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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Tuesday
Mar012016

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: How Insecure People Attract Dates

Take a moment to imagine your ideal romantic partner. What is it, exactly, that you find so attractive about him or her? If you’re like a lot of people, you probably envisioned someone caring, warm, reliable, confident, and open—All personality characteristics that make for a secure partner. Now, think of one of your actual romantic partners, past or present. Again, if you’re like a lot of people, you probably can think of at least one partner who was insecure; perhaps they came across as emotionally needy and clingy (i.e., anxiously attached) or perhaps they acted emotionally distant and non-communicative (i.e., avoidantly attached). This raises a paradox when it comes to dating choices: If most people say they want secure partners, how and why do they end up with insecure partners? Could it be that insecure individuals use certain strategies to help them attract potential dates?

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Sunday
Feb282016

Five Years Later...Happy Anniversary to Us

Five years ago we flipped the switch on an idea. We believed that people intuitively recognize the importance of relationships and want to learn what science has to say about what makes relationships work. From these beliefs our slogan was born: “the important things in life deserve data.”   

In the five years (!) following our launching Science of Relationships in 2011, it’s been very clear that millions of people agree with us. The site has been more successful than we ever thought, and without a marketing budget our articles have been read nearly 6.5 million times to date. That type of reach would not be possible without our expert contributors’ generosity. Each of them selflessly gives their time and scientific knowledge to help our mission of sharing relationship science with the world. 

Essentially, for 5 years we’ve proudly run a website that makes no money, but does a whole lot of good (in our humble opinion) for relationships and the world. And that’s what counts.

Science of Relationships has opened some doors and given us an opportunity to do something we sketched out years before the website was born. A longstanding idea we’ve had on the backburner (since we all have day jobs as professors) was to create a way for people to evaluate their relationships in a scientifically-informed way. After years of not having time to bring the concept to fruition, the phone rang.

On the other end was a television producer from Hollywood who had a similar vision. With the increasing popularity of online dating, there were plenty of apps dedicated to trying to help people find love, but none of these technological tools helped users make sense of their relationships. How do you know if you’re in a good relationship? How do you avoid settling? Are you wasting your time, or should you spend more time to make a good thing better? Ultimately, how do you decide if you should you stay or you should go?

After nearly 2 years of conference calls, focus groups, meetings in Los Angeles, concept development, writing and rewriting questions, data collection, data analysis, deciding on a name, and conversations with our uber-team of programmers, last week it all became a reality.

StayGo™ is the first app for evaluating your relationship across several science-based dimensions. Best of all, StayGo™ is completely free.

Want to learn more about relationships? You can download it here.

Love doesn’t have to be blind.

Thursday
Feb252016

TED Talk: "What Makes a Good Life?" - 75 Years of Data (Spoiler Alert: Relationships Matter!)

Tuesday
Feb232016

Much Ado About Nothing: The Result of Biases about Partners’ Negative Emotions

Positive feelings are pretty common in relationships – love, passion, support, and care are all usual occurrences. However, negative experiences can occur as well, such as jealousy, anger, or frustration. In these moments, some people may have difficulty regulating their own negative emotions and dealing with partners’ anger and frustration. Often, partners’ negative emotions are particularly important to recognize because they communicate problems in the relationship that need attention. Psychologists have set out to explore how attachment may be related to people’s ability to accurately identify negative emotions that partners are experiencing.

If you regularly read this site, you’ve already learned a lot about attachment styles. As a quick summary, attachment describes the way people bond with others. Anxious individuals seem “clingy” – they’re concerned with being abandoned by romantic partners and need a lot of reassurance that they’re loved. Those who are avoidant, however, prefer to be independent and more distant from partners. Secure people are more of a happy medium – they are comfortable with being close to their partners, but aren’t overly concerned with being abandoned. You can learn more about attachment styles here.

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Thursday
Feb182016

How Do People Share The News About Their Engagements?

Tuesday
Feb162016

5 Ways Relationships Affect Your Health

New research has provided more evidence that relationships affect health (read our previous posts on this subject here).1 The researchers examined data from four large-scale studies that collectively followed thousands of Americans over time. One of the studies followed adolescents, another followed young-to-mid-adults (aged 25-64), and the last two followed older adults (aged 50+), resulting in more than 14,000 participants across the lifespan. Each study measured various aspects of individuals’ social relationships, such as social support (e.g., reliability of family members), social integration (e.g., frequency of contact with other people), and social strain (e.g., frequency of criticism from friends). Each study also included health outcome measures such as blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass. These outcomes are associated with how the body responds to stress and are predictive of disease and mortality.

Overall, the researchers found that the more socially integrated people were (i.e., the more they socialized with others and different kinds of others) and the better quality their relationships (i.e., with lots of social support and little social strain), the better their health throughout the lifespan.

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Friday
Feb122016

Should You Be My Valentine? Research Helps Identify Good and Bad Romantic Relationships

“Will you be my Valentine?”

