Entries in stress (32)

Friday
Nov172017

Can a Plane Crash Make You Fall in Love? 

If you have seen an action movie in the last two decades (SpeedMission: ImpossibleJurassic World, Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, any James Bond film) then you know that if two conventionally attractive strangers live through a life-or-death experience together, they are incredibly likely to develop a romance. That’s also the premise of the new Idris Elba and Kate Winslet film, The Mountain Between Us, in which the two Hollywood stars are stranded in a remote wilderness following a plane crash. It’s also the premise of the film’s promotional campaign, which has included commissioning articles quoting psychologists on the various reasons this kind of action movie romance is totally plausible. These films are occasionally echoed by real-life examples of post-disaster romance, as with the “Miracle on the Hudson” Flight 1549 survivors who met after the crash and soon married.

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Thursday
Apr142016

“Clear for Takeoff”: Turbulence in Romantic Relationships

It doesn’t take a social scientist to tell you that relationships are complicated. But it may not hurt to ask one why relationships are complicated. Take breakups, for example. People often question their breakups only in hindsight, looking back to wonder exactly what went wrong. They may ask things like, “Was it something I said, or did?” Well, according to one theoretical perspective, it may have less to do with specific behaviors, and more to do with the way that people approach relationships in general.

Imagine you’re on a plane. As you travel from point A to point B, it is possible that you may encounter turbulence. This is common during most plane rides, and after a short while it usually evens out eventually. Researchers have begun to think about romantic relationships in this way: smooth flights that occasionally encounter turbulence. Normally, things turn out fine, but enough turbulence can cause any flight to crash. It is during the transition from point A to point B that turbulence becomes dangerous.

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Sunday
Feb072016

“Give me a minute”...Before I Behave Badly

You’re having a stressful week at work. You’ve had projects fail, presentations go awry, and to top it off, you just ended your week with a performance review that you don’t think went very well. As you arrive home, tired and just relieved to finally be there, you walk through the door and your partner immediately begins asking you about whether you picked up lettuce from the grocery store, dropped that package off at the post office, and adds, “Why didn’t you take out the recycling this morning?” You can’t believe it. Doesn’t he know the week that you’ve had? How could he be so uncaring? So, you don’t hold back: “Well, I see you didn’t do the dishes like you said you would. And is this what we’re having for dinner? Yikes.” Uh oh… this isn't how you want to act in your relationship! But we’ve all been there. What happened?!

What you’ve experienced is a phenomenon known as stress spillover—stress that we experience in one life domain (e.g., work) ‘spills’ out of that domain and into others (e.g., home life).1 And we know that spillover can have a detrimental effect on our relationships; individuals reporting higher levels of stress are less forgiving of their partners, more likely to criticize and blame their partners, less satisfied in their relationships, show poorer communication skills, and are more likely to have their relationships end.1,2 (Find more about the effects of stress spillover here.) In other words, relationships unfold in broader contexts, and many of the stressors in these contexts (e.g., problems at work, juggling kids, transportation issues) make it more difficult for partners to maintain happy and healthy relationships, regardless of the generally deep desire or motivation to do so.

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Monday
Jul132015

In Health and Illness: Your Partner’s Mood Matters

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.

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Thursday
Mar052015

It’s Not Just About You and Me: How Social Networks Impact Relationships

In this symposium at the 2015 SPSP meeting, four researchers (including Tim Loving and Fred Clavel, who are SofR regulars) presented their work on how romantic relationships are affected by the social networks around them.

Lisa Diamond led things off with a discussion of how same-sex couples feel more stress compared to heterosexual couples, because homosexuality is more stigmatized. In her study, 120 couples (some male-female, some male-male, some female-male) came into the lab and engaged in a task where they discussed a recent conflict they were having. Interestingly, whether same-sex couples felt marginalized by the broader community (i.e. whether they felt accepted by society or not) didn’t seem to predict negativity during this conflict discussion. But if they felt marginalized or having lower status within their spouse’s family (the in-laws) that caused problems within the couple. Not feeling equally accepted within a spouse’s family was associated with more negativity/hostile behavior, greater escalation of conflict (it became intense quickly), and a higher ratio of negative to positive interactions. Dr. Diamond suggested that same-sex couples may feel more distress in their relationship if their close circle of friends/family disapprove of them, rather than if the society at large disapproves of them.

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Wednesday
Feb252015

Does Parenting Make People Happy or Miserable?

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.

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Thursday
Jan222015

Stress and Resolving Disagreements Immediately: Relationship Matters Podcast 42

In this first installment of the Winter/Spring 2015 season of SAGE's “Relationship Matters” podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College), Dr. Kira Birditt (University of Michigan) discusses how resolving disagreements (or not) affects individuals’ daily stress hormone production.

