1. Lack of sleep fuels harmful inflammatory response to marital stress

    July 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center press release:

    A lack of sleep doesn’t just leave you cranky and spoiling for a fight. Researchers at The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research say it also puts you at risk for stress-related inflammation.

    This type of inflammation is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases.

    “We know sleep problems are also linked with inflammation and many of the same chronic illnesses. So we were interested to see how sleep related to inflammation among married couples, and whether one partner’s sleep affected the other’s inflammation,” said Stephanie Wilson, lead researcher on the study.

    Results of the study were published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

    The research team recruited 43 couples who completed two study visits. Each time, the couples provided blood samples and said how many hours they had slept the previous two nights. Then researchers had the couples try to resolve a topic that sparks conflict in their marriage. Blood samples were taken again following the discussion.

    “We found that people who slept less in the past few nights didn’t wake up with higher inflammation, but they had a greater inflammatory response to the conflict. So that tells us less sleep increased vulnerability to a stressor,” Wilson said.

    If both partners got less than seven hours of sleep the previous two nights, the couple was more likely to argue or become hostile. For every hour of sleep lost, the researchers noted that levels of two known inflammatory markers rose 6 percent. Couples who used unhealthy tactics in their disagreement had an even greater inflammatory response — about a 10 percent increase with each hour of less sleep.

    “Any increase isn’t good, but a protracted increase that isn’t being addressed is where it can become a problem,” Wilson said. “What’s concerning is both a lack of sleep and marital conflict are common in daily life. About half of our study couples had slept less than the recommended seven hours in recent nights.”

    That’s higher than the current national average. The CDC reports 35 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night.

    “Part of the issue in a marriage is that sleep patterns often track together. If one person is restless, or has chronic problems, that can impact the other’s sleep. If these problems persist over time, you can get this nasty reverberation within the couple,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, senior author and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

    Researchers were encouraged to see that there was a protective effect if one of the partners was well-rested, or discussed conflict in a healthy way. They tended to neutralize the disagreement that might be stirred by the sleep-deprived partner.

    “We would tell people that it’s important to find good ways to process the relationship and resolve conflict — and get some sleep,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.


  2. When lovers touch, their breathing, heartbeat syncs, pain wanes

    July 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Colorado at Boulder press release:

    Fathers-to-be, take note: You may be more useful in the labor and delivery room than you realize.

    That’s one takeaway from a study released last week that found that when an empathetic partner holds the hand of a woman in pain, their heart and respiratory rates sync and her pain dissipates.

    The more empathic the partner and the stronger the analgesic effect, the higher the synchronization between the two when they are touching,” said lead author Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder.

    The study of 22 couples, published in the journal Scientific Reports last week, is the latest in a growing body of research on “interpersonal synchronization,” the phenomenon in which individuals begin to physiologically mirror the people they’re with.

    Scientists have long known that people subconsciously sync their footsteps with the person they’re walking with or adjust their posture to mirror a friend’s during conversation. Recent studies also show that when people watch an emotional movie or sing together, their heart rates and respiratory rhythms synchronize. When leaders and followers have a good rapport, their brainwaves fall into a similar pattern. And when romantic couples are simply in each other’s presence, their cardiorespiratory and brainwave patterns sync up, research has shown.

    The new study, co-written with University of Haifa Professor Simone Shamay-Tsoory and Assistant Professor Irit Weissman-Fogel, is the first to explore interpersonal synchronization in the context of pain and touch. The authors hope it can inform the discussion as health care providers seek opioid-free pain relief options.

    Goldstein came up with the idea after witnessing the birth of his daughter, now 4.

    “My wife was in pain, and all I could think was, ‘What can I do to help her?’ I reached for her hand and it seemed to help,” he recalls. “I wanted to test it out in the lab: Can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?”

    Goldstein recruited 22 long-term heterosexual couples, age 23 to 32, and put them through a series of tests aimed at mimicking that delivery-room scenario.

    Men were assigned the role of observer; women the pain target. As instruments measured their heart and breathing rates, they: sat together, not touching; sat together holding hands; or sat in separate rooms. Then they repeated all three scenarios as the woman was subjected to a mild heat pain on her forearm for 2 minutes.

    As in previous trials, the study showed couples synced physiologically to some degree just sitting together. But when she was subjected to pain and he couldn’t touch her, that synchronization was severed. When he was allowed to hold her hand, their rates fell into sync again and her pain decreased.

