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 emotions (34)
Using The Science of Micro-Expressions to Predict Divorce: Sorry George and Amal, Your Outlook Is Not So Good
I try not to be a relationship cynic, but I see divorce in George Clooney’s future. It’s not the tabloids that I’m relying on to make this prediction. It is the science of micro-expressions - the very brief (i.e., micro) facial expressions that flash across a person’s face for mere fractions of a second.1 These unconscious expressions can be quite telling, and a careful examination of George’s nonverbal behavior during a recent interview leads me to believe that he and Amal may not be as happy as they claim.
Much of the research on micro-expressions has been conducted by Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has spent his career studying emotions and facial expressions. He has shown that when people try to conceal how they really feel, their faces often leak true emotions. For instance, imagine being disappointed by a loved one’s thoughtful gesture (e.g., an elaborate home-made dinner of your least favorite food) or being jealous of something wonderful that happened to a close friend (e.g., getting engaged, think Bridesmaids). As you know, it would be inappropriate, not to mention rude, to express your displeasure. Rather, you may try to mask your true feelings with something more socially acceptable (e.g., a smile). In those brief and fleeting moments, a trained eye could detect the subtle and unconscious facial movements, like knitting of the eyebrows or narrowing of the lips, that express your actual discontent.
Ever felt like the moods of the people around you affect your own mood? Psychologists have long been interested in the idea of such emotional “spillover”, especially in relationships. For example, research has shown that happiness is contagious, as are bad moods across a range of stressful situations. It seems intuitive that if we are living with someone who is depressed then our own mood could also be negatively affected.
Before getting into specific research on this topic, I should note that it is generally hard to disentangle the exact nature of the association between two people’s mental states, especially when they spend a lot of time together. Was Joan’s depression a reaction to being surrounded by John’s depressive, or were they both depressed all along? (Or is there no relationship whatsoever between their mental health statuses?). Bottom line: like many things, the only way to really know whether two individuals’ mental states spill over to one another is to look at both of their mental health status across time.
In SAGE’s newest edition of the Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Stephania Balzarotti (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Italy) discusses the consequences associated with frequently holding back, or suppressing, communication of emotions within marriage.
The work, carried out with Patrizia Velotti (University Genoa, Italy), Semira Tagliabue (Catholic University), Giulio Zavattini (University of Rome, Italy), and Tammy English and James Gross (both of Stanford University), tracked 299 newlywed couples for two years, once in the first 6 months of their marriages and then again about 18 months later. The couple members independently provided information about how often they withhold expressing their emotions from their partners and indicated how satisfied they were in their marriage.
Along with all the great things that result from close relationships, the bond between two people also makes partners vulnerable to each other. Even in the closest of relationships, people may accidentally or intentionally do things that hurt each other’s feelings, whether it’s forgetting a birthday, making a snide remark, or committing a more serious transgression like infidelity.
If a relationship is going to persist following a hurtful act, it’s important that the victim forgive the transgressor. One way of repairing relationships is for transgressors to seek forgiveness by saying they are sorry, admitting their wrongdoings, or giving an explanation for their transgressions. But what prompts someone to seek out forgiveness in the first place? It turns out that guilt is an effective motivator.
Parenting, no doubt, is a demanding job. While parenting can bring people great joy and meaning, it can also be incredibly stressful and frustrating. The debate over whether parents are more or less happy than non-parents doesn’t have a definitive answer. This is in part due to the fact that people who have children differ, on average, from those who do not have children in ways that are related to happiness, such as in their marital status, age, and income.
While people have debated whether parents are happier than non-parents, researchers suggest that the question of whether parents are more or less happy is not the most meaningful question. Rather, we should begin asking the questions of when, why, and how parenting may contribute to greater happiness or negativity. In a recent review linking parenting and well-being, researchers outlined a number of these differences, and identify a wide range of factors that affect the degree to which parenting affects happiness.1 Spoiler alert: It’s complicated.
Have you ever seen something bad happen to someone and felt just a little bit happy about it? Or even laughed a little (think Tosh.0 or America’s Funniest Home Videos submissions)? Click here to watch an example from the Simpsons. That’s called schadenfreude, which occurs when you experience happiness because of the misfortune of others. Seems kind of mean, doesn’t it? So, why do we experience schadenfreude, and what purpose might it serve in relationships?
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.
In the 29th installment of SAGE's Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Blake Riek (Calvin College) discusses the important distinction between guilt and shame and gives advice on how to transcend both feelings and move toward forgiveness.
The research, conducted with Lindsey Root Luna (Hope College) and Chelsea Schnabelrauch (Kansas State University) is unique in that the research team studied forgiveness from the perspective of the person who engages in wrongdoing (i.e., the transgressor). In other words, the researchers wanted to know what happens when one individual wrongs another, but rather than focus on the ‘victim,’ the researchers focused on the transgressor. To do so, the researchers followed 166 individuals over time, collecting feelings of guilt and shame, and forgiveness-seeking behaviors. As a result, the researchers were able to test whether guilt and/or shame affected the likelihood of transgressors to seek forgiveness from their victims.
If you’ve ever tried to work out a problem with your partner, you know it can be a situation with tension, heightened negative emotion and perhaps a face-off of epic proportions until one of you “wins.” If one partner disengages by avoiding the issue or not treating it seriously, the other partner may feel that the discussion falls flat and nothing is truly resolved. The cooperation of both partners is essential when coping with disagreements; it plays a role in how emotions rise and fall during and after conflict.
“Closure” is a term I have heard bandied about by many of my friends over the years, but I have always wondered what it really means. For example, after my friend Daphne’s long-distance boyfriend broke up with her over the phone, she told me she needed to fly from NYC to London to see him in person to “get closure.” Even after she saw him in person, she still didn’t feel like things were really over. The meaning of closure is something I have grappled with when trying to make sense of one of my own past relationships. I spent the better part of 10 years trying to get closure with The Question Mark so that I could move on, trying everything from writing him long treatises on why our relationship could never work, to hashing things out in person in order to finally say “goodbye.”
How did you sleep last night? Did you wake up this morning feeling refreshed and energized, or were you fatigued and sluggish? Your answers to these questions may provide insight into how you will interact with your romantic partner today.
Sometimes people’s eyes get wide when I tell them that I’m a psychologist who studies dreams, and they immediately start confiding in me about their “weird/crazy/strange/vivid” dreams that often include similar themes (like their teeth falling out). Then they ask me what it means, and to their disappointment, I tell them that based on the limited scientific data on dreams, we just don’t know. Despite what some artists, philosophers, or “psychics” might tell you, there’s no universal codebook that helps you translate content from a dream into direct meaning. Instead, the human mind constructs dreams based on unique experiences (some psychologists have said that dreams are like mental fingerprints). Perhaps someone had their teeth painfully pulled at the dentist or wore braces at a young age, and perhaps another person got a tooth chipped (or knocked out) while playing sports. Those two people with different “teeth experiences” could form dreams with very different meanings, even if they both contain teeth as a central image. The dreams you have likely represents your unique conception rather than some universal symbolic meaning.
But what about relationship dreams?
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?
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.