Two Key Factors that Influence Adolescent Girls’ Relationships

Romantic relationships are important for everyone, and that may especially be the case for adolescent girls. Compared to boys, adolescent girls indicate that their relationships affect them more and they focus more on their relationships.1 Understanding what contributes to healthy relationships for adolescent girls may help lessen potential negative relationship experiences. In this vein, a recent study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers from Stony Brook University explored adolescent girls’ relational security, or how comfortable girls are with being close to others and how much they worry about being left or abandoned.

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Great Sexpectations? How Your Expectations About Maintaining Sexual Satisfaction Affect Your Relationship

“…find out if the sex is good right off the bat…”“Sex is the barometer for what’s going on in the relationship…” -- Samantha Jones, Sex and The City

“Practice makes perfect....we can work on it.” -- Charlotte York, Sex and The City 


Can we tell right away whether we will have great sex with a partner, or is great sex something we may need to work on? As the above quotes illustrate, people differ in their expectations about whether satisfying sex is something we can achieve by finding a compatible partner (Samantha), or whether it is something that might require effort (Charlotte). How might these different beliefs about sex shape how happy we are with our sex lives and our relationships?

To answer these questions, my colleagues and I first developed a measure of sexual expectations, or “sexpectations” if you will.1 We adapted to the sexual domain the broader relationship concepts of destiny beliefs—the belief in soulmates and natural compatibility, and the concept of growth—the belief that relationships take work.2,3,4,5 People high in sexual destiny beliefs more strongly agree with statements like “Struggles in a sexual relationship are a sure sign that the relationship will fail,” and “A couple is either destined to have a satisfying sex life or they are not.” People higher in sexual growth beliefs tend to agree with statements like “In order to maintain a good sexual relationship, a couple needs to exert time and energy.”

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Safe Sex, Lies, and Past Partners

There are a lot of safe-sex behaviors that reduce sexually transmitted infections (e.g., consistent condom use, getting tested for STIs). In addition, open communication with your partner(s) about your respective sexual histories can help you assess the risk of a new (or established) sexual partner. Unfortunately, however, a recent a study of 183 college students published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that the majority of young adults may be dishonest when disclosing their sexual histories to sexual partners. Specifically, over 60% of respondents admitted to previously lying at least once when talking to a current partner about their number of past sexual partners, and 20% reported that they always lie about their number of previous partners. Those students who had previously lied about their sexual history were generally uncomfortable with talking about safe sex. So while open and honest communication is important in sexual relationships, you can’t assume you partner is telling you the truth.

tl;dr: Your new partner probably may not be completely honest, so using a condom is always a good idea.

Horan, S. M. (2016). Further understanding sexual communication: Honesty, deception, safety, and risk. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33, 449-468.


Single and (Not?) Lonely: How Socially Connected are Married versus Single People?

When it comes to building communities of interconnected friends and family, how does marital status influence the links between people? Who interacts more with their neighbors, friends, and family-- married people or their single counterparts?

Singles are often stereotyped as lonely, sitting at home by themselves (or maybe with a few cats). In contrast, marriage is often thought of as the foundation of our communities, functioning as a sort of social glue. However, for married people, husbands or wives may have to balance giving time to their partners at the expense of spending time with other social connections. Singles, on the other hand, have time to socialize with their friends and families, and therefore may be more connected. So, which is it? 

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Relationship Work: When You Have Relationship Problems, Who Should You Talk To?  

Imagine your relationship isn’t going well and you need to talk about it with someone. You start the conversation by saying something along the lines of, “Things aren’t going well in our relationship. We seem to be in this rough patch where I don’t feel like we’re connecting the way we used to.”  The question is, who would you be most likely to say this to -- your relationship partner or your best friend?

The fact is that every relationship has problems (e.g., who is responsible for vacuuming, dealing with in-laws, the growing malaise consuming your relationship, etc.). When things hit a rough patch, talking it over may help. When you discuss your relationship problems or challenges with others (typically your own partner or your best friend), researchers call this “relationship work.”1 A recent study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships explored the nature of relationship work and how such work may help shape a relationship’s long-term quality and stability.

