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.
Entries in relationship maintenance (24)
*Wikipedia defines “middle age” as 41 – 60, so it must be true.
Everyone in a long-term romantic relationship has a story. Each of our stories is unique. Our story begins when we were 21 (Charlotte) and 25 (Patrick). We were both coming off other long-term, serious (or so we thought) relationships, and we really didn’t know what we wanted out of a relationship or what we could offer a partner. Now, 17 years and 2 kids later, we both feel pretty lucky that things have worked out as well as they have. Back then, we had no idea what challenges we would face or how we would help each other maneuver through them. We were young and optimistic, but there was so much we didn’t know.
Due to practice and a bit of research (it doesn’t hurt that we are both researchers who study romantic relationships!), we know a little more about relationships now. However, we are still never sure what to do each Valentine’s Day (see past reflections on this matter here and here). It seems like a holiday for “new lovers,” and we’ve known each other too long to feel “new” to each other. What are those of us approaching middle age and in long-term relationships supposed to do on this holiday?
Being the nerds that we are, we decided to review some relevant research to help answer this question, and we offer a few tips in case you find yourself in a similar predicament.
People use Facebook for a lot of things, but keeping in touch with (so-called) “friends” has to be near the top of the list. There are lots of ways to use Facebook, but it’s possible that some ways of maintaining friendships are better than others. For example, you can simply keep tabs on your friend’s activities by stalking his or her Facebook wall. Though a bit passive, monitoring your friend has the benefit of keeping you informed and allows you to have things to talk about the next time you are both together.1 Another, less passive, option is to engage in maintenance behaviors,2 like posting something on a friend’s wall that offers positive encouragement and support, being open and showing empathy, or generally letting your friend know you’re thinking about him or her. On the surface these all seem like good options, but let’s see what the research says…
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).
In the 25th installment of SAGE's Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Maryhope Howland (a former PhD student at the University of Minnesota; now at Kent State University) talks about her research on how people with different attachment styles use humor in relationships.
Individuals high in attachment security are comfortable getting close to others and with having others get close to them; they also find relationships enjoyable and easy-going. In contrast, those with insecure attachments doubt whether their partners will be there for them in times of need. There are at least two strategies for dealing with this attachment insecurity: (a) become preoccupied with relational partners by being overly sensitive to partner’s emotional moves and developing a sustained expectation that partner’s will eventually betray or abandon them (i.e., attachment anxiety), and/or (b) avoid developing relationships of any significant emotional depth to avoid getting hurt in the first place, which often leads insecurely attached individuals to become emotionally aloof, overly fixated with self-reliance, and emotionally unavailable to others in times of need (i.e., attachment avoidance).
Though partners in satisfying relationships tend to be similar to one another, they rarely agree on everything. Sure, not every couple has heated arguments, but everyone experiences at least smaller conflicts from time to time. Picture the following scenario: It’s a mundane Tuesday night, you and your partner have just finished warming up leftover pizza, and the two of you plop down on the couch to watch some mindless TV. (Surely this doesn’t just describe my marriage, does it?) You’ve had a long day at the office, but your favorite TV show is about to come on. But then your partner mentions that he wants to watch a different show that comes on at the same time. One option is to tell him to go to the other room to watch his stupid show, but that would mean you wouldn’t be spending any time with him. Another option is to sacrifice, whereby you give up your preferred programming for the sake of your partner’s preferred show. Whether or not you are willing to sacrifice may depend on how much self-control you have at your disposal. In other words, do you have enough willpower to make this sacrifice?
It is customary to do something special with your partner on Valentine’s Day to celebrate your relationship. Have you planned what you are going to do? You can go with the standard commercialized gifts like chocolates, lingerie, or overpriced roses. Or, perhaps you plan on simply spending some time with each other. If you go that route, rather than the trite dinner and a movie, you may want to consider doing something together that will actually make you and your relationship better.
A few years ago, I fell madly in love with a guy shortly before he left for a study abroad program in Barcelona. So I did what any rational person in my position would do: I made plans to stay with him for a month, bought a plane ticket, and spent every possible moment chatting with him via Skype until my long-awaited departure. We both grew increasingly excited about my arrival, and when I finally showed up at the front door of his hostel, things were, well, intense (in a can’t-keep-our-hands-to-ourselves kind of way). Things continued this way for a couple of days. But soon we realized that we didn’t have as much to say to each other as we thought we did, and the passion quickly dissipated. Within a week of my arrival, he dumped me, and I found myself stranded in Barcelona. (If that’s not the title of a country song, it should be).
So, what happened? Where did all of that passion go?
"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?
