While planning a get-together with my friends recently, one of my girlfriends immediately took a happy hour venue off the table because the location reminded her too much of her ex-husband. The odds of running into her ex-husband were very low at this watering hole, but she did not want to be reminded of him while we were out. I have known many people to do this -- avoid travel destinations, restaurants or bars, or even stop doing a hobby that they previously enjoyed because it reminded them too much of their ex-partner. Admittedly, there have been times in my own life when I have avoided doing things because it was too painful to be reminded of a lost love, such as not listening to a whole genre of music (reggae) for a few years because it only reminded me of my ex-husband.
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Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding during the early stages of relationship development, positive feelings toward relationship partners1, including feelings of trust.2 In fact, oxytocin has been implicated in a variety of positive relationship behaviors, including attachment, social memory, sexual behavior, and orgasm, as well as maternal caring and bonding behaviors.3 As a result, the media often refers to oxytocin as the “cuddle hormone.” However, recent research suggests that the so-called “cuddle hormone” may have a dark side by increasing relationship violence.
How They Did It
Researchers randomly assigned 93 undergraduate students to receive a nasal spray containing either (a) oxytocin or (b) a saline solution (i.e., a placebo spray). Importantly, the administration of the spray was double-blind; neither the researcher nor the participant knew which spray the participant was receiving. Following the spray, researchers provoked participants in an attempt to raise stress levels and establish a context for aggression. The provocations involved giving a brief speech to an audience who disagreed with the speech and experiencing a “cold pressor task” in which extreme cold is applied to the participant’s forehead (resulting in moderate physical pain). Participants then completed a measure of trait aggression (i.e., how much the person is naturally inclined toward aggression) as well as a measure of how likely individuals were to be aggressive toward their partners that asked about the likelihood of engaging in several behaviors toward their romantic partners (e.g., throwing things, twisting their arm/hair, shoving).
Recently, an article featured on Psychology Today provided some very unscientific advice on “deciphering your date” (meaning, how to interpret signals in your date’s behavior and gauge his or her level of interest/enthusiasm). Giving misleading advice can be harmful in the dating world, so we thought we’d set the record straight.
Below is a list of points in the article (read the full article here), followed by the real science...
As a relationship researcher and college instructor I often have conversations with students who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships. More often than not, I direct or escort students to our local campus counseling and mental health center. But there are times when students’ levels of distress don’t require professional intervention; they just want to learn more about relationships so they can better understand their own. I typically take this opportunity to remind students that conflict and ‘downtimes’ in relationships are common; it’s very difficult for two people whose lives are intertwined to not occasionally be unhappy with their partners or relationships. Students, in turn, often take the opportunity to remind me that just because what they are going through is common doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck (I jest; I fully recognize this fact). This is an important point --- not getting along with somebody we care about is not fun, and can often be quite frustrating. But is relationship conflict more frustrating for some than others? And do some people try to cope with or otherwise deal with their relationship difficulties in an unhealthy manner? According to recently published research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the answer to both questions is “yes”.
About a year ago, I made a very silly, and costly, mistake.
I forgot my backpack in a cab.
My partner James and I were on our way home from the airport. It was late, we were both tired, and I didn’t even realize what I had done until I went to check my email and didn’t have my laptop.
“Hmmm”, I said, to no one in particular. “My backpack isn’t here. I think I might have left it in the cab.”
James, who is characteristically calm and collected, proceeded to completely lose his cool. “Oh no! Oh NO!! This is awful. This is so bad! What can we do? Your passport was in there! Your laptop!! Can we call the cab company? This is terrible!”
“Yes,” I mused. “I probably should have checked for it before getting out of the cab. Perhaps there is a lost and found.”
After about an hour of searching, we had exhausted all avenues of trying to retrieve the bag. It slowly dawned on me that I was never getting my stuff back.
“I can’t believe this”, I groaned, slumped into the couch with my head in my hands. “It’s gone. My laptop. My passport. I think my lab keys were in there! This is awful.”
My partner, who was more or less over the crisis at this point, tried his best to be responsive to my sudden state of dejection and misery. But he couldn’t help but ask, “Uh, Sam - didn’t we know this an hour ago?”
Have you ever tried playing matchmaker by setting two people up in the hopes that they form a relationship? Playing matchmaker allows us to use our insight into others’ lives to help others find love. And really, why not? If we’re wrong, the mismatched partners go their separate ways and are likely no worse off than they were before. But, if we’re right about the match, the potential reward for the couple is great…they find love, start an amazing relationship, and live happily ever after. That sounds great for the newly matched couple, but what are the benefits for you as the matchmaker? Do you get anything out of playing Cupid?
Most relationships start out as a meeting between people who don’t know each other well (if at all). But what determines whether an interaction with a stranger will evolve into a friendship, a marriage, or nothing at all? When thinking about what predicts initial liking toward someone new, concepts like social status, attraction, and perceived similarity often come to mind. But subtle nonverbal behavior can also be important for planting seeds of rapport – seeds that can blossom into a meaningful relationship over time.