    “It appears that pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples,” Goldstein said. “Touch brings it back.”

    Goldstein’s previous research found that the more empathy the man showed for the woman (as measured in other tests), the more her pain subsided during touch. The more physiologically synchronized they were, the less pain she felt.

    It’s not clear yet whether decreased pain is causing increased synchronicity, or vice versa.

    It could be that touch is a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in an analgesic, or pain-killing, effect,” said Goldstein.

    Further research is necessary to figure out how a partner’s touch eases pain. Goldstein suspects interpersonal synchronization may play a role, possibly by affecting an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain perception, empathy, and heart and respiratory function.

    The study did not explore whether the same effect would occur with same-sex couples, or what happens when the man is the subject of pain. Goldstein did measure brainwave activity and plans to present those results in a future study.

    He hopes the research will help lend scientific credence to the notion that touch can ease pain.

    For now, he has some advice for partners in the delivery room: Be ready and available to hold your partner’s hand.


  3. How viewing cute animals can help rekindle marital spark

    July 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    One of the well-known challenges of marriage is keeping the passion alive after years of partnership, as passions tend to cool even in very happy relationships. In a new study, a team of psychological scientists led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University has developed an unconventional intervention for helping a marriage maintain its spark: pictures of puppies and bunnies.

    The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    Previous research has shown that, in many instances, marriage satisfaction declines even when day-to-day behaviors stay the same. This led McNulty and colleagues to hypothesize that an intervention focused on changing someone’s thoughts about their spouse, as opposed to one that targets their behaviors, might improve relationship quality.

    Specifically, the research team wanted to find out whether it was possible to improve marital satisfaction by subtly retraining the immediate, automatic associations that come to mind when people think about their spouses.

    “One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies,” McNulty explained.

    Repeatedly linking a very positive stimulus to an unrelated one can create positive associations over time — perhaps the most famous example of this kind of conditioned response is Pavlov’s dogs, who salivated at the sound of a bell after being exposed to multiple pairings of meat and the bell sound.

    McNulty and colleagues designed their intervention using a similar kind of conditioning called evaluative conditioning: Images of a spouse were repeatedly paired with very positive words or images (like puppies and bunnies). In theory, the positive feelings elicited by the positive images and words would become automatically associated with images of the spouse after practice.

    Participants in the study included 144 married couples, all under the age of 40 and married for less than 5 years. On average, participants were around 28 years old and around 40% of the couples had children.

    At the start of the study, couples completed a series of measures of relationship satisfaction. A few days later, the spouses came to the lab to complete a measure of their immediate, automatic attitudes toward their partner.

    Each spouse was asked to individually view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of their partner. Those in the experimental group always saw the partner’s face paired with positive stimuli (e.g., an image of a puppy or the word “wonderful”) while those in the control condition saw their partner’s face matched to neutral stimuli (e.g., an image of a button).

    Couples also completed implicit measures of attitude towards their partner every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. To measure implicit attitude, each spouse was asked to indicate as quickly as possible the emotional tone of positive and negative words after quickly glimpsing a series of faces, which included their partner’s face.

    The data showed that the evaluative conditions worked: Participants who were exposed to positive images paired with their partner’s face showed more positive automatic reactions to their partner over the course of the intervention compared with those who saw neutral pairings.

    More importantly, the intervention was associated with overall marriage quality: As in other research, more positive automatic reactions to the partner predicted greater improvements in marital satisfaction over the course of the study.

    “I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty explained. “All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical.”

    It’s important to note that McNulty and colleagues are not arguing that behavior in a relationship is irrelevant to marital satisfaction. They note that interactions between spouses are actually the most important factor for setting automatic associations.

    However, the new findings suggest that a brief intervention focused on automatic attitudes could be useful as one aspect of marriage counseling or as a resource for couples in difficult long-distance situations, such as soldiers.

    “The research was actually prompted by a grant from the Department of Defense — I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment,” McNulty said. “We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships.”


  4. Spouses’ daily responses to partners’ pain linked with later functioning

    June 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    The dynamics of spouses’ daily interactions may influence whether an ill partner’s physical functioning improves over time, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We found that osteoarthritis patients whose spouses were more empathically responsive in daily interactions fared better in terms of their physical function than patients whose spouses were less responsive,” says Ohio State researcher Stephanie J. Wilson, lead author on the study who completed the work as part of her dissertation at Penn State. “Their performance on an objective test improved over time: They were better able to stand from a chair unassisted, maintained better balance, and could walk more quickly.”

