Entries in satisfaction (66)


Why You Have Sex Matters for Your Desire and Satisfaction

Think about a time when you engaged in sex with your partner in an effort to promote a positive outcome in your relationship, such as to feel closer to your partner or enhance intimacy in your relationship. Now think about a time when you had sex to avoid a negative outcome, such as disappointing your partner or experiencing conflict in your relationship. As it turns out, the reasons why we have sex in our relationships have important implications for how much sexual desire we have for our partners and how satisfied we are with the sexual experience and with our relationship overall. 

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Is More Sex Always Better?

When it comes to sex, the more the better right? Popular perception would suggest that the answer to this question is yes. Media messages often tout the benefits of sex, going as far as to suggest that having sex every day in a relationship might be one route to greater happiness. In a recent set of studies my colleagues and I investigated whether more frequent sex was, in fact, associated with more happiness and found that it was, but only to a point.1

Across three studies of over 30,000 participants, we found that people who reported having more frequent sex in their relationship also reported being happier. But this association was no longer true at frequencies greater than once a week. To be clear, having sex more frequently than once a week was not associated with less happiness, it just wasn’t associated with more happiness on average.

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Is There Such A Thing As Planning Too Far Ahead?

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.

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Nice Genes: Serotonin, Conflict, and Marital Satisfaction

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?

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Should You Go See the Fifty Shades of Grey Movie for Valentine’s Day?

Dubbed an “erotic fiction” and “mommy porn,” the Fifty Shades books are among the top selling novels of all time. In fact, worldwide sales are said to be over 100 million, and at its height one of these provocative page-turners was being sold every second.1 Given the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, it is no wonder that the geniuses in Hollywood are planning to cash in on the “feels so good to be bad” phenomenon this Valentine’s Day. Of course, the question remains, should you go see this movie?

If you are like my sister, then you have already answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Of course, it is likely prudent to consider how this deliciously salacious movie may impact your relationship, for better or worse.

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When What’s Good for Me, Isn’t Good for Us

Often, we find ourselves doggedly pursuing a personal goal like career advancement or a fitness goal. Could these single-minded pursuits make us less interested in working to improve and maintain our relationships? 

Normally when we are deciding if we should pursue a goal, we process information about that goal in a deliberative mindset. For example, if you’re deciding whether or not you should take a new job, you will carefully consider the pros and cons of that decision. However, once you’ve set yourself on a goal, you enter an implemental mindset, where rather than thinking about whether or not it’s a good idea to pursue the goal, you think about how you can achieve the goal.1 So, once you’ve committed to the decision to take the job, you’re no longer weighing the pros and cons, but instead figuring out how to break the news to your current boss and looking for apartments closer to the new office. You’re also no longer considering all of the evidence; rather, you’re just considering the evidence that supports your goal. In a nutshell, you’re being one-sided about the issue.

So what does all that have to do with your relationships? According to new research by Laura VanderDrift and Chris Agnew, quite a bit.2 Once you’re in the implemental mindset with respect to your goal, that mindset bleeds into your relationship.

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Is This the Best Way to Deal with Your Partner’s Faults?

Committing your life to another person is a big step. How can you feel comfortable taking that risk, committing yourself to a partner you know is flawed? To overcome those insecurities, it's sometimes best to hold some “positive illusions” about your partner, even if they’re not accurate.

Past research has shown that couples are more satisfied when both members of the couple view each another in an overly positive manner.1 In a survey, they asked couples to evaluate themselves and their partners on a series of personality traits and found that the most satisfied people rated their partners more positively than the partners rated themselves. The researchers argued that these “positive illusions” allow us to deal with the inevitable doubts and conflicts that surface in a relationship, by building up a store of good will. 

That doesn’t mean that love is blind. These happy couples are not wearing blinders, but rather rose-colored glasses. They notice their partners’ flaws, but find ways to minimize the importance of those flaws and to accentuate their partners' assets.

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“Are You Listening?!” Cold-Shouldering a Partner’s Successes Leaves Relationships On Ice

When something great happens in our personal lives, it’s exciting to share the event with people close to us.  But at one time or another, you’ve probably disclosed some good news that wasn’t met with the degree of excitement or encouragement you had hoped for. It can be disappointing – even irritating – to get a lukewarm response when you expected the other person’s ardent interest. The process of telling others about our successes and getting a positive reaction is called “capitalization,” and research suggests it has benefits for romantic relationships. 

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For Richer: How Your Spouse Influences Your Job Success

Picking a romantic partner with the “right” characteristics can be difficult, but it is also important. We all want a partner who is smart, funny, kind, and all around fantastic, because the assumption is that such a person makes us happy and will generally lead to a better life overall. But can your relationship partner influence your job success? Researchers Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson from Washington University in St. Louis speculated that there are at least three possible ways a partner’s personality could influence job success1:

  1. Outsourcing – Your spouse does things for you that free you up to focus on your job (e.g., your partner does household chores like making dinner or doing your laundry so you have more time for work).
  2. Emulating – You take on your spouse’s positive qualities for your benefit (e.g., your spouse is organized, so by spending time together you become more organized).
  3. Relationship Satisfaction – Your spouse’s charming personality leads to a better relationship that positively influences your work (e.g., your partner is kind, which makes for a better relationship and success work). 