Briefly, cortisol -- popularly referred to as the “stress hormone” -- helps regulate our daily sleep-wake cycles and also helps us react appropriately to stressful situations. When the cortisol system is functioning optimally, the hormone peaks about thirty minutes after waking time (to help us become alert for the day) and then generally falls throughout the day, culminating at its lowest point before bedtime. Chronically elevated daily levels of cortisol are generally associated with negative health outcomes. 

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Thursday
Nov132014

Stress & Conflict in Relationships: Relationship Matters Podcast 38

A new edition of SAGE’s “Relationship Matters” podcast is out. The podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, brings you the latest from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. In this edition, Dr. Gwendolyn Seidman (Albright College) discusses how the ways we view our partner affects how our partner reacts to conflict.

Seidman and her colleague, Dr. Christopher Burke (Lehigh University), tracked 264 couples over five weeks during which one member of the couple (i.e., the studier) was studying for the Bar Examination (a highly stressful test lawyers must pass to have the right to practice law in a given jurisdiction).

The research team was especially interested in how the studiers reacted to conflict given the high amount of stress they experienced while preparing for the Bar. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know whether the way partners viewed the studiers – i.e., did the partner see the studier more or less positively than the studier viewed him- or herself -- influenced how the studier felt and reacted when conflict occurred within the relationship.

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Friday
Oct172014

Diamonds Aren’t Forever: Expensive Rings and Weddings May Lead to Relationship Problems

My husband and I got hitched this past June, which I can honestly say was one of the happiest and most transcendent experiences of my life. However, we both agree that whereas the wedding was awesome, the wedding planning process was decidedly not awesome. Navigating the wedding industry can be quite frustrating, in part because of the relentless pressure to spend fantastic amounts of money on anything and everything wedding-related. As a relationships researcher, I was particularly interested in, and baffled by, the rhetoric that many vendors use in order to sell wedding services and products.

Many of the sales pitches boil down to the idea that couples in love should want expensive weddings. Vendors will argue that if you truly love your partner, you should be willing to go to any lengths (at least monetarily) to properly celebrate that love on your “special day”. For example, maybe you want to show your love for your partner by getting a fancy gilded guestbook for your guests to sign, or personally monogrammed hand towels for the reception bathroom. Sometimes the rhetoric even goes so far as to suggest that an expensive wedding guarantees you true love. With a perfectly straight face, some vendors will tell you that your wedding day will “set the tone” for your marriage, and you should be willing to do anything it takes to start your marriage off “on the right foot”. For example, perhaps you should set the right tone by hiring a 20-piece orchestra for your ceremony, or limos to transport all your guests to the reception.

Examples of this sort of advertising can be traced back to the 1940s, when De Beers diamond company launched their infamous “Diamonds are forever” campaign. Indeed, many of the social norms around marriage proposals—such as the arbitrary benchmark of two months’ salary that men should spend on an engagement ring—come from De Beers’ successful advertising efforts. Like the wedding industry more broadly, the diamond industry relies on the premise that spending a great deal of money shows love for your partner and predicts relationship success. This idea is widespread in our culture, likely because it is a marketer’s dream: who wouldn’t pay any price to ensure marital bliss? What’s less clear is how accurate these notions are. To what extent do high levels of spending actually predict marital bliss?

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Wednesday
Oct082014

Two Key Ways That Stress Undermines Your Relationship

You experience stress nearly every day of your life. Stress can come from your job, your coworkers, fellow commuters, and generally from having too much to do without enough time to do it. And anyone in a relationship knows how easy it for that “external” stress to find its way into their romantic relationship.

Researchers followed 80 couples’ over 4 years and found that when couple members reported more stress outside of their relationship, they also reported feeling less comfortable depending on their partners and felt less close and more unsure about their relationship compared to couple members who were less stressed.1 This type of stress “spillover” may also occur on a daily basis. In a study of 165 newly married couples, individuals who reported more daily stress also reported more negative relationship behaviors such as criticizing their partners.2 These results indicate that stress from outside a relationship can spillover and cause more negative relationship behaviors. But, it’s also possible that those more prone to stress are also more prone to having poor relationships. An experiment would be needed to determine if stress directly affects relationships. 

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Friday
Aug012014

Need An Energy Boost? Try Thinking about Your Partner

We’re all likely familiar with the idea that love is energizing; for example, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes encapsulated this notion in their 1982 single Up Where We Belong when they sang, “Love lifts us up where we belong....” But does love really physically energize us? It’s definitely possible. Love is associated with positive emotions and simply thinking about love can trigger stress responses (such as increases in cortisol) in the body, responses thought to result from arousal or passion. One intriguing thing that can happen when your body releases cortisol is that you get an accompanying rush of glucose (blood sugar) to give you extra energy. Since thinking about your romantic partner can increase stress hormones like cortisol, it may follow that you can also get a glucose boost from thinking about your partner. 