    “Other research suggests that people who perform better on these tasks also are more likely to remain independent and to live longer,” Wilson explains. “Thus, our findings have direct clinical implications for chronic pain patients.”

    The idea that our social environment affects our health in incremental ways – through the ups and downs of everyday life – forms the basis of various conceptual frameworks, but Wilson and Penn State professors Lynn M. Martire and Martin J. Sliwinski noted that few studies had actually managed to capture these daily dynamics.

    To address this gap in the literature, senior researcher and thesis adviser Lynn Martire designed a novel study and collected data combining daily diary assessments taken over a short term with physical function measurements taken over longer intervals. Specifically, the team examined the association between spouses’ daily responsiveness to their partners with osteoarthritis and changes in the partners’ physical function over the following 18 months.

    The researchers hypothesized that the degree to which spouses showed empathic, solicitous, and punishing responses in response to their partners’ pain would be associated with the partners’ physical well-being over time. Specifically, partners whose spouses provided emotional support, affection, and attention (empathic behaviors) would show improvement in functioning, while those whose spouses took over tasks and encouraged rest (solicitous behaviors) and those whose spouses acted frustrated and appeared irritated (punishing behaviors) would show diminished functioning over time.

    The study included a total of 152 osteoarthritis patients, all of whom were over 50 years old and married or living with a partner. Participants completed short surveys in the evening every day over the 22-day daily diary period. Spouses rated the degree to which their partners had expressed feeling pain; patients rated the degree to which spouses responded to their pain expression with a variety of behaviors. The researchers measured the patients’ physical function — including balance, gait, speed, and ability to rise from a chair — at the beginning of the study, 6 months later, and 18 months later.

    The results showed that patients with spouses who responded to their expressions of pain with empathic behaviors on a daily basis showed improved physical function 6 and 18 months later relative to patients with less empathic spouses. However, the data did not indicate that either solicitous responses or punishing responses were linked with changes in patients’ physical function.

    “Based on previous work, we expected that patients whose spouses were more solicitously responsive — that is, provided more instrumental help such as retrieving medication and taking over chores — would decline in their physical function over time, but this did not hold,” explains Wilson.

    The findings are novel in that they specifically link patterns in couples’ day-to-day interactions to objective clinical measures, capturing the dynamic nature of how spouses influence each other.

    And the results have implications for a particularly broad audience: “One in five adults is diagnosed with some kind of persistent pain in their lives, and osteoarthritis is among the most common conditions that emerge as we get older,” Wilson notes. “It will be important for future studies to examine whether the empathic responsiveness pattern also bodes well for people with other chronic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”


  5. Study suggests partners with low self-esteem end up regretting sacrifices they make for relationships

    May 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Personality and Social Psychology press release:

    Low self-esteem partners can feel vulnerable in their relationship, including feeling insecure about their partner’s support and love. In a series of studies, social psychologists in the Netherlands show that people with low self-esteem end up regretting sacrifices they make in relationships because they do not feel appreciated or supported by their partner. The results appear in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.

    “Low self-esteem partners desire strong interpersonal connections like everybody else but they are very sensitive to rejection and interpersonal threats,” says lead author Francesca Righetti (VU University Amsterdam). “They underestimate how positively they are viewed by their partner and how much their partner loves and cares for them. They also tend to think that others are not there for them, not available to provide support when in need.”

    These doubts can influence mood, stress, and life satisfaction.

    The researchers tested the idea that when low self-esteem individuals decide to sacrifice personal preferences for their relationship, they come to regret those actions, with further consequences for their wellbeing.

    130 couples in the Netherlands participated in the study, first filling out emotional assessments every 2 hours for eight days and a daily dairy at the end of the day, and were then contacted a year later. The couples spoke Dutch, had no children and had been together at least 4 months. Most weren’t married.

    The results showed that low self-esteem is related to greater regret of past sacrifices, which in turn, affects negative mood, stress and life satisfaction. “Further analyses revealed that low self-esteem individuals feel less supported by the partner after they sacrifice which helps explain why they come to regret their sacrifices,” says Righetti.

