As a relationship scientist, I frequently consider research findings when making personal decisions in my life. The most recent personal decision I’ve made was to move in with The Consultant, a man I have been dating for some time now. Unfortunately, most of the research out there about cohabiting doesn’t quite map onto my particular situation. Although some research findings do seem to apply to us, such as cohabiters being more liberal, less religious, and more egalitarian compared to their married peers,1 other findings do not apply so clearly.
When it comes to understanding the fate of any given relationship, I’d argue that knowing something about a couple’s commitment level, or their attachment to each other and long-term perspective on the relationship, is critical (see our previous article on predicting breakup here). Beyond predictions about staying together versus breaking up, commitment is also associated with all sorts of positive relationship outcomes (see our previous article on 5 Reasons Commitment is Good For Your Relationship). But how is commitment built in a relationship? More than 30 years of research on this topic has identified three pillars that form the foundation of commitment in relationships.
We are what we eat, but are we also what we drink? When it comes to breast-feeding infants, we very well may be. Researchers are increasingly studying the links between the early environment of a child’s life and later life outcomes for that child, with a particular focus on how mom’s biology and behavior can influence the way that children ultimately respond to stress (which has enormous implications for health across the lifespan). In a recent study, researchers tested what they refer to as “lactational programming,” which is fancy science talk for the idea that a mom can influence her child’s biological development, for better or worse, through her breastmilk. Think of it as secondhand hormones – if mom experiences stress, she’ll have higher levels of stress hormones, some of which will be passed along to her breastfeeding infant. And because infants’ bodily systems are still developing, those secondhand hormones influence the infants’ own biology and behavior.
People use Facebook for a lot of things, but keeping in touch with (so-called) “friends” has to be near the top of the list. There are lots of ways to use Facebook, but it’s possible that some ways of maintaining friendships are better than others. For example, you can simply keep tabs on your friend’s activities by stalking his or her Facebook wall. Though a bit passive, monitoring your friend has the benefit of keeping you informed and allows you to have things to talk about the next time you are both together.1 Another, less passive, option is to engage in maintenance behaviors,2 like posting something on a friend’s wall that offers positive encouragement and support, being open and showing empathy, or generally letting your friend know you’re thinking about him or her. On the surface these all seem like good options, but let’s see what the research says…
Communication is an important part of romantic relationships, especially when navigating conflict or when trying to change a partner’s behavior. Although dealing with these issues can sometimes be distressing, it can also serve as an opportunity for you and your partner to learn about each other and improve your relationship.1 Indeed, by the end of this article, I hope it is clear that what matters most is not the presence of conflict itself, but rather how you and your partner handle the conflict (i.e., the communication strategies you use).
Steve and Sarah – a hypothetical married couple – don’t argue often; however, when they do, they can’t seem to “forgive and forget.” In dwelling on their relationship conflicts and dissatisfactions, negativity colors their interactions and their relationship suffers. Tom and Tricia, on the other hand, have disagreements quite a bit. But unlike Steve and Sarah, Tom and Tricia are able to express their feelings constructively and, at the end of the day, put their problems aside and show their love for one another. As these scenarios suggest, it’s not just whether conflicts happen that affects how we feel about our relationships; rather, partners’ ability to recover from such negative experiences may most powerfully impact relationship functioning.
Ovulating women report increased sexual desire and preference for wearing sexy clothing compared to non-ovulating women.1,2 But does ovulation impact the color of clothing she chooses? A survey of “regularly ovulating” women (i.e., not on birth control pills, pregnant, etc.) reported their menstrual cycle’s timing and noted the color of the shirt they were currently wearing.3 Those ovulating and at their most fertile (6-14 days following the start of her last period) were more likely to wear red or pink compared to other colors, and of those wearing red or pink, nearly 80% were ovulating.
1Haselton, M. G., & Gangestad, S. W. (2006). Conditional expression of women’s desires and men’s mate guarding across the ovulatory cycle. Hormones and Behavior, 49, 509–518.
