may thus happen that even in seriously dysfunctional and even abusive situations, the tie-up of the exploited female subject may be strengthened insofar as such situations entail occasions of substantial physical contact.