People all across the country say those words in the run-up to February 14 and the Valentine’s Day holiday. Whether you’re asking a brand new paramour or a long-term partner, the question can evoke feelings both of romantic uncertainty and possibility.

But for the well-being of ourselves and our relationships, “Will you be my Valentine?” is the wrong question. Instead, the more important question to ask yourself is “Should you be my Valentine?”

Relationships can be one of the most important sources of happiness in your life, with social connections serving as a key provider of happiness and meaningfulness. Not surprisingly, human beings have a very powerful drive to form and maintain relationships. After all, the future of humankind depends on people coupling up to conceive and raise the next generation. Because forming relationships is such a powerful motivator, being in any relationship can seem better than being alone. A variety of factors can lull us into relationship complacency – compatibility, friendship, shared interests, inertia, fear of being single or low expectations. The drive to be paired off may lead you to settle for the relationship you have, instead of the relationship you deserve.

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Sunday
Feb072016

“Give me a minute”...Before I Behave Badly

You’re having a stressful week at work. You’ve had projects fail, presentations go awry, and to top it off, you just ended your week with a performance review that you don’t think went very well. As you arrive home, tired and just relieved to finally be there, you walk through the door and your partner immediately begins asking you about whether you picked up lettuce from the grocery store, dropped that package off at the post office, and adds, “Why didn’t you take out the recycling this morning?” You can’t believe it. Doesn’t he know the week that you’ve had? How could he be so uncaring? So, you don’t hold back: “Well, I see you didn’t do the dishes like you said you would. And is this what we’re having for dinner? Yikes.” Uh oh… this isn't how you want to act in your relationship! But we’ve all been there. What happened?!

What you’ve experienced is a phenomenon known as stress spillover—stress that we experience in one life domain (e.g., work) ‘spills’ out of that domain and into others (e.g., home life).1 And we know that spillover can have a detrimental effect on our relationships; individuals reporting higher levels of stress are less forgiving of their partners, more likely to criticize and blame their partners, less satisfied in their relationships, show poorer communication skills, and are more likely to have their relationships end.1,2 (Find more about the effects of stress spillover here.) In other words, relationships unfold in broader contexts, and many of the stressors in these contexts (e.g., problems at work, juggling kids, transportation issues) make it more difficult for partners to maintain happy and healthy relationships, regardless of the generally deep desire or motivation to do so.

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Friday
Feb052016

Giving the Gift of an Experience this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching. While many people are looking forward to showing their partners how much they are loved by exchanging gifts, others are filled with anxiety in trying to pick out the perfect item. You can hardly walk down the street without being bombarded by store windows featuring giant people-sized teddy bears and equally large heart shaped boxes of chocolate. For those in relationships, picking out the perfect present is of utmost importance, as the gift ideally symbolizes our love for the other person. This is because “gift-giving involves both the objective value of a gift and the symbolic meaning of the exchange.”1 Before making your final decision between jewelry or something practical like a pair of winter gloves, consider giving your partner an experience.

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Wednesday
Feb032016

The Divorce Diet: Relationships, Stress, and Emotional Eating

I’ve always been an emotional eater. When I’ve been promoted at work, I want to go out to dinner. When I’m stressed, I want a bag of gummy bears within reach. When I’m sad, my two best friends are Ben and Jerry. 

So when my husband and I divorced last year – about as amicably as is possible -- I was surprised to find that I was often unable to eat. I would pack healthy lunches of favorite foods and find myself incapable of choking down more than a few bites at a time. I’d have to force myself to eat. Given that I’ve been studying eating behaviors for my entire adult life, I knew that not eating was not an option. So, instead I’d “drink my calories” (the exact opposite of what I recommend people do when they are trying to lose weight) to be sure I was getting enough of something resembling nutrients (hey, if there is a lot of milk in the latte, that still counts – right?). But, I didn’t enjoy any of it.

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Tuesday
Feb022016

Why Do We Watch Romantic Movies During Winter Storms?

If you are currently in the Northeast United States, you are probably still dealing with the aftereffects of Jonas, our most recent (and for many of us) first snowstorm of the winter. While some of us braved the weather to walk our dogs, dig out our cars, or make an emergency trip to the store to pick up the milk we forgot to buy in the days leading up to the storm, the rest of us probably stayed warm indoors and watched TV. After texting my friends to discuss their snowpocalypse plans, I found out that many, like me, were watching movies. Specifically romantic movies. Was this all just a pre-Valentine’s Day coincidence? The answer to this question may be found by considering research on embodied cognition.

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Thursday
Jan282016

If At First You Don’t Succeed: A Strategy for Effectively Stealing a Romantic Partner

Sue and Dan are in a relationship. Their friend, Matt, is romantically interested in Sue. If Matt tries to “steal” Sue away from Dan, then he is doing what researchers call “mate poaching.” To try to poach Sue, Matt might do things like insult Dan, try to compete with Dan, tell Sue that she could do better, and/or try to keep Sue from hanging out with Dan. There is no shortage of examples on TV shows and movies of one person poaching their friend from an existing romantic relationship (e.g., Made of Honor). But outside of Hollywood, is mate poaching by friends common? 

