In the 23rd installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Jennifer Tomlinson (Carnegie Mellon University) discusses her recent research with Professor Art Aron (Stony Brook University) on the classic dilemma: how do we balance the benefits of growing emotionally close to a person with the risk of getting hurt that comes when we make ourselves vulnerable?
Entries in emotions (21)
I have been having nightmares lately. Not the “being chased” kind of nightmare, or the nightmare where you’re falling and wake up before hitting the ground. Rather, there is a recurring theme in these dreams that involve The Consultant (a man I have been dating for many months now) and me. Each dream starts with us doing something mundane, such as going grocery shopping together. Then, suddenly, The Consultant turns into one of my ex-boyfriends and things fall apart like they did in my past relationships. For example, my dream last night involved The Consultant and I having lunch, during which he ordered the Italian wedding soup special and then proceeded to tell me that he was marrying someone else. I looked up from my menu only to see that The Consultant had turned into The Question Mark, a man I have struggled to “get over” for many years.
When I wake up from these dreams, I am relieved that they are not real. Oftentimes, The Consultant is sharing my bed, so I am comforted by snuggling closer to him. But I keep wondering, what do these dreams mean?
Occasionally, I imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have my partner. I’ll even imagine that he has died and wonder what I would do. Sounds dark, right? Perhaps even more morbid is that his imaginary death always makes me feel happier with my relationship.
Now, before you start thinking that I am some sort of psychopath, social psychological research supports my morbid relationship musings.
If you had a chance to write a short description of your feelings for your partner on Valentine’s Day, what would you say? After all, proclaiming your feelings for your partner is the reason for the (Valentine’s Day) season. In the past, newspapers gave readers the opportunity to post a Valentine’s Day announcement (some newspapers like the Telegraph in the UK still offer this opportunity). This doesn’t happen so much any more (damn you internet!), but regardless of the medium, it isn’t everyday that you get to be nosy and see what people have to say about their relationships. That’s where relationship science comes in…
With the start of each new year, I engage in a lot of self-reflection; in fact, I think I do more self-reflection than New Year’s resolution making. At about this time last year, I started to awaken from a long, self-induced romantic relationship hibernation. After wiping the sleep from my eyes, I have dated several interesting men and had quite a few adventures. As I reflect on the last year, and the years that have led up to this one, I need to admit to myself that the changing of old relationship patterns remains difficult for me.
What comes to mind when you think about your most important goals in life? Finding the perfect person to marry? Having children? Finding the best job or career path? When people make mistakes in pursuit of these goals, the pain of opportunities lost likely leads to regret. Regret is a complex negative emotion that involves a sense of sorrow at what might have been or wishing previous choices could be undone.
Remember that classic scene from Runaway Bride where Julia Roberts bolted from the altar and trotted across the horizon in a wedding dress? Or when Chandler in Friends left a note for Monica before he fled just hours before their nuptial? These storylines are common in TV and movies, but it can happen in real life too. Many people get cold feet before their big days; it is so common that friends and family usually tell the bride/groom-to-be to just brush it off as a little blip on the path to living happily-ever-after. Indeed, people often have more doubts about themselves, their partners, and their relationships when they face significant changes in their lives.1 But are we right to ignore these doubts? Not so, according to recent research.
"Sacrificing your happiness for the happiness of the one you love, is by far, the truest type of love." This famous quotation says it all: Making sacrifices, whether big or small, is a crucial ingredient of successful relationships. Unfortunately, making sacrifices for our partners or our relationships doesn’t always feel good. Compromising one’s goals and desires can sometimes bring about anger, sadness, and resentment. People cope with these emotions in different ways: While some people openly express their feelings, others choose to hide their feelings from their partners. Who’s right? What is the better way to cope with not-so-good feelings that can come with making a sacrifice?
A reader recently submitted the following question:
“I had a 9 month long-distance relationship (LDR) with a girl I met on an internship abroad. Toward the end of the LDR, I felt that she changed and became uninterested and less available. I admit that I made a mistake by having my life revolve around her, which little by little killed her attraction. I also jeopardized our relationship by being manipulative. She originally said she didn’t want to break up and assured me that she loved me, but a day later she told me she wanted to break up. I was shocked and devastated.
We stayed friends for 2-3 weeks, but I was still miserable and tried to get her to change her mind by hanging out with her day and night. A few weeks later, I told her I loved her to death, which only turned her off more. I then told her I would stop contacting her, hoping that this would be the way to get her back. She replied, saying she respected my decision and still wanted to be friends.
