Alright, I confess, you may not be able to tell if a potential partner is good boyfriend (or girlfriend) material from the way he (or she) feels, but you’d be surprised what you can tell from the way they touch. Recent research examining the emotional communication through touch revealed that people are able to identify a host of emotions through tactile stimulation alone. These include positive emotions like happiness, gratitude, sympathy, and love, as well as negative emotions like anger, fear, disgust, and sadness.1,2 Perhaps even more surprising is that this isn’t just something that happens between relationship partners; perfect strangers are also capable of communicating emotions via touch. So, should you be in the habit of letting unfamiliar others touch you, odds are you’ll be able to clearly perceive their intent!
Entries in communication (100)
Discussing the future of one’s romantic relationship—including the possibility of marriage—can be an exciting, novel experience for couple members.1 But it can also be incredibly stressful.2 As a couple grows closer and their relationship becomes more serious, it’s entirely natural to discuss future plans. But are some discussions more helpful than others on the path to a (hopefully) happy and long-lasting relationship? And is there such a thing as planning too far ahead?
As part of a larger study on engagement and weddings (find more details here), we asked currently engaged and married individuals to reflect on how much they discussed a range of topics before they became engaged. Specifically, participants were asked how often they talked about:
- the possibility of getting married,
- the possibility of when or how a marriage proposal might take place,
- the type of ring (or token) that might be exchanged when a proposal did take place, and
- the details regarding the wedding they wanted,
Each question was responded to on a scale from “never” to “very often,” with options of “rarely,” “sometimes,” and “often” in between.
We wanted to determine whether discussing these future events prior to becoming engaged was associated with couples then being happier with each event when/after it occurred. Further, we wanted to explore whether discussing certain aspects of getting engaged and married before experiencing the commitment of actually becoming engaged might also be associated with the overall quality of their relationship. So, we also asked how satisfied individuals were with the proposals, their engagement ring(s), and their actual weddings (which had already occurred for married individuals and which were currently being planned for engaged individuals), as well as how satisfied they were in their relationships overall and how committed they were to their partners.
Ever wonder what can cause one couple to stay together and another to divorce? One study found that high levels of negative emotion such as arguing or criticism and low levels of positive emotion such as indifference during marital interactions were associated with lower levels of martial satisfaction.1 In other words, if a couple fights a lot, and does so in a not-so-nice way, they’re not as happy in their marriage. This conclusion seems like a “no brainer.” Who wants to be in a hostile relationship?
But we all know couples that seem to fight all the time yet remain relatively happy and stay together for years, whereas others seem to split at the first sign of a disagreement. Is there a way to tell if a relationship is at risk for being especially affected by negative interaction dynamics?
We’ve written a lot about avoidant attachment (see here and here for more on attachment), but here’s a quick summary: Those who are high in avoidance tend to be uncomfortable with intimacy, want less closeness in their relationships, and distrust others more. And when it comes to electronic communication with partners, it turns out that avoidance also is related texting and sexting behaviors, but in different ways.
SAGE has released a new edition of the Relationship Matters podcast (hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College). Dr. Stephen Rains (University of Arizona) was interviewed regarding his research on how too many superficial disclosures can hurt a friendship. In case you’re wondering, superficial disclosures refer to small, irrelevant details about what’s going on in one’s daily life.
The research team (including Steven Brunner and Kyle Oman, also of the University of Arizona) asked 199 adults to provide a record of all communications they had with specific friends over a 1-week period; the key is that each communication ‘episode’ had to involve some form of technology (e.g., text, e-mail, Facebook, twitter). Participants then reported how much they liked each friend with whom they interacted and also indicated how willing they would be to support each friend in times of need.
Insecurities: we’ve all got a few. They’re those intrusive thoughts people have about mistakes they might have made, flaws they might have, and negative opinions that others might have about them. Insecurities can be frustratingly persistent, and they can really interfere with close relationships1,2 (“You looked at that girl, I saw you looking!”). It’s not realistic to expect people to simply ignore these insecurities. So the question becomes: what is the healthiest way to deal with these nagging thoughts and feelings?
