Entries in communication (86)
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).
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.
Katherine submitted the following question:
I have always wondered about research behind the topic of being friends with benefits (with strict rules of no kissing, no hugging, just sex, and only sex), and if they have the same benefits as sex within a committed relationship based off of love and trust, instead of lust?
Thanks for this great question! It sounds to me like what you’re really asking is whether sex between “friends with benefits” is as good as the sex that two people in a committed romantic relationship might have. I recently published a study in the Journal of Sex Research that addressed this exact question.1 We recruited nearly 400 men and women over the Internet who either had a current “friend with benefits” or a romantic partner. All participants completed a survey that asked how sexually satisfied they were in their relationship and how much they communicated with their partner about a variety of sexual topics.
Popular wisdom or results from a cursory Google search suggest that people with lower self-esteem have poor social skills. However, recent research finds that this is not true: In fact, people with lower self-esteem have the same social skills as people with higher self-esteem, but they often don’t feel safe enough to use them.1 This ‘safety’ concern comes into play in situations when one tries to start a relationship with another person, or what researchers call relationship initiation; such situations are risky because one often doesn’t know if the other person is going to be accepting or rejecting,1 and thus the outcome of the attempted initiation is often uncertain. So what do people do when they want to start a relationship but don’t know how the other person will respond?
If you haven’t watched this video yet, I urge you to immediately stop everything that you are doing and click play. On second thought, even if you have already seen this video, you should probably do the same thing. I don’t want to oversell this, but you are about to witness true relationship genius. Your chance to see it, before I spoil it with this article, is going, going, gone!
For those who didn’t watch, I’ll do my best to summarize what you missed. We join a couple in the midst of a conversation about an issue that the female partner is having. She’s describing the painful symptoms and woeful emotions that she is experiencing (e.g., pressure, aching feeling in her head, snagged sweaters), when her partner makes the imprudent mistake of offering a rather practical suggestion for fixing the problem. The unexpected twist…she’s not describing the type of stressor you’ve imagined; she actually has a nail in her head! When her partner suggests removing the nail, she accuses him of never listening and of being emotionally unsupportive. A funny play on the belief that women would rather talk through an issue than solve it, even when it’s as straightforward as having a nail in the head!
You: “I’m sorry I was late picking you up today…”
Your partner responds: “That’s okay; it happens...”
Your partner thinks: “But it always seems to happen to YOU!”
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your partner was thinking about during a disagreement? Having a sense of his or her thoughts during a conflict could provide an important window into how your partner feels about you and might indicate how satisfied (or dissatisfied) your partner is with the relationship overall. Similarly, what your partner thinks about during a conflict might be associated with your satisfaction as well. For example, you might pick up on their annoyance with your tardiness, which might make you annoyed with them!
Relationship researchers would also love to “get inside your head” during an argument. But if you are in the midst of resolving a conflict by talking with your partner, how would you simultaneously describe what you’re thinking about?
The Scene: My three-year old daughter and I are at Grandma H’s viewing where I racked up parenting fail #315, because I did not want to talk about death with my kid.
The Kid: Who is that? (She asks after spotting the casket at the front of the room in which a coiffed and suited Grandma H resides.)
Mama: That’s Grandma H.
The Kid: Is she old?
Nailed it, right? Ok, not so much. I would like to say that my daughter and I had a deep conversation about death and dying after Grandma H’s viewing…that I was able to talk to my daughter in an age-appropriate and snappy way. It was fall after all, a seemingly good time to talk about dying, given the decay around. I could hear myself now, “Grandma was like a leaf…”
But, I let the moment pass. The month before Grandma’s funeral, I fast-forwarded through the part in the Lion King when Mufasa dies. How do you explain that to a three-year-old? My apparent inability to discuss death with my kid is not that unusual. In Western culture (and in my white, Protestant, middle-class background), most of us do not have explicit conversations about death and dying1. I did not talk to my daughter because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing and of having to explain that I am mortal, too. I wish I had been as quick as a friend who, after she asked him about dying, took his daughter to a graveyard to explain that he would die someday and turn into the dirt she loved to play in.
Our daughter was barely 3 years old when she started asking about the birds and the bees. She wanted to know how mommies got babies inside their tummies and how babies came out of their tummies. Her curiosity has always kept us on our toes. Our son (now nearly 8 years old), in stark contrast, has always been relatively uninterested in learning about the “facts of life.” The last time we raised the topic, he responded, “Do we have to talk about this stuff again? I just want to be a kid!”
