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.
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.
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 #57 - Narrative meaning making, attachment, and psychological growth and stress: Matthew Graci (Emory University) discusses understanding how people turn episodes in time into subjectively meaningful narratives which can shed light on adaptive meaning-making processes. Read the associated article here.
- 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.
- Episode #55 - Sexualized, objectified, but not satisfied: Laura R. Ramsey (Bridgewater State University) talks about the effect of objectification in romantic relationships. Read the associated article here.
- Episode #54 - Marital quality and loneliness in later life: Jeffrey E. Stokes (Boston College) talks about loneliness in marriage. Read the associated article here.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Want to learn more about relationships? You can download it here.
Love doesn’t have to be blind.
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.
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.