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The Red-Blue Divide: Politics in Your Relationships

image source: washingtonpost.com

Throughout the United States, talk of current events and the upcoming Presidential election seems more rampant than Pokemon Go players moving about. The political climate can feel more heated than a scorching August afternoon. Many Americans are divided along political lines. In fact, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, more people embracing strongly polarized political beliefs report fear of or anger toward those with opposing views than ever before (since this question has first been scientifically polled in 1992).¹  Similarly, polarized political differences in opinion between members of a romantic relationship exist. If you are someone who feels strongly about your political viewpoints, imagine what it might be like to have a partner with opposite political opinions during this heated time. How much does this divide matter, and what are people’s ideal preferences for choosing a romantic partner when it comes to political ideology?

Does love trump the divide?

Perhaps there will soon be more scientific data on this topic in the future, particularly as it relates to the 2016 election. In the meantime, however, we can gain insight into the role of politics in relationships this question by looking at recent data looking at how strongly political attitudes and beliefs impact idealized partner selection. In 2014, Pew conducted a telephone survey about political polarization, calling over ten thousand randomly selected US adults and asking them to endorse statements that matched their political beliefs.

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Keeping the Flame Alive: Motivations for Staying Connected with Ex-Partners 

Although certainly not for everyone, individuals often remain in contact with former partners after a break-up. But what ramifications does continued contact with an ex have when one or both individuals find themselves in a new romantic relationship?

In one recent study the authors wanted to know why former partners communicate with each other, and whether motives for keeping in touch with ex-partners are what really matters for how communication affects the new relationships. The researchers found that about 40% of undergraduates in long-term relationships maintained communication with at least one former partner.

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Friendship Dissolution: The Whys and Goodbyes

A friend recently asked me for advice regarding a breakup. I am accustomed to fielding such relationship questions, however, I was surprised by her inquiry because I didn’t realize that she had a significant other. What was even more surprising was that the breakup she wanted advice about was not with a romantic partner, but with a friend.

Because our social circle seems to naturally evolve as we go through transitions in our lives (e.g., new schools, new homes, new jobs, etc.) many of us don’t think about the process of breaking up with friends. Her predicament, however, got me thinking about what happens when we need to let go of a friend during a relatively stable time in our lives. The decision to end the friendship may be because we realize that we have grown apart, no longer have time to devote to one another, or no longer value the connection.

So how do we go about breaking things off? Can we end a friendship, or are we obligated to hold on to friends just because we have had them in our lives for a certain period of time? If we decide to end the friendship, can we “ghost” the other person, or do we owe our friend a more formal ending?

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The Curse of the Real Housewives Continues: Another Few Bite The Dust

That’s right, another year and another Bravo-lebrity divorce or two. This time it’s Jules and Michael Wainstein from the Real Housewives of New York calling it quits on their eight-year marriage. Recent reports also indicate that Real Housewives of Atlanta alum Cynthia Bailey filed for divorce from her husband Peter Thomas. 

A few years back I wrote about the curse of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. With these recent divorces it appears that the curse lives on and continues to claim victims. Perhaps it is the promise of fame that drives women to parade their lives on national television. However, as we’ve all seen by the apparently escalated divorce rates for these reality TV stars, celebrity has its price.

Given this latest round of divorces, I figured it was a good time to revisit my past post on this topic. How does The Real Housewives make relationships more volatile and vulnerable to divorce?

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Resolving The Intimacy-Desire Paradox: Is More Intimacy Better?

Many couples fail to maintain sexual desire in their long-term relationships. Two people who once could not keep their hands off each other gradually lose interest in having sex, at least with their current partner. What distinguishes couples who experience passionate long-term relationships from those who fail to sustain the passion? Are there effective strategies to prevent against the waning of sexual desire in long-term relationships?