    Based on their research, the issue isn’t how much or how often they sacrifice, “People with low self-esteem sacrifice in their relationship as much as people high in self-esteem,” says Righetti. “However, they are more likely to regret those sacrifices and this leads them to experience more negative mood, greater stress and lower life satisfaction, even over time.”

    Righetti’s advice, “If you have a low self-esteem partner, try to show much appreciation and gratitude after s/he sacrificed. S/he needs reassurance that you have noticed and appreciated the efforts. If you are low in self-esteem yourself, try not to assume that your partner did not notice what you have done for the relationship. Perhaps, talk together (in a constructive manner!) about what you have done for him/her and what it has entailed for you.”


  6. Study suggests improvement in relationship communication may positively impact male sexual function

    by Ashley

    From the Medical University of Vienna press release:

    The results of a study conducted at MedUni Vienna under the direction of Michaela Bayerle-Eder, doctor of internal and sexual medicine, showed that the sexual response of men, whose female partners had been treated with the “bonding hormone” oxytocin or a placebo, was enhanced — even to the extent of improving their erectile function. This effect was not a function of the substance administered, so that the result is attributable to the improvement in communications within the long-term relationship.

    Approximately one year ago, in a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the researchers found that treating women with sexual dysfunction with the hormone oxytocin improved their sexual response but also that the comparison group, who had only been given a placebo, showed an almost identical improvement. The specialists in sexual medicine therefore also investigated the effects upon the women’s male partners.

    This study has now shown that treating the female partners with oxytocin not only enhances their own sexuality but also that of their male partners. Since the effect was found not only in the group receiving the active agent but also in the placebo group, it is once again thought to be triggered by the improved communication within the relationship.

    The specific results: “The mere fact that the couple discussed sexuality more in their relationship and that they had to keep a joint diary helped to enhance their sexual response,” summarises Bayerle-Eder. The results were just as good in the placebo group as they were in the group of couples where the women were given oxytocin. Says Bayerle-Eder: “This is of major importance for all sex therapists. It is not just the medication that helps but rather, and more importantly, the functional social interaction within a relationship.”

    This is particularly important for older couples in long-term relationships. The 30 couples in the study had been together for between 2 and 33 years and were aged between 41 and 65.


  7. Study suggests oxytocin is released during relationship crises

    May 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Norwegian University of Science and Technology press release:

    Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” but American and Norwegian researchers have found out that it may as well be called a “crisis hormone.”

    “When people notice that their partner is showing less interest in their relationship than they are, the level of this relationship-building hormone increases,” says Andreas Aarseth Kristoffersen, a research assistant in NTNU’s Department of psychology.

    The hormone oxytocin has long been associated with relationships in several different ways. Oxytocin has a great reputation, because it is thought that it can make us feel better by reducing anxiety and making us feel more generous. Our brain secretes it during orgasm. It also influences the relationship between mother and child.

    But it’s not all cuddling and love.

    Two — or more — possibilities

    “Two main theories exist. Some scientists believe that oxytocin is released primarily to enhance a relationship and make it stronger when you’re with someone you love,” says Aarseth Kristoffersen.

    But others believe that oxytocin levels increase primarily when we find ourselves in difficult or even threatening situations. In those cases, the hormone helps us seek out new social relationships.

    However it may not just be either-or.

    Hormone increases in good and bad times

    NTNU researchers joined researchers from the University of New Mexico to study the connection between oxytocin and investment in couple relationships.

    The researchers examined 75 American couples, and 148 Norwegian individuals who were one of the partners in their relationships. Newly minted Ph.D. Nicholas M. Grebe is the study’s first author and visited Professor Kennair at NTNU’s Department of Psychology. Kennair has collaborated with Grebe’s Ph.D. advisor Professor Steven W. Gangestad.

    “Participants in the study were asked to think about their partner and how they wish their partner would connect with them in the relationship,” says Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, PhD, from the Department of Psychology.

    Oxytocin levels were measured both before and during the tasks. In both studies, individuals showed elevated hormone levels when they felt strong personal investment in the bond. In this case, oxytocin’s reputation as a love hormone holds up.

    “Yes, oxytocin relates to one’s feelings of involvement — but, this association is particularly strong when one feels more involved than their partner,” says Nick Grebe.

    But the crucial finding came from simultaneously examining both partners’ involvement.