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Tuesday
Jan192016

Book Review: Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

On the cover of his recent book, Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari is pictured standing against a white background, with hearts over his eyes, looking down solemnly at his cell phone. The image evokes some confusion (he appears to be searching for something and doesn’t appear very happy). It seems Ansari has set out to clarify things; his book aims to tackle many important questions that young adults have in the dating world of 2015. What makes a person attractive? Can people really find love through a website or a phone app? Are people only interested in sex these days? How does dating in America compare to dating in Europe, Asia, or South America? And what’s the secret to a happy relationship? Ansari is attempting to capture the essence of close relationships in our era and to address the existential crises that many millennials feel as they try to navigate their lives and make the right decisions. Ansari is a powerful voice for my generation – one that speaks with confidence, clarity, and creativity. He is a comedian, a writer, and an actor – he’s starred in some very popular TV shows and movies, and is a prolific stand-up comic. But Ansari stands out from his colleagues in that his book strives for scientific accuracy. He’s not just looking to make people laugh, he’s looking to educate them and to shine a light on some mystifying social phenomena. In writing this book, Ansari teamed up with renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg and consulted with several high-profile psychologists including Barry Schwartz, Helen Fisher, Eli Finkel, Sheena Iyengar, and others.

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Thursday
Jan142016

First, Best, Worst, Forbidden, and Regretted: Kisses and Kissing

Chances are you had your first kiss when taking part in a kissing game -- you know those age-old games, like Spin-the-Bottle, Seven Minutes in Heaven, and Run-Chase-Kiss? These games tend to take place during the transition from childhood to adolescence (and maybe some office parties later in life, but let’s not get into that).

But what about your first “real” kiss in a truly romantic or sexual context? Most people remember their first kiss quite clearly. For many girls, that kiss can prompt changes in a sense of self as a sexual person.1 Other first kisses also are notable. The first kiss in a new relationship is an especially giddy event, the novelty of a new partner lasts for a while, and research suggests that we use that kissing experience to sort those with whom we have good genetic compatability.2 At some point, most romantic relationships pass from the rollercoaster phase characterized by passionate kisses into the steadier and affectionate phase of companionate love.3 How does kissing change during this transition?

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Tuesday
Jan122016

Parental Alienation and the Fight for Children’s Hearts and Minds

Parental alienation involves one parent spoiling the relationship between a child and the other parent in the absence of actual abuse or neglect. In both my personal and professional lives, I have seen many parents actively turn their children against the other parent in an effort to “keep them (the child) close,” and to undermine their child’s loving bond with the other parent. Although research has demonstrated that parental alienation has very negative effects on children (e.g., depression, substance abuse and conduct disorders), few researchers have examined empirically how exactly parents engage in this alienation behavior.1

The majority of research on this topic has surveyed young adults (e.g., children) who report having been alienated from one parent by another. Alienating strategies include bad-mouthing or denigrating the other parent in front of the child (or within earshot),2,3 limiting the child’s contact with the other parent,4 trying to erase the other parent from the child’s mind (e.g., withholding pictures of the child with the other parent),2 creating and perpetuating a belief the other parent is dangerous (when there is no evidence of actual danger),2 forcing the child to reject the other parent, and making the child feel guilty if he or she talks about enjoying time with the other parent.2 The impact of these behaviors on children is devastating, but it also often has the opposite intended effect; parents who denigrate the other parent are actually less close with their children than those who do not.3

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Thursday
Jan072016

We’re Exclusive In Our Relationship…Aren’t We? 

Public opinion surveys find that 70-80% of North Americans say that infidelity is “always wrong,” and most others express some disapproval.1,2 Researchers find that most married and dating partners expect romantic and sexual exclusivity.3,4 If you’re like a good number of people, you may think that you have in place an agreement to be exclusive. But, like many people, odds are that your understanding of this agreement is based far more on assumptions than actual explicit discussion.

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Tuesday
Jan052016

Taking the Nasty Out of “Doing the Nasty”: Sexual Arousal Reduces Women’s Disgust

Ladies, be honest: Do certain aspects of sexual activity sometimes gross you out? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, and there’s a psychological and physiological explanation for why you might feel that way. Both sex and disgust are core aspects of human experience. Scientists believe that disgust evolved as a defensive mechanism to keep us from being contaminated by external sources.1 Accordingly, the mouth and the vagina, two body parts that lie at the border of the body (and are therefore at a higher risk for contamination), demonstrate greater disgust sensitivity; for example, we are likely to be especially grossed out by having a spider crawling on/around the mouth or vagina compared to, say, the left arm.2 Add to this the finding that some of the strongest triggers for disgust are body odor, saliva, semen, and sweat, all heavily involved when getting “down and dirty,” and you can see how the relation between sex and disgust seems contradictory or even obstructive. In fact, you might be left wondering how humans manage to have pleasurable sex at all! 

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Wednesday
Dec302015

Infographic: What is the Ultimate Commitment?