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“Pillow Talk” Speaks A Lot About Your Relationship

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?

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What Does It Matter? Why Depression Is So Important In Troubled Relationships 

Few people would be surprised to hear that couples in troubled relationships can also be depressed -- certainly not those of us who've been in such relationships and know how depressing they can be.

Frequently, the conflict in these relationships and distress that results can become so overwhelming that any other problems, like depression, are typically hidden from view. A couple I'm presently treating, Jim and Stacey (not they’re real names), are engrained in an attack-withdrawal routine (i.e., she criticizes him and then he avoids her and doesn't talk to her for days). This pattern is common in troubled relationships, but their hostility deftly masks, to all but the trained eye, depression’s underlying influence.

But does it really matter if one partner is depressed -- especially when couples like this are constantly at each other's throats? Yes, it does. To understand why, let's look at some research on the effects of depression on partners within troubled relationships.

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Dear Miley, You’re Doing it Wrong

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. 

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Getting the Sex You Want is Good for Your Relationship

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.


Willoughby, B. J., Farero, A. M., & Busby, D. M. (2014). Exploring the effects of sexual desire discrepancy among married couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 551-562.


We Suck. I Suck. Let’s Do Shots!: When Do Relationships Affect Drinking Behaviors?

As a relationship researcher and college instructor I often have conversations with students who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships. More often than not, I direct or escort students to our local campus counseling and mental health center. But there are times when students’ levels of distress don’t require professional intervention; they just want to learn more about relationships so they can better understand their own. I typically take this opportunity to remind students that conflict and ‘downtimes’ in relationships are common; it’s very difficult for two people whose lives are intertwined to not occasionally be unhappy with their partners or relationships. Students, in turn, often take the opportunity to remind me that just because what they are going through is common doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck (I jest; I fully recognize this fact). This is an important point --- not getting along with somebody we care about is not fun, and can often be quite frustrating. But is relationship conflict more frustrating for some than others?  And do some people try to cope with or otherwise deal with their relationship difficulties in an unhealthy manner?  According to recently published research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the answer to both questions is “yes”.

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How Your Relationships Shapes Who You Are For Better and/or Worse

You have likely heard someone in a relationship say something like “She makes me a better person.” Alternatively, you may have also heard people say things like (with apologies to Stone Temple Pilots) “I’m half the man (or woman) I used to be.” Though these statements convey feelings of overall relationship satisfaction in the former case, or dissatisfaction in the latter case, something else important is being communicated – that romantic partners are capable of modifying our sense of who we are as individuals (i.e., sense of self). 

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Direct Communication is Best, but the Benefits May Take Time

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.

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Hot and Cold: Fluctuations in Satisfaction Lead to Breakups

Last month we put out a call to students attending the annual SPSP conference in Austin, Texas, saying that we'd pay the conference registration for the student who wrote the best "Quickie" for the site. After a blind review process of the many entries, we are excited to announce that we have selected a winner: Allison Farrell, a doctoral candidate from the University of Minnesota. Congratulations!

You can read Allie's winning write-up below:

Everyone knows relationship lows are hard, but could highs be bad too? Individuals in newly formed romantic couples rated their relationship satisfaction every week for 10 weeks, and then reported whether they were still in the relationship 4 months later. Lower satisfaction overall and declines over time predicted breakups, but so did fluctuations in satisfaction. Individuals whose satisfaction ratings increased and decreased wildly from week to week, even if they were generally highly satisfied, were more likely to see their relationships end than those with more stable satisfaction levels. Katy Perry was right: hot and cold relationships are tough!

Arriaga, X.B. (2001). The ups and downs of dating: Fluctuations in satisfaction in newly formed romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 754-765.


Communication Strategies In Relationships: What Are They, and Which Is Best?

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). 

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Knowing the Fate of Your Marriage: It’s Automatic

If I say that this post is about “unconscious feelings toward romantic partners,” you’d probably think that I’m about to serve up a big plate of Freud with a side of some repressed memories. Rest assured, I’m not going to get all “dreams and cigars” on you, but new research, published in the journal Science1 suggests that our unconscious feelings about our partners might be the Magic 8-Ball when it comes to future marriage satisfaction. The media has characterized this research as “knowing in your gut” whether you marriage will succeed (see here for an example), but we assure you that your stomach has nothing to do with it. 

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The Benefits of Practicing Compassionate Love in Our Relationships: Relationship Matters Podcast 28

In the 28th installment of SAGE's Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Professor Harry Reis (University of Rochester) discusses how and why everyday acts of compassionate love benefit our relationships.

In collaboration with Michael Maniaci and Ronald Rogge (also of the Univ. of Rochester), the researchers asked 175 newlywed couples to complete daily diaries for a period of two weeks. In each daily diary participants reported on their own compassionate acts as well as their perception of their partners’ compassionate acts.

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