Wednesday
Jan182017

“Netflix and Chill?”: Are Friends With Benefits Relationships the New Norm?

In decades past, “dating” was the primary way people developed relationships – people would get a feel for each other and, if things felt right, they would eventually engage in physical intimacy. Recent research, however, suggests the sequencing of sex in a new relationship has changed. Sex has begun to function as a screening device that people use to determine if a relationship is worth perusing. In fact, research shows that over the past 30 years, the amount of time between first date and first sexual encounter has decreased steadily1. Because sex is such an important element of relationships this leads researchers to reconsider what constitutes “normal” relational development.

Enter the friends with benefits relationship (FWBR). If you’re under the age of 25 and you’re reading this you may be thinking ‘nobody does FWBRs anymore, that’s what our parents did.’ Before you judge, consider the following study conducted by Mongeau and his colleagues2. They had a feeling that FWBRs were not as simple as people think they are. In fact, the researchers let their participants (in this case, college students) define what a FWBR is. The results revealed that FWBRs do not represent one type of relationship – they represent seven (see the Table below for types and descriptions).

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan162017

Attachment in the Virtual World

Did you have a Tamagotchi as a child, or have you played a similar game where you had to take care of a pet or person (e.g., Nintendogs)? Did you invest a lot of time taking care of it? I know I did. I also had pretty positive feelings towards my Tamagotchi and Nintendog (a cute corgi). Interestingly, it’s possible that how I felt towards my virtual pets related to how I felt towards others in the non-virtual world.1 While reading a recent, currently free to access, issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, I learned that there’s a computer program that you can play to try your hand at being a parent. The child is born and ages like a non-virtual child, but does so at a rapid rate. The choices that you make for it are irreversible. Researchers wanted to know if people’s feelings towards a “virtual child” were related to comfort with getting close to others in real life.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jan132017

Writing to Heal: The Impact of Expressive Writing on Individual and Relational Well-Being

Relationships have their ups and downs. In many cases, people in relationships experience periods of enduring happiness, and also find themselves going through times that leave them feeling like their personal or relationship health could be improved. But to where does one turn when in need of a personal or relational boost? Research suggests one might pull out a pen and paper to write about their relationship. 

Several published reports indicate that expressive writing is a useful tool for mental, physical, and relational health management.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan092017

Does Being a “Good Kisser” Really Matter?

Obviously, whether or not someone is a good kisser is important. But how important is it? Researchers have hypothesized that subjects who were told that a potential partner was a “good kisser” would find the potential partner as more attractive and would be more likely to pursue future dates with said partner than someone who was described as a “bad kisser.”1 In addition, the researchers expected that subjects would be more interested in having casual sex with this person and would be more likely to consider a long-term relationship, especially for women. So they clearly thought kissing is very important.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jan052017

Making Sense of a Breakup

The way people tell stories about their relationships says a lot about them and their relationships. For example, the pronouns that people use when telling their stories can reveal their relationship’s stability: People who are more committed tend to talk about “us,” whereas people who are less committed tend to talk about “me” (see here for more).1 People who write about important events in their relationships and end the story positively (e.g., “We went through a rough patch, but now we’re stronger than ever!”) have better mental health, less depression, greater relationship satisfaction, feel closer to their partners, and are less likely to experience a breakup within 1 year than people who end their story negatively (e.g., “We went through a rough patch and things are still a bit shaky”).

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec282016

Perhaps Zack and Kelly Should Not Have Gone Steady

Recently, a bombshell was dropped on 90s sitcom fans about one of their favorite TV couples: Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski. Peter Engel, executive producer of Saved by the Bell, said of the classic couple, “Well, they’d be married — but not to each other.” Fans’ hearts collectively broke after this news hit. I mean, the couple survived Kelly’s romantic tryst with Jeff, her hunky college boyfriend who temporarily managed the Max, the distance put between them during the beginning of college before Kelly transferred to Cal U, and her relationship with their college professor, Jeremiah Lasky. Despite these challenges, Zack was persistent and eventually won Kelly’s heart and hand in marriage. So why would Peter Engel suggest that these two wouldn’t make it? After weathering all of those other storms, why wouldn’t they be able to make their marriage work? The answer may lie in how they got together in the first place.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec212016

Why Having a Dominant Partner is Linked to Being Unhappy in a Relationship

The issue: People have a need to feel autonomous (i.e., they need to feel like they are doing something because they want to and not because someone forced them to).1 When people are dominant, they try to take control of the situation, which may make others feel less autonomous.2 Feeling controlled can be disheartening and is linked to poor well-being.3 And people who have dominant partners tend to be unhappy in the relationship (i.e., have lower relationship satisfaction).4 Researchers wanted to understand why having a dominant partner is linked to lower relationship satisfaction.2 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec142016

The Importance of Physical Affection for Relationship Satisfaction

Physical affection (e.g., hugging and kissing) is an important aspect of romantic relationships. Displays of physical affection are associated with relationship satisfaction,1 and in turn greater relationship satisfaction is associated with greater sexual satisfaction.2 Therefore, physical affection plays a large role in the emotional and sexual benefits derived from a romantic pairing. In addition, research has shown than a person’s satisfaction with the physical affection in their relationship is a strong predictor of love, liking, and overall satisfaction.3 Despite this connection, the ways in which we can express physical affection vary, and as such, more research is needed.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Dec092016

More Than “Just” Sex: Affection Is One Reason Sex Is Linked To Greater Well-Being

In romantic relationships sex tends to be a source of pleasure and connection. But, even beyond the positive sensations and feelings associated with sex during the deed, research has shown that sexual activity also has numerous benefits not only for overall feelings of relationship satisfaction, but also for the personal well-being.  People who have more frequent sex are generally happier in their lives, and this association is comparable in strength to the association observed between making more money and feeling happier.1

Why does sex have these benefits for people’s happiness? The media often depict the physical or technical aspects of sex,2 such as experiencing physical pleasure or a release during orgasm, as central. This means that many of the suggestions in the popular media for improving couples’ sex lives focuses on incorporating sex toys or lingerie to increase arousal and pleasure. However, as relationship researchers, my colleagues and I suspected that the relational aspects of sex, such as affection, might play an important role in understanding why sex matters so much for your overall happiness.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov142016

A Sidekick for Self-Actualization: How Our Partners Make Us Great

Just as every superhero has a hardworking, lesser-known sidekick, behind our biggest successes is often someone who listened to us, encouraged us, and cared about us. In fact, our relationships with others can have a big but sometimes imperceptible impact on our ability to exercise our talents. In fact, “self-actualization” is what psychologists call the process of fulfilling one’s needs and eventually achieving one’s full potential. So for the heroes in all of us seeking to discover their calling and make the world a better place, what qualities are important in a lifelong sidekick to help us become self-actualized? 

One study of over 2000 married couples examined what makes a great sidekick by studying features of relationships that predict personal well-being.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Oct252016

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.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Oct172016

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.”

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct062016

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.

Tuesday
Sep132016

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? 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep062016

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.

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...

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?

Click to read more ...

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?

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...