One seemingly obvious solution might be to reveal your insecurities to someone you’re close to—such as a friend or a romantic partner—so that this person could help you to feel better. However, recent research has revealed a way that this approach can sometimes fail to work, and can even backfire.
Hopefully, you and your partner have a great sex life. For those of you who are satisfied with life between the sheets, you may still have ideas on how to make your sexual life better. And expressing your needs, wants, and desires can enhance your sex life.1
Yet, many intimate partners say that talking about sex can be difficult; it is a conversation that is laced with vulnerability. You may wonder, is my performance good enough? Is my partner satisfied? Even if sexual satisfaction is high, you may want to explore new sexual activities with your partner. Despite the legitimacy of such questions and conversation topics, individuals often avoid talking about sex because they don’t want to hurt their partners by providing not-so-favorable feedback or otherwise noting a partner’s sexual limitations. Fear of rejection or being judged keep individuals from bringing up the subject, too. My suggestion is that you take the plunge and have the conversation anyway; talking about sex could benefit your relationship in ways that far outweigh the risks associated with having such conversations.
On New Year's Day, couples across the globe vowed to “lose weight” and "get in shape." In the past, I’ve suggested that romantic partners work to achieve fitness and weight loss goals together, but doing so requires navigating some tricky terrain. Drawing on my own research examining romantic partners’ health and a recent interview with Sarah Varney, author of, XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis is Complicating America’s Love Life,1 here are 5 tips for working with your significant other to make 2015 the year that you actually achieve your goals.
As the gift giving swings into full gear, the pressure is on to find that perfect gift for your significant other. But what sort of present will best communicate your affections? Should you scour the mall (or internet) in search of new gift-giving inspiration? Or should you “stick to the list”, and just give your partner what he or she wished for?
In a study on gift-giving, participants imagined1 either that they were trying to find a present for their romantic partners or that their partners were trying to find a present for them. When participants took the role of the “gift giver”, many believed that they should try to find a gift that was not on their partner’s wish list. By ignoring the list and finding an alternate present, participants seemed to believe the rogue gift would communicate thoughtfulness and effort. But when participants took the role of the “gift receiver” they were actually more appreciative, and saw their partners as being more thoughtful, when their partners gave them a gift from their wish list rather than an alternative present. The researchers also found similar effects for non-romantic relationships (e.g., friendships, parents): regardless of how close the gift recipient felt to the gift giver, wished-for gifts were always preferred. This effect held even when there was only one item on the wish list. So it would seem that surprises are over-rated!
With the pervasiveness of social media and mobile devices comes the potential to communicate with hundreds or thousands of people with just a few taps or clicks. Of course, we are connected to lots of different types of people, including family, friends, coworkers, and random people you have a faint recollection of from high school who friended you on Facebook. We also have very different reasons for communicating with particular people in our social circles. New research1 suggests that one motivation for communicating on Facebook (and other social media sites) is to keep some of our connections on the “back burner” as potential future romantic partners.
If you’re not currently in a romantic relationship, it makes sense that you may think of some people in your social network as romantic possibilities. However, do people who are currently in exclusive romantic relationships also keep potential mates on the back burner?
We know that the frequency of sexual activity, the quality of communication during sex, and partners’ reasons for having sex can all influence relationship satisfaction. So while it’s good to embrace the throes of passion and be vocal about it, does what you say after sex matter?
Intimate conversations that occur between romantic partners after sexual activity are commonly referred to as “pillow talk.” Pillow talk often involves disclosing positive sentiments such as validation and affection, but it can also be negative (e.g., arguing or bringing up complaints). Researcher Amanda Denes at the University of California, Santa Barbara aimed to address the broad question, “Is pillow talk merely obligatory chit-chat, or might it say something more about the relationships of those involved?”