A study1 published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology seeks to answer those questions. Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and Cornell Tech collaborated on three studies to observe couples' expressions of responsiveness and sexual desire. People often say that they have sex because they wish to feel understood and cared for and that a partner who is responsive to their needs would arouse their sexual interest. However, previous research has not provided conclusive evidence for whether an increased sense of intimacy actually promotes (or undermines) sexual desire. In this context, intimacy consists of feelings of understanding, closeness, and connectedness and involves mutual expression of affection, warmth, and caring.2

Indeed, some scholars have noted the intimacy-desire paradox, which indicates that high levels of intimacy may inhibit rather than increase sexual desire. These scholars have argued that the core of this paradox lies in the contradiction between the intimate and familiar relationships that many people strive for and the limitations of such familiar bonds for enhancing desire. In particular, the need for security that intimacy typically provides may clash with the sense of uncertainty, novelty, and separateness that fuels desire, such that high levels of intimacy between partners may stifle sexual desire.

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Not In My Backyard: Daters Presume A Lot Of People, Except Their Own Partners, Cheat

Cheating on someone, or being cheated on (read more about infidelity here), represents one of the more traumatic events that can occur in any romantic relationship. Although the reported incidence rate of infidelity varies considerably by sample and relationship type, suffice it to say that affairs are not uncommon in marital and non-marital relationships. And people (in those relationships) suspect it’s common – when asked, people generally presume that people cheat frequently (hence the prevalence of tabloid magazine lists on ‘how to spot a cheater’). 

Yet, despite the apparent widespread presumption that staying true to another is no easy task, people likewise presume their own partners are highly unlikely to stray. A number of studies, mostly focused on married individuals, have documented a clear gap between the frequency of infidelity (i.e., people admitting they have cheated on their spouses) and individuals’ expectations that their partner has cheated. Basically, people believe others cheat, and even report doing it, but still don’t tend to think it has happened, or will happen, in their relationships. 

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Self-Disclosure to Parents in Emerging Adulthood...: Relationship Matters Podcast 58

In the latest episode of Relationship Matters, the official podcast of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Dr. Crystal Jiang from City University of Hong Kong discusses self-disclosure of emerging adults to their parents and it relates to their process of separation and becoming an individual. You can listen to the podcast here, and read the associated article here.


It’s Not the Size of the Boat, It’s the Motion of Your Notions

Most of us know that sexual compatibility plays an important role in how satisfied we feel with our romantic relationships. What most of us don’t know, however, is that there are actually two types of sexual compatibility: perceived sexual compatibility (how sexually compatible we think we are with our partners) and actual sexual compatibility (how sexually compatible we actually are with our partners). New research has enhanced our understanding of both types of sexual compatibility, along with their implications for partners’ sexual and relationship satisfaction.

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On Our Podcast Playlist: New Episodes of Relationship Matters

It's been a while since we've checked in with Relationship Matters, the official podcast of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. They've released a bunch of awesome new episodes over the last couple of months. Check them out!

  • Episode #56 - Physiology and pillow talk: Amanda Denes (University of Connecticut) talks about the association between individual differences in testosterone and communication after sexual activity. Read the associated article here.

What Robots Can Teach Us About Intimacy: The Reassuring Effects Of Robot Responsiveness

In the future, robots may serve in a variety of support roles, such as home assistance, office support, nursing, childcare, education, and elder care. When we reach that point, people may share their personal lives with robots, which, in turn, may create long-term personal relationships in the mind of humans. Home robots, for example, could help humans with house chores; they could entertain them, teach them new skills, or encourage them to exercise. Robots may assist people with hobbies, such as carpentry or jewelry making, or help children with their homework and music lessons. In any of these roles, robots may be required to monitor the humans they interact with, and engage in supportive interactions.

For example, a robot serving in a care facility might provide support by listening to the experiences and memories of elderly people. The way a robot responds to the human's communication in such scenarios may have a profound effect on various personal and relationship outcomes, including the human's perception of the robot, the human's sense of support and security, the human's willingness to continue to interact with the robot, and the human’s overall well-being.

