1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.”


  4. 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.”


  5. A 48-hour sexual ‘afterglow’ helps to bond partners over time

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Sex plays a central role in reproduction, and it can be pleasurable, but new findings suggest that it may serve an additional purpose: bonding partners together. A study of newlywed couples, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that partners experience a sexual ‘afterglow’ that lasts for up to two days, and this afterglow is linked with relationship quality over the long term.

    “Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says psychological scientist Andrea Meltzer (Florida State University), lead author on the study. “And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

    Researchers had theorized that sex plays a crucial role in pair bonding, but most adults report having sex with their partners every few days, not every day. Meltzer and colleagues hypothesized that sex might provide a short-term boost to sexual satisfaction, sustaining the pair bond in between sexual experiences and enhancing partners’ relationship satisfaction over the long term.

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers examined data from two independent, longitudinal studies, one with 96 newlywed couples and another with 118 newlywed couples. All of the couples had completed at least three consecutive days of a 14-day daily diary as part of a larger study.

    Every night, before going to bed, the newlyweds were asked to report independently whether they had sex with their partner that day. Regardless of the answer, they were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with their sex life that day and how satisfied they were with their partner, their relationship, and their marriage that day (on a 7-point scale, where 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely).

    The partners also completed three measures of marriage quality at the beginning of the study and again at a follow-up session about 4 to 6 months later.

    On average, participants reported having sex on 4 of the 14 days of the study, though answers varied considerably across participants.

    Importantly, sex on a given day was linked with lingering sexual satisfaction over time. Having sex on a given day was linked with sexual satisfaction that same day, which was linked with sexual satisfaction the next day and even two days later. In other words, participants continued to report elevated sexual satisfaction 48 hours after a single act of sex. Importantly, this association did not differ according to participants’ gender or age, and it held even after sexual frequency, personality traits, length of relationship and other factors were taken into account.

    Overall, participants’ marital satisfaction declined between the beginning of the study and the follow-up session 4 to 6 months later. But participants who reported relatively high levels of sexual afterglow seemed to fare better relative to their peers, reporting higher initial marital satisfaction and less steep declines in satisfaction across the first 4 to 6 months of marriage.

    The same pattern of effects emerged in the two independent studies, providing robust evidence for sexual afterglow, Meltzer and colleagues note. Together, the findings suggest that sex is linked with relationship quality over time through the lingering effects of sexual satisfaction.

    “This research is important because it joins other research suggesting that sex functions to keep couples pair bonded,” Meltzer concludes.


  6. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  7. Study suggests gender differences in emotional response to cooperating

    July 5, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona press release by Alexis Blue via MedicalXpress:

    couple on dateWhile men tend to match their partners’ emotions during mutual cooperation, women may have the opposite response, according to new research.

    Cooperation is essential in any successful romantic relationship, but how men and women experience cooperation emotionally may be quite different, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.

    Ashley Randall, a post-doctoral research associate in the UA’s John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences and the UA’s department of psychiatry, has been interested for some time in how romantic partners’ emotions become coordinated with one another. For example, if someone comes home from work in a bad mood we know their partner’s mood might plummet as well, but what are the long-term implications of this on their relationship?

    Randall wondered how the act of cooperating, a beneficial relationship process, might impact emotional coordination between partners.

    Cooperation – having the ability to work things out with your partner, while achieving mutually beneficial outcomes – is so important in relationships, and I wondered what kind of emotional connectivity comes from cooperating with your partner?” she said.

    What she found in her recent study – published in SAGE’s Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and featured in the journal’s podcast series, Relationship Matters – were surprising gender differences.

    She and her colleagues found that during high mutual levels of cooperation with a romantic partner, men typically experience an “inphase” response to their significant other’s emotions. That is, if the woman in the relationship is feeling more positive, the man will feel more positive. If she feels less positive, he will feel less positive.

    On the contrary, it seems women experience more of an “antiphase” pattern during high mutual cooperation. If her partner is feeling more positive, she will tend to feel less positive, and vice versa.

    Take, for example, the following familiar scenario: A woman emerges from a department store fitting room and asks her husband what he thinks of a potential new shirt. He likes it, he says, hoping his time at the mall is nearing an end. So does the woman head straight to the cash register and make the purchase? Probably not. Chances are, her husband’s enthusiasm won’t be enough; she’ll want to try on a few more shirts first.