    The partners who were more invested in a relationship released more oxytocin when they thought about their relationship than the less invested partner did. Considering both members together, it was the difference in investment between partners that predicted an increase in oxytocin. Here, oxytocin may be acting more like a “crisis hormone.”

    “It’s seems contradictory that you would release more oxytocin both when things are going well and when they’re not, but that’s how it is,” says Aarseth Kristoffersen.

    But why would that be?

    Put more effort into the relationship

    “This may be because people in a relationship where their partner is waffling need to engage more,” Aarseth Kristoffersen says.

    “The idea behind the prediction was that oxytocin might promote attention and motivation toward the relationship when it was both important and threatened,” says Professor Gangestad.

    For example, the partner who is most invested in the relationship might benefit from putting even more effort into making it work, so that the more sceptical party re-engages.

    “What’s implied here is a statement about what oxytocin is doing: It’s perhaps fostering attention to and motivation to “take care of” the relationship,” says Gangestad.

    Nevertheless, there is apparently — some would say fortunately — a limit. This would apply to relationships where everything seems lost and is clearly heading for a break-up. In those situations, the more invested partner does not show the same increase in oxytocin levels.

    “There’s no point in investing more in a lost cause,” says Kennair.

    There appears to be a limit to how long you should spend energy and resources on a relationship that is simply over.

    However, this is still mostly speculation for now.

    What you believe is what matters

    The researchers found no significant difference between US and Norwegian results. Responses to the study tasks were consistent across cultural conditions, which reinforces the theory that the underlying explanation is biological.

    The procedure in the two countries differed somewhat. The American couples were asked directly about how committed they were in their relationships. The Norwegian individuals were asked how invested they thought their partner was in the relationship. This made no difference for the results.

    It is enough if you think the relationship is weakening because your partner is losing interest. This will trigger your brain to release extra oxytocin.

    “I might emphasize that it isn’t necessarily “bad” or “good” for a person to release oxytocin. Yes, it might motivate attention that helps to maintain a relationship, but as the article hints, that isn’t necessarily desirable, though it could be! What is biologically “functional” and socially “desirable” are two different things,” says Nick Grebe.

    “We think that viewing oxytocin in this way can help us understand why it plays a role in other kinds of interdependent social relationships — new romances, mother-infant bonds, as two examples. The idea is that emotionally salient relationships, especially when those relationships are vulnerable, are elicitors of the oxytocin system,” Nick Grebe concludes.


  8. Study measures communication in couples affected by dementia

    May 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida Atlantic University press release:

    In marriage, good communication is key to a fulfilling and enduring relationship. For people with dementia, communicating needs, emotions and interacting with others becomes increasingly difficult as communication deteriorates as dementia progresses. Problems in communicating lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings, which often cause considerable stress for family members, especially the spouse caregivers as well as the patient.

    But all is not lost according to the first study to look at and measure communication outcomes in both the caregiver spouse and the patient with dementia. In fact, researchers from Florida Atlantic University have found that “practice makes perfect” with the right intervention and a tool that can accurately measure couples’ communication. Results from the study are published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing.

    “There has been very little focus on the patient with dementia’s role in maintaining spousal relationships through conversation,” said Christine L. Williams, DNSc, principal investigator of the study and a professor and director of the Ph.D. in Nursing Program in FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, who designed the intervention program and developed the first tool that measures couples’ communication. “Maybe it’s because researchers assume that the patient can’t have a positive influence on communication because of dementia. We wanted to explore this issue further, especially for couples with a history of special memories shared over decades of marriage.”

    For the study, Williams videotaped and later analyzed and measured 118 conversations between 15 patients with varying degrees of dementia and their spouses — married an average of 45 years — to evaluate the effects of a 10-week communication-enhancement intervention on participant’s communication and mental health.

    Caregivers were taught to communicate in a manner that was clear, succinct and respectful, and to avoid testing memory and arguing. Spouses with dementia were given the opportunity to practice their conversation skills with a member of the research team who was trained in communication deficits associated with dementia as well as the intervention. Conversations were recorded at the couples’ homes. After setting up the video camera, Williams conducted the intervention and then left the room for 10 minutes. Couples were instructed to converse on a topic of their choice for 10 minutes.

    “There are very few studies that have looked at actual communication between couples in these circumstances and tried to analyze it,” said Williams. “For instance, I’ve seen studies where they have taught communication strategies to caregivers, but then what they measure is the caregivers’ knowledge about communication, which doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not they were able to communicate.”