Regardless of your child’s curiosity level, most parents find themselves broaching the topic of sex education at some point with their children.
There are a number of apps out there that are designed to help people find, keep, and cultivate their relationships. Given our expertise in relationship science, we’ve taken to reviewing these apps from time to time to determine the extent to which they reflect and/or make use of relationship science (see our previous post reviewing apps here). Our latest review is for the brand-new app called Brownie Points (also on Facebook here).
What the App Does: Brownie Points allows couple members (i.e., users) to track and assign “brownie” points to tasks that partners can later exchange for rewards. For example, suppose Kate wants William to change their new baby’s diapers. William wants to be able to sleep in on the weekends and have the occasional night out with his buddies. Together, Kate and William negotiate how many points William receives for changing diapers as well as how many points it ‘costs’ to be able to sleep in on the weekend or have a night out. Once William has enough points he can exchange them for extra sleep or an opportunity to go our drinking with his brother Harry.
I have been dating a Filipino girl for about 7 months. It has been a very serious relationship at times, and I decided to give her a friendship ring. I am much older than her; she in her 30s and I'm in my mid-50s. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to walk with her, and I think she does, too, because of the age difference. Lately we have been arguing a lot about things related to jealously. She is a nanny at a huge home in the city. I see her only on weekends. She and I have discussed marriage and buying a house, but I get the feeling she is nervous as I am, too. The place where she lives is odd to me; maybe I am just ignorant, but it seems to me that she adores her employer, who can do nothing wrong; he is a really, really nice guy (so she says). She lights up when talking about him and looks for him when she goes there, and when he is not there she seems depressed. I wonder if there is anything there? He gives her gifts, which makes me feel uncomfortable. I worry if I am wasting my time. He has asked her if I have a house, and they just seem a little too close for my liking. In the summer he is with her all day, and I feel insecure. She tells me I am her man, but I've noticed a few looks here and there. I think his marriage is not the best; he is on the road all week and sees her only on weekends. Should I be concerned or am I just an idiot??!!! Is it possible that she developed an attachment to him when she first arrived from the Philippines? And she also has had a troubled relationship with her dad at home in the Philippines. I do love her very much and want to marry her some day. I think she does, too, but I have an odd feeling about it is all...
I think you answered your own question. You start by saying your relationship has been very serious “at times,” implying the seriousness fluctuates. You feel “embarrassed” to walk around with each other in public. There seems to be a lot of jealousy and arguing. You are both “nervous” about next steps (buying a house and getting married). Sounds to me like you may want to address these issues before considering taking the relationship to the next level.
Editors' note: Last week, Dr. Andy Merolla responded to a reader's question about distance in relationships; this week, he gives four tips for maintaining long-distance relationships.
What can you do to improve your long-distance relationship? Research on relational uncertainty, expectations, and long-distance relationships offers us the following ideas.
- Be direct. During periods of heightened uncertainty, it’s important to openly talk about your concerns with your partner.1 In light of your budget and time constraints, you and your partner need to have some frank discussions about the appropriate number and timing of visits in the coming months. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a “magic number,” so the two of you need to determine what makes sense for you. If you aren’t sure, that’s okay.
Q: A lot of research has been done on long distance relationships, and internet articles abound with advice for those couples. However, what about couples who aren't quite long distance, but certainly aren't geographically close? My partner of over a year and I are navigating this sort of relationship right now (as college students on a budget), where we either live 50 to 90 minutes apart by car, depending on whether school is in session or not. As committed as we are, and as excited as we are, it's not always easy to know how to handle this sort of "middle distance" relationship. Is there any research on this? Thanks!
A: As you might have read about in the research you’ve done, long-distance relationships are full of contradictions.1 For every drawback of long-distance relating—the boring commutes, lonely Friday nights, uncertainty about the timing of the next visit—there seems to be a silver lining. Take, for instance, research suggesting partners can learn to communicate better by seeing each other less.1 Or, consider recent research showing partners can benefit from missing one another.2
It is often easy to see how your job influences your relationship. If you work long hours, you have less time to spend with your partner. If you have a particularly hectic or demanding workweek, your work stress can easily spill over into your relationship.1 However, chances are you pay less attention to how your relationship influences your job. If you do in fact “take your relationship to work” with you by letting your personal life influence your job, this may have important implications for your career success. It’s also possible that your relationship doesn’t directly undermine you at your job, but rather negative relationship experiences could harm you emotionally or undermine your physical health, which then compromise your job.