    Social psychology literature on cooperation tells us that women generally tend to cooperate more, while men often try to avoid conflict. Thus, men might be subconsciously syncing their emotions with their partners’ during cooperation in an effort to avoid conflict or reach a speedy resolution, Randall says.

    If that’s the case, it’s possible, although Randall’s study didn’t test for it, that women may pick up on the fact that their partner’s agreeability is not entirely authentic. If she suspects he’s not really as positive as he seems, or that he has an ulterior motive, she may become less positive herself in an attempt to get at his real feelings and reach a more mutually satisfying resolution, Randall suggests.

    “If you think about a couple that is trying to cooperate with one another, the man might go along and say, ‘oh sure, honey, this is great, are we almost done?’ whereas the women might say, ‘I‘m so glad that you’re happy, but I just want to talk about this one other thing because I think we’re really getting at a resolution,‘” Randall said.

    In the end, Randall’s results suggest that women may tend to serve as the emotional regulators during cooperation.

    Randall based her findings on an analysis of 44 heterosexual couples who were videotaped having a conversation about their shared lifestyle related to diet and health. The couples were asked to watch the video back and, using a rating dial, provide momentary feedback about how they were feeling emotionally. Researchers analyzed the videos as well as the participants’ responses to them.

    Co-authored by the UA’s Jesi Post, Rebecca Reed and Emily Butler, the study has implications for better understanding how romantic partners’ emotions are connected.

    “Cooperation is something that’s invaluable and instrumental in a successful relationship but men and women experience it differently,” Randall said. “This research provides another avenue to understanding how partners’ emotions can become linked, but future research is needed on how these emotional patterns may ultimately contribute to the longevity, or demise, of the romantic relationship.”


  8. Study suggests age affects how married couples handle conflict

    July 1, 2013 by Ashley

    From the SF State University press release via EurekAlert!:

    pregnancy coupleArguing with your spouse about where to go on vacation or how to handle the kids? As you age, you may find yourself handling these disagreements more often by changing the subject, according to a new San Francisco State University study.

    The study by Sarah Holley, SF State assistant professor of psychology who directs the University’s Relationships, Emotion and Health Lab, followed 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples across 13 years, checking in to see how they communicated about conflicts from housework to finances. The researchers videotaped the couples’ 15-minute discussions, noting the types of communication they used when talking about contentious topics.

    Holley and her colleagues wanted to see how the couples might change in their use of a common and destructive type of communication, the demand-withdraw pattern, as they aged. In the demand-withdraw pattern, one person in a relationship blames or pressures their partner for a change, while the partner tries to avoid discussion of the problem or passively withdraws from the interaction.

    The researchers found that while most aspects of demand-withdraw communication remained steady over time, both husbands and wives “increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict,” Holley said. That is, when faced with an area of disagreement, both spouses were more likely to do things such as change the subject or divert attention from the conflict.

    Avoidance is generally thought to be damaging to relationships as it gets in the way of conflict resolution. For younger couples, who may be grappling with newer issues, this may be particularly true. But for older couples, who have had decades to voice their disagreements, avoidance may be a way to move the conversation away from “toxic” areas and toward more neutral or pleasant topics, the researchers suggest.

    “This is in line with age-related shifts in socioemotional goals,” Holley said, “wherein individuals tend toward less conflict and greater goal disengagement in later life stages.” Several studies have shown, Holley explained, that as people age they place less importance on arguments and seek more positive experiences, perhaps out of a sense of making the most out of their remaining years.

    The age of the partners appears to be driving this important communication shift, the researchers suggest, but the change could also be influenced by the length of the couples’ relationship. “It may not be an either-or question,” Holley said. “It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance.” To explore this idea further, she hopes to compare older couples in long-term marriages with older newlywed couples.

    The study focused on this specific set of communication behaviors, Holley said, because psychologists think the demand-withdraw pattern, with its “self-perpetuating and polarizing nature,” can be especially destructive for couples. If a husband withdraws in response to his wife’s demands to do the dishes, for example, that withdrawal can lead to an escalation in the wife’s demands, which in turn may fuel the husband’s tendency to withdraw from the argument, and so on.

    This can lead to a polarization between the two partners which can be very difficult to resolve and can take a major toll on relationship satisfaction,” Holley said.