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We Are Family: Familism May Promote Relationship Quality in Latinos but Not Other Cultural Groups

Familism refers to the sense of connection individuals have with their family. In a nutshell, those with a high degree of familism prioritize their family relationships above other relationships (and the self) and view family members as the first providers of support during stressful situations. Although this family-first focus may sound great, early research suggested that familism may actually undermine individual outcomes by creating a sense of burden (to the family) and limiting individuals’ abilities to have a diverse support network (which is generally a good thing). Put another way, familism runs counter to the traditional “American” value of independence.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships the study authors argued that a more culturally-sensitive view of familism may highlight the value of this connection to family, perhaps particularly for Latinos, whose cultural norms prioritize “family relationships before the self with warmth, closeness, and support”. As a result, familism may promote individuals’ relationship quality, romantic or otherwise,  by increasing how comfortable people are with feeling close to others as well as how much support they perceive from others (two important markers of relationship quality). Moreover, the authors suggested that the effect of familism on support may occur because familism promotes the value of close connections with others (rather than independence), thus resulting in lower levels of attachment avoidance.

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She’s Got the Look, Or Does She?

Have you ever noticed how some people’s typical expression tends to look angry or irritated? Celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, and Kanye West are notorious for these types of faces. This can be problematic because the person’s facial expression does not match their true feelings, resulting in unintentionally dirty looks. But it is important to realize that an angry or annoyed look doesn’t mean the person feels that way. You may be seeing something that isn’t there.

Being able to decipher the true meaning of someone’s facial expression (truly angry vs. the appearance of anger) is helpful for knowing the best way to approach an interaction. Across several studies, researchers at Arizona State University tested how men and women convey anger in their facial expressions and whether some people were more likely to perceive anger when viewing another person’s neutral facial expression.

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Do You Know When Your Partner is in the Mood for Sex?

Sometimes it’s obvious that our partner is interested in having sex—they might give us that seductive look or special touch. But other times it might be clear that tonight’s not the night—our partner might avoid our advances and simply roll over and go to sleep. But often, amidst our busy lives, work responsibilities, and children to care for, it may be much less clear how interested our partner is in engaging in sex. In a recent set of studies, my colleagues and I looked at how accurate people are at picking up on their partner’s interest in sex and how perceptions of a partner’s sexual desire are associated with relationship satisfaction and commitment.1 

First I want to share what we currently know from previous research about perceptions of sexual interest. All of the the past research on perceptions of sexual interest has focused on initial encounters between men and women—that is, men and women rating the sexual interest of a person they are meeting for the first time. The results are very consistent: men tend to show a sexual overperception bias where they perceive greater sexual interest in a women’s behavior than she herself reports. The majority of this research draws on evolutionary psychology and explains these findings as reflecting the fact that it’s more costly (in terms of men’s chances for mating with a good partner and having kids) for men to miss a potential mating opportunity than to perceive that a woman is interested in sex when she actually is not; thus, men tend to err on the side of overperception.2

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How a White Bear Can Teach You to Forget Your Ex

Don’t think of the white bear. 

If you’re like most people, you are now probably sitting in front of your computer screen or phone doing exactly what you were just instructed not to do -- thinking of a white bear. In fact, you are probably fixating on the white bear. Certainly, if you weren’t thinking of the white bear before, you are now.

This laser-like focus on the exact idea I instructed you to block out results from what researchers refer to as the ironic process theory, or more simply, the white bear effect. In a seminal research study, participants were asked to verbalize their stream of consciousness and not think about a white bear.  Despite these explicit instructions, not only did participants have difficulty suppressing thoughts of the forbidden white bear, but the white bear surfaced with an unusually high frequency.1 This idea relates to relationships as well. After breaking up with a significant other, you may make a conscious effort to avoid thinking about him/her. However, in doing that, you wind up focusing on your ex, which is exactly what you intended not to do in the first place.

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Why You Have Sex Matters for Your Desire and Satisfaction

Think about a time when you engaged in sex with your partner in an effort to promote a positive outcome in your relationship, such as to feel closer to your partner or enhance intimacy in your relationship. Now think about a time when you had sex to avoid a negative outcome, such as disappointing your partner or experiencing conflict in your relationship. As it turns out, the reasons why we have sex in our relationships have important implications for how much sexual desire we have for our partners and how satisfied we are with the sexual experience and with our relationship overall. 

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