2Durante, K. M., Li, N. P., & Haselton, M. G. (2008). Changes in women’s choice of dress across the ovulatory cycle: Naturalistic and laboratory task–based evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1451–1460.
3Beall, A. T., & Tracy, J. L. (in press). Women more likely to wear red or pink at peak fertility. Psychological Science.
Ever catch your partner checking out an attractive stranger on the street? Ever notice all of the good-looking opposite-sex friends your partner has accumulated on Facebook? Such things might seem harmless, but these “beautiful” people may actually make us less appealing to our partners, due to what researchers refer to as contrast effects. Contrast effects occur when something looks better or worse depending on what we compare to it. In this case, you could look less attractive to your partner when compared to someone else that is more attractive, whether that person is a sexy passerby, a good-looking co-worker, or even someone featured in erotic material. (Read more about contrast effects here.)
In the movie Unfaithful, Diane Lane’s character seems to have it all: a nice house, kids, and a hunky husband to boot (played by Richard Gere). Yet, following a chance encounter with an attractive younger man, she finds herself being, well, unfaithful. Why would she risk all of the nice things in her life by cheating? There are several reasons why she would take such a risk. It could be something about her (her personality or self-esteem), something about her relationship (not satisfying or unfulfilling), or something about the situation (she just had the chance). However, infidelity or cheating could also result from, at least partially, underlying biological and hormonal influences.
Imagine that you get a great job offer, complete with an excellent salary, flexible hours and numerous promotion opportunities. The only problem is that this job offer is in a city far away from where you and your partner currently live. Thus, your partner has to choose whether or not to uproot for you, leaving her or his own job and friends behind and starting over with you in this new city. What would be the consequences of your partner making this choice? In particular, beyond the consequences this would have for your partner, how would you feel about your partner making this sacrifice for you?
There seems to be a widely shared belief that anyone involved in an "open" relationship is infected with all sorts of STDs. (Want to get tested? Click here for HIV RNA testing) The assumption seems to be that if you aren't monogamous, you're a promiscuous disease spreader, right? Not so fast. The reality is actually far more complex than this, and the risks of “open” and “closed” relationships may not be as different as they are assumed to be.
A reader asked: Is it true that girls who have more guy friends than girl friends are less likely to have anxiety and depression? What does research say about girls who have more guy friends than girl friends?
Interesting question. Before I respond in more detail, I’ll cut to the chase: In my review of the existing research, I couldn’t find a study that directly answers your question about whether having more opposite-sex (OS) than same-sex (SS) friends raises psychological health in women. However, this is what we do know from the research:
Forgiveness can be really good for our relationships. To name just a few benefits, forgiving a transgression reduces blood pressure for both victims and their wrongdoing partners,1 and increases the victim’s life satisfaction and positive mood.2 Researchers are also beginning to understand what it takes to forgive; for example, we are more likely to forgive our partners when they apologize (i.e., make amends) for bad behavior. But what happens when we forgive someone who hasn’t attempted to make up for their transgression? In a series of four studies, Laura Luchies and her colleagues found that forgiving a partner who does not make amends after wrongdoing erodes the victim’s self-respect and self-concept clarity (the extent to which we have a clear sense of ourselves).3 In other words, we seem to lose respect for ourselves and feel more confused about who we are if we forgive a partner who hasn’t apologized.
Our mission at ScienceOfRelationships.com is to share relationship science with as many non-scientists as possible. Over our careers we have found that sharing and discussing research at conferences, such as SPSP, has proved invaluable in preparing us to accomplish this mission. And now we want to give back a little. To this end, we are pleased to announce that ScienceOfRelationships.com will send one student to the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference.
My wife and I don’t always agree on the best way to parent our two kids. We sometimes have different ideas about how to broaden their palates, limit screen time (here’s hoping one of those freakish talking animals turns on Diego very soon), and how to blend our respective family holiday traditions. When we’re grappling with these and other parenting issues, we engage in what researchers call co-parental communication, which generally refers to how she and I communicate with one another and our children when parenting.