    Holley has studied demand-withdraw communication in all kinds of couples, and she said that the pattern goes beyond the stereotype of a nagging wife and a silent husband. When she compared gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples in a 2010 study, she found “strong support for the idea that the partner who desires more change … will be much more likely to occupy the demanding role, whereas the partner who desires less change — and therefore may benefit from maintaining the status quo — will be more likely to occupy the withdrawing role.”

    The study “Age-Related Changes in Demand – Withdraw Communication Behaviors” was published online on July 1, 2013 in the Journal of Marriage and Family.


  9. Study suggests excessive Facebook use can damage relationships

    June 16, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri press release via HealthCanal:

    Computer UserFacebook and other social networking web sites have revolutionized the way people create and maintain relationships.

    However, new research shows that Facebook use could actually be damaging to users’ romantic relationships. Russell Clayton, a doctoral student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, found that individuals who use Facebook excessively are far more likely to experience Facebook–related conflict with their romantic partners, which then may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.

    In their study, Clayton, along with Alexander Nagurney, an instructor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and Jessica R. Smith, a doctoral student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, surveyed Facebook users ages 18 to 82 years old. Participants were asked to describe how often they used Facebook and how much, if any, conflict arose between their current or former partners as a result of Facebook use. The researchers found that high levels of Facebook use among couples significantly predicted Facebook-related conflict, which then significantly predicted negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, and divorce.

    “Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy,” Clayton said. “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners. Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”

    Clayton says this trend was particularly apparent in newer relationships.

    “These findings held only for couples who had been in relationships of three years or less,” Clayton said. “This suggests that Facebook may be a threat to relationships that are not fully matured. On the other hand, participants who have been in relationships for longer than three years may not use Facebook as often, or may have more matured relationships, and therefore Facebook use may not be a threat or concern.”

    In order to prevent such conflict from arising, Clayton recommends couples, especially those who have not been together for very long, to limit their own personal Facebook use.

    “Although Facebook is a great way to learn about someone, excessive Facebook use may be damaging to newer romantic relationships,” Clayton said. “Cutting back to moderate, healthy levels of Facebook usage could help reduce conflict, particularly for newer couples who are still learning about each other.”

    This study is forthcoming in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

     


  10. Study suggests meeting online ups likelihood of marriage success

    June 9, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago press release via EurekAlert!:

    datingMore than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, according to new research at the University of Chicago, which also found that online couples have happier, longer marriages.

    Although the study did not determine why relationships that started online were more successful, the reasons may include the strong motivations of online daters, the availability of advance screening, and the sheer volume of opportunities online.

    “These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

    The results were published in the paper, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of June 3 to 7.

    Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, exchanges of email, instant messages, multi-player games and online communities. The research shows that couples who met online were more likely to have higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital breakups than relationships that began in face-to-face meetings.

    Marriage breakups were reported in about 6 percent of the people who met online, compared with 7.6 percent of the people who met offline. Marriages for people who met online reported a mean score of 5.64 on a satisfaction survey, compared with a score of 5.48 for people who met offline. The survey was based on questions about their happiness with their marriage and degree of affection, communication and love for each other.

    For the study, Cacioppo led a team that examined the results of a representative sample of 19,131 people who responded to a survey by Harris Interactive about their marriages and satisfaction.

    The study found a wide variety of venues, both online and offline, where people met. About 45 percent met through an online dating site. People who met online were more likely to be older (30 to 39 is the largest age group represented); employed and had a higher income. The group was diverse racially and ethnically.

    People who met offline found marriage partners at various venues including work, school, church, social gatherings, clubs and bars, and places of worship. Among the least successful marriages were those in which people met at bars, through blind dates and in virtual worlds (where individuals interact in online spaces via avatars), the researchers found.

    Relationships that start online may benefit from selectivity and the focused nature of online dating, the authors said. The differences in marital outcomes from online and offline meetings persisted after controlling for demographic differences, but “it is possible that individuals who met their spouse online may be different in personality, motivation to form a long-term marital relationship, or some other factor,” said Cacioppo. Meeting online also may provide a larger pool of prospective marriage partners, along with advance screening in the case of dating services. And although deception often occurs online, studies suggest that people are relatively honest in online dating encounters; the lies tend to be minor misrepresentations of weight or height.

    “Marital outcomes are influenced by a variety of factors. Where one meets their spouse is only one contributing factor, and the effects of where one meets one’s spouse are understandably quite small and do not hold for everyone,” Cacioppo said. “The results of this study are nevertheless encouraging, given the paradigm shift in terms of how Americans are meeting their spouses.”