Tuesday
Aug092016

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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Thursday
Aug042016

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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Monday
Aug012016

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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Monday
Jul252016

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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Friday
Jul222016

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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Tuesday
Jul192016

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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Thursday
Jun302016

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.

Wednesday
Jun292016

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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Wednesday
Jun082016

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.
Monday
Jun062016

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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Wednesday
Jun012016

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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Monday
May232016

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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Wednesday
May182016

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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Sunday
May082016

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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Friday
Apr222016

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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Tuesday
Apr192016

Are There Wedding Bells in Your Future?: Psychology Predicts Where Your Relationship is Headed

Is he or she the one? You know… the one to introduce to my parents, the one to move in with, the one to start a family with, the one to marry? At some point in every dating relationship, you ask yourself some version of these questions.

Of course you’re invested in predicting the fate of your own relationship. Psychology researchers are interested as well. Are there recognizable signs that can foretell where a relationship is headed? Typically researchers have tried to puzzle out this question by measuring some aspect of a relationship at one moment in time and then seeing how that measurement coincides with relationship outcomes months or years later. For example, one group found that greater boredom now predicts less relationship satisfaction nine years later.

These types of one-shot measurements are useful, but how you feel about any facet of your relationship fluctuates over time. Some researchers, including Ximena Arriaga at Purdue University, have suggested that the typical method of measuring a single moment in time may not fully capture the relationship experience; it might be more revealing to look at patterns of change as the relationship develops. To know your relationship’s fate, the ups and downs may matter more than its quality at one specific moment. A newly published study examined this question by tracking how relationships progressed over time via people’s own changing senses of where things were headed.

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Thursday
Apr142016

“Clear for Takeoff”: Turbulence in Romantic Relationships

It doesn’t take a social scientist to tell you that relationships are complicated. But it may not hurt to ask one why relationships are complicated. Take breakups, for example. People often question their breakups only in hindsight, looking back to wonder exactly what went wrong. They may ask things like, “Was it something I said, or did?” Well, according to one theoretical perspective, it may have less to do with specific behaviors, and more to do with the way that people approach relationships in general.

Imagine you’re on a plane. As you travel from point A to point B, it is possible that you may encounter turbulence. This is common during most plane rides, and after a short while it usually evens out eventually. Researchers have begun to think about romantic relationships in this way: smooth flights that occasionally encounter turbulence. Normally, things turn out fine, but enough turbulence can cause any flight to crash. It is during the transition from point A to point B that turbulence becomes dangerous.

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Tuesday
Apr122016

What Makes Breaking Up So Painful?

It’s a universal feeling. Your partner was too unavailable, or you were too emotionally attached, but whatever the reasons, you ended up on the wrong side of a breakup. You reach for the ice cream and prepare for the deluge of emotions.

We’ve all been in this position before. Those of us who have experienced love have probably experienced hurt as well—But why? What factors contribute to a bad breakup, and what makes some breakups worse than others? Through relationships research, we can uncover why some breakups seem relatively painless and why others seem to drag on into eternity.

Many factors contribute to the way we process information, so it makes sense that many factors also contribute to how upset we feel after a breakup. For example, a survey study1 on young adults’ reactions to a recent breakup revealed multiple influences on their feelings of distress, including how the relationship started, what the relationship was like, how the relationship ended, and how each partner perceived relationships in general.

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Tuesday
Mar152016

Destined for Disaster or Casual and Carefree?: What are the Benefits of a Friends with Benefits Relationship?

What do the majority of today’s American college students have in common with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake? Hint: The answer is found in the title of the 2011 rom-com Mila and Justin starred in...that’s right...Friends with Benefits. Several studies show that Friends with Benefits Relationships (FWBRs) are quite common among college-age students.1,2,3 But, despite their apparent commonality, modern media tells us that FWBRs are destined to fail, either because partners become hurt by the lack of exclusivity and love in their relationship, or because partners fall in love despite their original intentions (a la Mila and Justin). But are such outcomes true in the real world? Can’t people actually enjoy the benefits of a FWBR? The answer—like most questions in relationships research—is that it depends.

A FWBR is a relationship in which two individuals who share a friendship also have sex, but do not explicitly express romantic feelings. However, the exact meaning of this FWBR label can vary across relationships, ranging from a completely monogamous relationship between two close friends to a non-monogamous relationship between two casual acquaintances, and anywhere in between. This ambiguity can be either a major benefit or a major bummer for someone in a FWBR, depending on how they feel about labels and boundaries in a sexual relationship.2 Partners in a FWBR are much less likely to communicate with each other about their relationship and their sexual needs than are partners in a committed romantic relationship, which makes defining the rules and boundaries of the relationship difficult.1 Whether or not this ambiguity can benefit partners depends on their respective intentions when initiating the relationship.

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Wednesday
Mar022016

Your Relationship at Your Fingertips: The Science Behind StayGo™

My colleague Gary Lewandowski recently laid out the backstory of how we began working with a team of folks from Hollywood to develop and release StayGo™, a new app that provides feedback to people about their relationships (don’t have StayGo™ yet? Download it here!). We’ve received a lot of inquiries about StayGo™, particularly questions regarding the science underlying this one-of-a-kind relationship evaluation tool. Although I’m not at liberty to divulge the details of the recipe behind our secret sauce, I can talk broadly about how relationship science informs the three StayGo™ modules.

1. Your SG Score

At the heart of StayGo™ is a set of 20 dimensions that are associated with relationship quality and longevity. The importance of these core has been demonstrated across hundreds of research studies involving both dating and married samples (see here for a condensed list of those studies). I won’t spoil the fun and list them all here, but set up an account and you will see for yourself since the app describes these dimensions once you’ve completed the questions.

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