My blended family (ages 5, 6, 7, 11, and 13) just returned from a weeklong road trip through Yellowstone National Park. During the trip, we conducted our own mini-experiment: Each of us eliminated electronic use for anything other than music. No iPhone apps, no social media, no electronic games, no texting or phone calls unless there was an emergency. There was almost no cell phone reception across the park, which made enforcement easy, but the results of our self-inflicted ‘mandatory’ unplugging still surprised me in three fundamental ways:
Dear Miley, you’re doing it wrong. No, I’m obviously not referring to the music world, as you seem to have that figured out. I’m not even referring to the physical act of writhing around on a metal wrecking ball, although that does bring up some hygienic concerns. Rather, as a relationship scientist, I’m referring to your love life. The lyrics of your song, Wrecking Ball, have been rolling around my head since you released it last year. And now, after almost a full year of marriage, I think I know where you went wrong. The trouble lies in your demolition-style approach.
Although the discussion of fake orgasms dates back at least 100 years,1 the diner scene in the 1989 classic movie When Harry Met Sally and a 1993 episode of Seinfeld, brought the discussion of fake orgasms into the mainstream, where it has generally remained for the last three decades. Following this discussion, research on fake orgasms has suggested that upwards of one-half to two-thirds of women have faked it.2 But, despite how common faking orgasms may be, very little empirical research has attempted to understand why heterosexual women choose to (or choose not) fake orgasm. Until now.
Researchers asked more than 1000 U.S. married couples about their desired and actual sexual frequency. Spouses who weren’t getting as much sex as they desired were less satisfied and thought about ending their marriages more often, had less positive communication with their partners, and reported more conflict. Similarly, the spouses of sexually unfulfilled individuals reported these same negative outcomes (i.e., if you aren’t getting the sex you desire, your partner is less satisfied etc.). While these effects are likely reciprocal, getting the sex you want is associated with better relationship quality for both you and your partner.
When your partner behaves badly, your first instinct may be to retaliate. What could help you respond more healthily? In a series of studies, romantically-involved individuals responded to scenarios wherein their partner acted in a hurtful way (e.g., bringing them to a family reunion but then ignoring them). People who took their partner’s perspective (vs. their own) reacted with more love- and caring-related emotions, better understood their partner’s viewpoint, and tried to find positive solutions to the issue. Perspective-takers also responded with less anger, blamed their partner less, and avoided lashing out. Thus, perspective-taking can help you navigate relationship conflict.1
1Arriaga, X. B., & Rusbult, C. E. (1998). Standing in my partner’s shoes: Partner perspective taking and reactions to accommodative dilemmas. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 927-948.
Imagine that in a recent discussion your partner said to you, “I get really frustrated when you interrupt me sometimes. I know you don’t do it on purpose, but it makes me feel like you’re not listening or that my feelings aren’t important. Maybe in the future you could wait to see if I’ve had my say before you share your thoughts?” How would this make you feel? Perhaps you might appreciate that your partner put his/her concerns fairly nicely (s/he could have, for example, said, “For crying out loud, stop interrupting me! Don’t you ever listen to me or care about my feelings? It makes me wonder why I even bother with you!”), but chances are it would still feel bad in the short-term to find out that your partner is upset about something you’re doing. But now imagine that you pay attention to what your partner said, and over time you make sure that you listen to and acknowledge your partner’s thoughts without interrupting. It’s likely that down the road, the two of you will be much more satisfied with your relationship, in part because of the direct way your partner communicated with you when s/he asked you to change your behavior.
When it comes to making Valentine’s Day plans, who’s in charge? Is it the guy’s responsibility? Or are women supposed to be the planners? According to the ScienceOfRelationships.com survey (learn more about this survey here), it turns out that most people think both members of the couple (in heterosexual couples) should plan the Valentine’s Day festivities (70%). If only one partner does the planning, most believe it’s the man’s job (27%), with very few people believing it falls on the woman to plan (2%). This makes sense: If Valentine’s Day is a celebration of relationships, shouldn’t couples work together to make sure they’ll both enjoy the day?
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).