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Monday
Jul212014

When I Lose You, I Lose Part of Me, Too

There’s no question that romantic breakups can be really hard. Losing a partner we’ve become very close to means losing someone who was previously part of our daily lives. As a result, breakups can undermine our ability to sleep and eat well (among other things). Research has revealed that experiencing a breakup has several unique effects on our sense of self or self-concept (i.e., everything that makes us who we are) as well. For example, research has demonstrated that, after a breakup, people feel that their self-concept is smaller than it was before the breakup; in other words, they feel like their self-concept has diminished somewhat.1 This makes sense, since over time people tend to incorporate their romantic partner into their self-concept, meaning that their individual identities begin to merge (that is, “me” and “you” becomes “we” and “us”). In the wake of a breakup, then, the self-concept may feel reduced or contracted because there used to be another person involved in it (e.g., part of “me” used to include being a loving partner to a specific person, and now that part is gone).

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Monday
Jan272014

(Mother’s) Milk: It Does a Body Good and Bad?

We are what we eat, but are we also what we drink? When it comes to breast-feeding infants, we very well may be. Researchers are increasingly studying the links between the early environment of a child’s life and later life outcomes for that child, with a particular focus on how mom’s biology and behavior can influence the way that children ultimately respond to stress (which has enormous implications for health across the lifespan). In a recent study, researchers tested what they refer to as “lactational programming,” which is fancy science talk for the idea that a mom can influence her child’s biological development, for better or worse, through her breastmilk. Think of it as secondhand hormones – if mom experiences stress, she’ll have higher levels of stress hormones, some of which will be passed along to her breastfeeding infant. And because infants’ bodily systems are still developing, those secondhand hormones influence the infants’ own biology and behavior.

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Sunday
Dec082013

Your Relationships May Keep Stress From Killing You

Read more about stress, health, and relationships in our articles here and here.
Tuesday
Aug132013

Who Thinks About Family More? And Who Gets More Stressed About It?

According to a recent piece on the Smithsonian website, although "women and men spend the same amount of time worrying about family matters, women feel a disproportional amount negative emotional affects-- stress, depression, and the like-- from this mental labor." Read the complete article on smithsonianmag.com here.

Check out our articles on juggling family and work here and here.

 

Tuesday
Apr302013

Do the Daily Sacrifices We Make in Relationships Make Us Happier? Relationship Matters Podcast #22

In the 22nd installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Casey Totenhagen (University of Arizona) dicusses recent research on how the daily sacrifices we make in relationships (e.g., doing the dishes, picking up a partner from work) influence how happy and committed we are in our relationships. 

Totenhagen explained, “In a relationship the partners are interdependent, and what I’m feeling and getting out of the relationship really depends on how my partner is treating me. These sacrifices are opportunities that we have to show our partners that we care about them, that we’re invested in the relationship, and that we want and expect the relationship to continue.”

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Sunday
Apr212013

Assembling IKEA Furniture: The True Test of a Relationship

There are a lot of ways to put a relationship to the test...add allen wrenches and vague directions to the list. 

To learn more about relationship stress, click here. 

Thursday
Oct182012

Fighting with an Ex-Husband Harms Mother-Child Relationships

High conflict with an ex-husband spills over negatively onto women’s relationships with their children. In a recent survey of a random sample of 1,239 divorced mothers, conflict with an ex-husband was associated with increased feelings of parental stress -- the greater the conflict, the more mothers felt their children were challenging to deal with (acting out, tantrums, etc.). This stress reduced the quality of mother-child interactions. The researchers proposed that mediated communication between ex-spouses, such as with a lawyer or psychologist, could help alleviate some of this conflict and improve family relations.

Hakvoort, E. M., Bos, H. M. W., Van Balen, F., & Hermanns, J. M. A. (2012). Spillover between mothers’ postdivorce relationships: The mediating role of parenting stress. Personal Relationships, 19, 247-254.

image source: parentdish.co.uk

Monday
Sep242012

Failure to Land: Factors That Influence a Husband’s Failure to Finish in the Bedroom

Q: What causes a man to not be able to “finish” in the bedroom? Is this because of an emotional disconnect from the wife? Does he want to be with someone else?

A: Thanks for your question. Erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the inability of a man to attain and/or maintain an erection that is sufficient for sexual performance, is the most common sexual disorder among men in many parts of the world.

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Thursday
Apr262012

My Partner Has Been Less Affectionate Lately - What Gives?

My boyfriend and are have been dating for about 2 years and we are in our early 20's. Most of our relationship is absolutely amazing - we are great friends, our communication is wonderful, and our sex life is incredible. But lately, my boyfriend has been avoiding kissing me and being affectionate/loving in general. We still have great sex, but he seems distant and whenever I ask him about it he makes up an excuse like "oh, my breath is bad right now" or something. Am I approaching it correctly by being open? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for your question! I can think of a few potential explanations for the situation you describe. One part of your question that stands out to me is the length of your relationship.

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