Many of us can think of interactions with someone – perhaps a partner or close friend – during which we felt “in sync” with that person: perhaps we experienced behavioral synchrony, or a sense of harmony, shared movement, and felt the person was easy to talk to.
If you ask 100 people at the mall whether men or women fall in love more quickly, most would predict women. That’s the stereotype, right? In a survey of 171 people, researchers confirmed that most (over 70%) believe women fall in love first and are quicker to say “I love you” compared to men. However, the survey also found that the stereotype is WRONG. In reality, men fell in love more quickly than women and were also the first to say “I love you.” This is a great example of why research needs to test “common sense” assumptions about relationships.
Harrison, M. A., & Shortall, J. C. (2011). Women and men in love: Who really feels it and says it first?. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151(6), 727-736. doi:10.1080/00224545.2010.522626
“The next time you’re opening presents will be at your baby shower.” My mother-in-law (MIL) spoke these words to me the day after my wife and I were married and we were opening wedding gifts. Admittedly, my experience is not unique; I know of others who felt pressured to have kids soon after getting hitched (and in many cases prior to that). My MIL’s comment reflects her (and many others’) strong pronatalism, or the belief that adults should have and raise children for their own and society’s well-being. In fact, pronatalism can be so strong that the resulting societal pressure to have kids ultimately undermines childfree (or childless)* individuals’ happiness and life satisfaction.
Others who could replace you in your relationship typically provoke jealousy. However, your partners’ same-sex friends can also illicit jealousy. Across two studies with over 200 participants, researchers found that partner-friend jealousy was greater for those who: (a) considered their romantic relationships more important to their lives, (b) were less close to their own friends, and (c) perceived their partner was less committed to the relationship. Perhaps for their own benefit, those experiencing greater partner-friend jealousy were more likely to put down or derogate their partner’s friends in an attempt to undermine the partner’s bonds with others.
Gomillion, S., Gabriel, S., & Murray, S. L. (2014). A friend of yours is no friend of mine: Jealousy toward a romantic partner's friends. Social Psychological and Personality Science (Online) doi: 10.1177/1948550614524447
You have likely heard someone in a relationship say something like “She makes me a better person.” Alternatively, you may have also heard people say things like (with apologies to Stone Temple Pilots) “I’m half the man (or woman) I used to be.” Though these statements convey feelings of overall relationship satisfaction in the former case, or dissatisfaction in the latter case, something else important is being communicated – that romantic partners are capable of modifying our sense of who we are as individuals (i.e., sense of self).
Have you ever had a lunch date that just seemed to fly by? Or a coffee date where you were counting the minutes until you could make an excuse and leave? You might guess that conversing with someone attractive can make a difference in whether or not time seems to drag. However, attractiveness may not play the role you expect!
Researchers tested the role of attractiveness in time-perception with a series of experiments.1 In one of the experiments, strangers were asked to converse freely (unscripted) over Skype, an application that allows text, voice, and video chatting over the Internet. For brevity, we’ll focus only on this Skype experiment below.
It feels like something you've seen a thousand times before: a younger attractive woman with an older, wealthy man. But check out the response a woman gets when asking a dating forum how to find a rich guy (click here). It is a nice example of evolutionary theory, which you can read more about here.
Which Couples Can Fight Intensely and Still Reach Satisfying Resolutions? Relationship Matters Podcast #31
In the 31st installment of SAGE’s Relationship Matters podcast, produced and hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Keith Sanford (Baylor University) discusses his recent research on how relationship conflict intensity affects whether or not the couple resolves the topic of that conflict.
The researchers asked 734 couples to focus on a recent conflict and answer questions regarding the types of negative behaviors they engaged in, the intensity of the fight, as well as any type of caring or “soft” emotions they might have used during the disagreement. Couples were also asked about how they currently felt about their relationship, including their current level of ongoing discord, when that discord peaked, and whether they had engaged in any attempts to repair the relationship.
When it comes to heterosexual dating preferences, does partner height matter? Data from online personal ads and a survey indicated that more women than men think height matters (57% to 40%, respectively), and tall women and short men were especially concerned with partners’ heights. Both men and women noted height differences could make physical intimacy difficult, it “felt weird or awkward” being with someone much shorter or taller, and that they had specific ranges for height they found most attractive . Women also noted they felt safer, more secure, and more feminine (because they could wear heels) with taller partners.
Yancey, G., & Emerson, M. O. (in press). Does height Matter? An examination of height preferences in romantic coupling. Journal of Family Issues.
How I Met Your Mother has inspired some of our most popular articles over the last few years. In celebration of last night's HIMYM series finale, here's a recap:
- Mere Exposure and the "Mermaid Theory"
- The "Cheerleader Effect" (Yes, It Exists)
- Chemistry + Timing = Relationship Success
- Why People Have Sex (“The Naked Man” Redux)
- The Attractiveness Stereotype and Barney’s “Crazy-Hot” Scale