I haven’t replied yet. I still love her very much and still have hope that staying away from her for a while and then reconnecting will show her that I have changed and she will want to be with me again. I’m afraid that I’m not doing the right thing, though. What steps should I take? How should I approach her again? I don’t want to lose her.”
Let’s face it, Facebook has changed the way we experience romantic relationships. The widespread popularity of Facebook has increased the amount of information people can access about their romantic partners - past, present, and future. In addition, Facebook has provided new ways for romantic partners to communicate. In previous posts, I talked about research findings linking Facebook use to higher levels of romantic jealousy and greater relationship satisfaction when going “Facebook official”. But, what are the consequences of staying Facebook “friends” with a partner after breaking up with said partner?
Let’s face it, relationships aren’t all “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Sometimes, love stinks. R.E.M. had it right, romance can be downright painful and “everybody hurts sometimes.” What if I told you that you could lesson some of life’s heartache with a (totally legal and over the counter) pill? Well, it’s true, and the remedy is probably already in your medicine cabinet. It’s Tylenol!
A reader recently submitted the following question:
Q: Why does a break up feel like the person is rejecting you? Even though you are pretty satisfied with yourself? I guess what I am also asking is, when someone says “It's me, not you,” why does it still hurt?
A: Thank you for submitting your question. Social rejection is painful in almost any context; being ostracized from others feels bad because it threatens many of our core needs, such as our need to belong.
Social interactions of all flavors are important, and even your relationships need other relationships to keep things interesting. You might have a perfectly satisfying romantic relationship with your partner, but you might want to get some “couple friends” too (see this article at salon.com). How do friendships between couples develop, and are they important for your own romantic relationship?
A newly released biography of Barack Obama by David Maraniss has drawn attention (see coverage here and here) to the president’s past. There’s nothing necessarily scandalous in the book, but it does focus on the relationships Obama had before he met Michelle. As a relationship scientist, this is a really cool (and rare) glimpse into Obama’s romantic life through the stories of young women who shared intimate moments with him.
Let’s face it: Many marriages end. Divorce occurs for a variety of reasons, but regardless of the cause, ex-partners often need to negotiate with one another during the divorce process. For example, if there are kids in the picture, how is custody resolved? How does the couple divide up their friends? Who gets to keep the reality TV show that helped pay the bills?
Emotions prompt people to engage in adaptive behaviors that help them act appropriately in their current situations. When you feel fear you run away from the source of the threat; guilt motivates us to mend things following a transgression (e.g., “I’m sorry”); jealousy causes you to be on guard because your relationship partner might be poached away by a rival.
Does sadness have a social function, too? We’ve all heard that misery loves company; it’s possible that sadness prompts us to seek out social bonds. When you’re sad you might need social and emotional support. Maybe the purpose of sadness is to motivate social connections -- that “misery seeks company.”
Why are people so strongly motivated to have relationships? According to a landmark paper by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary it’s because of a fundamental “need to belong.”1 The “belongingness hypothesis” states that people have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior.
Here is an overview of the evidence for this hypothesis, point by point.
In a recent study, oxytocin levels in single individuals and romantic couples were measured, and the couples were videotaped while interacting with each other. Individuals in romantic relationships were found to have higher levels of oxytocin than the romantically-unattached. Further, couples with the highest oxytocin levels were more likely to experience positive emotions when interacting with their partners. This research provides additional evidence of the critical role of oxytocin in promoting bonding between individuals.
Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J. F., & Feldman, R. (in press) Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.12.021
“Leave your troubles at the door.”
It’s a standard rule of thumb to leave your emotional baggage behind when you clock in at your job. You can’t concentrate on your daily tasks if you’re worried about whether Little Danny will remember his lines in his school play audition. You can’t smile and talk up your proposal to a highly coveted client if last night’s argument with your significant other is still replaying itself, every hurtful word, over and over in your mind. Unless you’re a Method actor or perhaps some incarnation of a brooding songwriter-comedian-artist, your personal life has no place at your job.
The reverse is also true. Imagine you bring your work troubles home...
Some research is just too cool; here’s a now classic study worth sharing.
For a long time scientists have been curious about the link between empathy and pain. In particular, people use so-called “mirror neurons” to help interpret what others are experiencing, to help remember their own experiences, and to help predict or imagine the past or future.