GGG is a term coined by sex columnist Dan Savage to represent the qualities that he thinks make a good sexual partner. GGG stands for 'good, giving, and game.’ Think 'good in bed,' 'giving of equal time and equal pleasure,' and 'game for anything—within reason.'" We know from previous research that people who are more motivated to respond to their partner’s needs (high in communal strength) report higher relationship satisfaction and feel more intrinsic joy after making a sacrifice for their partner. But, do the benefits of being ‘giving’ and ‘game’ translate to the sexual domain of a relationship as Dan Savage would suggest?
Now that the summer is coming to a close, young adults are fervidly preparing for their transition to college (though they may be more excited about leaving their parents’ house). College, of course, offers incoming students many social novelties: independence, new friends, all-nighters to cram for finals, and perhaps even new “temptations” around campus (you may very well find yourself checking out the facebook page of the person in the next dorm). But what if you are entering the ivy-covered walls while still involved in a relationship with your high school sweetheart? Should you break up with your romantic partner, or should you maintain the relationship?
You might assume that relationship science doesn’t have much to say about vampire romances, but you would be wrong. Previously, we wrote about the Sookie/Bill/Eric love triangle, but relationship research explains some of the other complex relationships on True Blood as well.
One of the reoccurring storylines in Bon Temps is that Sookie’s best friend, Tara, doesn’t understand why Sookie continues to be attracted to her undead suitors (first Bill, then Eric), especially given all the trouble they’ve caused. Every time Bill makes a mess of things, Sookie forgives him. Why doesn’t Tara forgive Bill?
After the combo of Christmas and Valentine’s Day, you may be delighted that we’re between gift-giving holidays. But for me, even though the spending has lulled, my thoughts often wander towards the topic of the perfect gift.
In a previous post, a colleague suggested that instead of traditional, material gifts, partners may be better served to use their skills to provide a needed service. For example, “fixing an iPhone app or helping to solve a problem that you are having from work” would go a long way as a testament of esteem and affection. As it turns out, her suggestion of providing helpful behaviors to your partner may not only be an effective strategy for the holidays, but one that rings true all year long.
Until recently, my wife never understood my fascination with fantasy football. Specifically, she wondered how I could make fun of the other “players” in my league (i.e., my friends) without them getting mad at me. I rarely see these friends because we live in different states, and she likes to point out that it may be a better idea to be nice to one another. Perhaps many of you are just like my wife, wondering what in the world is wrong with your boyfriends/fiancés/husbands (at least in terms of our obsession with fantasy football.
"DX" asked the following question: I'm wondering if there are any studies about long distance relationships? There's just so much knowledge I believe to be gained from focusing on such a very difficult but highly rewarding relationship type.
Dear DX-- You are exactly right; there's a lot to be learned by looking at the dynamics of long-distance relationships (or what those of us in the business affectionately refer to as "LDRs"). Fortunately, researchers have not neglected this common relationship context. Please see our previous posts by SofR contributor Dr. Bevan (see here and here).
Additionally, below I've pasted an excerpt from our forthcoming book, where I answer the question: Is distance bad for relationships?
"To continue down the long, well-lit path, turn to page 63. To take a shortcut through the dark alleyway, turn to page 107."
Those of us who were kids in the 1980s and 1990s have fond memories of these interactive, second-person narratives, in which you, the reader, get to choose the protagonist’s fate. But as fun as these stories are, it turns out that they aren’t just for playin’. Researchers have found a way to harness the power of "choose your own adventure" stories to study how people make important decisions about their relationships.
Amanda asked “Elvis once sang, ‘I can't help falling in love with you.’ So... is love a conscious, rational choice or is it a chemical addiction that is uncontrollable?"
Good question, and perhaps the answer depends on how you view “love.” If you conceptualize love like Brick Tamland, San Diego’s favorite weatherman, then perhaps the answer is that love is rather conscious and only requires looking at objects and declaring your love for them. In that case, I love Science of Relationships!
In the first interview, Dr. Nickola Overall discusses the best strategies for creating change in our relationships - what to do and what not to do! This work is also written about in a recent Science of Relationships post.
In the second interview, Dr. Susan Charles tells us that older adults (e.g., above 65) tend to generally have better social networks than younger adults, and tend to be happier and more satisfied with life generally. She describes how young people could learn to be happier by emulating strategies used by older adults!
Relationship Matters is the official podcast of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and is dedicated to bringing its audience interviews with relationship researchers presented in an accessible way that highlights practical implications. You can visit their Facebook page here.
Recently, I spoke with Dr. Nickola Overall for Relationship Matters, the official podcast series of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The interview was about the exciting research she’s recently published that directly addresses the dos and don’ts in trying to change partner or your relationship.
Nicole asked, "If every other sought after characteristic is present, can a relationship thrive on a long-term basis if there is no sexual chemistry?"
The makers of Viagra® would have you think such an idea is sheer lunacy! Ultimately, however, it depends on what you mean by “thrive.”