    Unlike other measures of patient communication, the Verbal and Nonverbal Interaction Scale-CR (VNIS-CR) tool developed by Williams takes into account nonverbal behaviors, which account for more than 70 percent of communication, as well as verbal behaviors. VNIS-CR delineates social and unsociable behaviors, characterizes patient behaviors (not through the lens of a caregiver), and is targeted to spousal relationships in the home. Consisting of 13 social and 13 unsociable communication behaviors with both verbal and nonverbal items, the tool helps to describe sociable and unsociable communication in patients with dementia as they engage in conversations with their spouses.

    Nonverbal, non-sociable items in the tool included aloofness, staring into space and being nonresponsive; nonverbal, sociable items included looking or gazing at the spouse, being affectionate and joking. Social verbal behaviors included using coherent conversation, responding to questions, and addressing their partner by name or endearment. Unsociable verbal behaviors included shouting, cursing and unintelligible communication. The 13-item scores were summed up to obtain the final score.

    “Using this new tool, I was able to confirm that the intervention I used actually worked and that communication improved in both the spouse caregiver and the patient over time,” said Williams. “I was ecstatic because I originally thought that maybe the caregiver’s communication would improve and that would be great. However, to have positive changes in a person who is continuing to decline over 10 weeks, which is a long time, was something I really did not expect. This intervention worked for both the caregiver and the patient and we now have a tool to demonstrate it.”

    Globally, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias affected 35.6 million individuals in 2010 and it is expected to grow to 115.4 million by 2050. The prevalence of dementia will increase as longevity increases and future family caregivers are likely to be predominantly spouses. In the United States, most people with dementia are cared for by their spouses.

    “As patients progress with dementia, couples don’t have to lose everything especially if they are engaged, if they can still relate to one another and if they focus on the here and now,” said Williams.

    The VNIS-CR could be used in clinical practice to describe changes in social communication abilities over time, as well as to educate spousal caregivers about the importance of encouraging sociable communication. Knowledge gained from using this tool could better guide the development of interventions to support intimate relationships and ultimately measure changes following those interventions.


  9. Commuter marriage study finds surprising emphasis on interdependence

    May 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lehigh University press release:

    The concept of marriage may be in flux, but a new study of commuter marriages–in which a married couple lives apart in service to their dual professional careers–appears to confirm that married people still see interdependence as a key feature of their unions.

    The study, “Going the Distance: Individualism and Interdependence in the Commuter Marriage,” draws on data from in-depth interviews with 97 people who are married but live apart from their spouses due to their individual career pursuits.

    In it, the author, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh University Danielle Lindemann, explores how the seemingly conflicting cultural norms of personal autonomy and a commitment to the institution of marriage play out “on the ground” from the viewpoint of the participants. Her analysis–which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family–finds that commuter couples indeed engage in discourses about two subjects that operate in tension: independence and interdependence.

    “Although the study participants positioned themselves as highly individualistic, interdependence was a key theme in their responses as well,” says Lindemann. “Perhaps more surprisingly, a substantial minority of respondents indicated that their non-cohabitation, in fact, enhanced their interdependence.”

    Lindemann acknowledges that married couples may live apart for a number of reasons. However, her study specifically focuses on college-educated, dual-earning couples as prior research has suggested that commuter marriage is more common within this group than in other segments of the population.

    Among her findings:

    • The majority of respondents identified as highly interdependent despite the individualized structures of commuter marriages
    • Many respondents–emphasizing, in particular, the co-management of tasks–underscored how integrated their partners were in their everyday activities despite their geographic separation
    • Nearly half engaged with the theme of “apart togetherness”–thinking of themselves as connected despite the physical separation
    • More than 75% described the usefulness of communication technologies for task sharing
    • A substantial minority interpreted their cohabitation as paradoxically facilitating their interdependence–15.5% of respondents from 9 couples engaged in this narrative
    • 66% of respondents said that had felt judged negatively for their lifestyle–mostly by family members
    • Female respondents spent more time discussing both individualism and interdependence
    • The narrative about non-cohabitation facilitating interconnectedness was more common (though not exclusive) among respondents who lived geographically further apart and saw each other less frequently

    Lindemann always sought to interview both spouses in a relationship, but it was not a necessary criterion for inclusion in the study. Fifty-six of the respondents were married to other people in the sample.

    An “extreme manifestation” of major transitions

    Lindemann presents commuter marriage as particularly fertile ground to examine the cultural tension between marital interdependence and the shift to toward the “individualization” of the American marriage.

    This shift, she writes–citing the work of Andrew J. Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University–has been largely driven by “…the decline of the male breadwinner/female homemaker model, decreasing task specialization between the genders, the increasing democratization of marital decision-making, and the increasing ability of each partner to provide financially for himself or herself.”

    “Commuter marriages may be viewed as an extreme manifestation of major transitions in the nature of work and family that have been taking place in the U.S. since the 1970s,” says Lindemann. “The study results not only shed light on this under-studied population but also broaden our understanding of the evolving cultural meaning of marriage.”

    “Just Because You Don’t See Each Other, It Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Together”

    In addition to engaging in parallel narratives around individualism and interdependence, nearly one half (48.5%) of participants in the study engaged with the theme of “apart togetherness“–seeing themselves as connected, despite the distance.

    According to Lindemann, this frequently came up in response to the question, “What do you like the most about being married?”

    From the study (all names are pseudonyms): “For instance, Katie, a banking professional in her mid-30’s, replied that she enjoyed having her husband ‘there,’ adding ‘We’ve learned that just because you don’t see each other, it doesn’t mean you’re not together.'”

    Lindemann writes that eighty respondents received this question and, perhaps paradoxically for non-cohabitating couples, “enjoying each other’s company” (41.3%) and “companionship” (30.0%) were the most common themes.

    One respondent, a 60-year-old director of a company named Matthew, described both the emotional and practical aspects of the “apart togetherness” he has experienced with spouse Trudy, from whom he has been living apart due to their individual career pursuits for twelve years.

    “Emphasizing both the emotional and task-sharing aspects of marriage, Matthew gave his relationship an interdependent frame, despite the fact that he and his wife had not lived in the same household, except on weekends, for over a decade,” writes Lindemann.

    Reliance on communication technologies

    When asked a series of questions about their communication, more than three fourths of study respondents discussed the usefulness of communication technologies for managing and sharing tasks.

    In contrast to previous studies of non-cohabitating couples (largely based on research from the 1970’s and 1980’s), this study’s respondents described being in near constant contact via cell phones, texting, email, instant messaging, and video chat.

    From the study: “…respondents saw these technologies as facilitating inter-reliance. That is, [they] had the capacity to be reachable at virtually any time, so that they could rely on each other–not only emotionally, but financially and logistically as well.”

    “One of the more surprising findings is that 15.5% of respondents–a substantial minority–interpreted their non-cohabitation as paradoxically facilitating their interdependence,” says Lindemann. “Some went so far as to suggest that their communication with their spouses in fact improved when they were geographically separated.”


  10. Study suggests giving partner a massage can help relieve stress

    May 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society press release:

    Giving your partner a massage can improve both their wellbeing and yours.

    That is the key finding of research by Sayuri Naruse and Dr Mark Moss from Northumbria University that is being presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Brighton.

    Ms Naruse, the lead researcher, commented, “The benefits of receiving a massage from a professional are well documented, but this research shows how a similar outcome can be obtained by couples with little prior training and experience of the activity.”

    A total of 38 participants completed a three-week massage course, assessing their wellbeing via questionnaires before and after massage sessions across eight areas of physical and mental wellbeing, stress, coping and relationship satisfaction.

    The couples’ wellbeing, perceived stress and coping was positively impacted by the massage course, with none of these effects having significantly decreased at a follow up three weeks after the end of the reporting period.

    Couples also found that their physical and emotional wellbeing had significantly improved following the completion of each massage session.

    Crucially, this was equally apparent whether the participant was giving or receiving the massage.

    Of the couples who took part in the study, 91 per cent said that they would recommend mutual massage to their friends and family.

    With past research having shown that couples tend to operate as a pair when coping with stress, giving each other a massage may also help to ensure relationship stability.

    Ms Naruse added, “These findings show that massage can be a simple and effective way for couples to improve their physical and mental wellbeing whilst showing affection for one another.

    “Our data also suggests that these positive effects of a short massage course may be long lasting, as is reflected in 74 per cent of the sample continuing to use massage after the course had finished.

    “Massage is a cost effective and pleasant intervention that isn’t just for a therapeutic setting but can be easily incorporated into a healthy couple’s daily routine.”