Tag Archives: relationships

What makes us happy on Valentine’s Day?

Cut-out book of Valentines circa 1940.

Valentine’s Day was established in honor of three early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, but today people celebrate romantic love or love more generally.  Since romance is so salient on this holiday, people who are single can feel ostracized and sometimes motivated to support an anti-love mantra.  I wonder if the second biggest Hallmark holiday is really worth the hype (either for or against). Is love or a partner really what makes people happy in life?

Perhaps one of the answers can be found by looking at one of the current hot topics in social psychology research: the intersection of emotion regulation and well being.  A quick look at the latest program from the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology reveals numerous talks and posters on the topic of mindfulness and emotion regulation.

A recent paper points to the importance of the perspective from which people try to adaptively reflect on their feelings.  According to Ayduk and Kross (2010), participants who analyzed negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective (versus a self-immersed perspective) were less likely to ruminate and reported less negative emotions.  Maybe people’s affective experiences on Valentine’s Day have more to do with how they think about their lives and less about relationship status.

Read more:

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). Analyzing negative experiences without ruminating: The role of self-distancing in enabling adaptive self-reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 841–854.

Meditation vs. Medication: Which Should You Choose?

Bad Relationships Can Hurt… Literally

By Erica Zaiser

Jake and Vienna have called it quits. A recent, much talked about interview with the celebrity couple with the host of The Bachelor revealed numerous problems between the two. Each accused the other of being responsible for their irreconcilable problems and the dramatic interview included much yelling and many tears. It isn’t hard to see that such a stressful relationship could have lasting consequences on their emotional well-being.

Some research has demonstrated that marital relationships are linked to a number of both long and short-term physical health issues as well as emotional problems. According to Slatcher (2010), in a review of some of the research on marital relationships and physical health, there are two independent factors in marriage effecting health: marital strain (leading to negative health effects) and marital strength (which can have a positive impact on health).  Marriage has been linked to numerous physical responses including cardiovascular functioning, neuroendocrine output, and immunity; and marriage can even impact mortality rates. Although there is a great deal of research linking marriage to both positive and negative changes in physical health, the author argues that there is too little research explaining exactly what psychological processes occur in order to explain those changes.

News from CNN highlighted recent research which found that couples inflicted with small blisters who used hostile or aggressive communication styles healed more slowly than those couples that had better communication skills. They linked this to oxytocin levels which were higher in couples who used positive communication skills. This type of research gives some insight into the psychological processes which can explain the physiological effects of a relationship. So it is not the relationship itself, but the response to conflict within the relationship which is influencing physical well-being.

Read more: Slatcher, R. B. (2010). Marital Functioning and Physical Health: Implications for Social and Personality Psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 4, 455-469.

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It’s Complicated: The Realm of On & Off Relationships

Think Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer – just few of celebrity pairs that have gotten on and off, breaking up, then getting back again, sometimes extending the cycle to the point where we are left guessing as to their future romantic plans. On and off relationships are not uncommon. A study by Dailey et al sought to provide a baseline description of on-off relationships and their differences with noncyclical relationships, or relationships that end and do not renew. Factors such as relational development and dissolution, reasons and initiators for dissolution of relationship were looked at. The study revealed the commonality of these kinds of relationships among the participants. Participants who have been in on and off relationships were less likely to report positive characteristics of the initial stages of their relationships. Then why go back to such a relationship if that is so? The researchers also noted that while most breakups were unilateral / non mutual, there was an even higher percentage of on-off relationships that were non mutual, compared to noncyclical relationships. It is possible that one partner would still be interested in instigating reconciliation. Noncyclical partners also reported greater use of mutual disintegration to end a relationship, whereas on-off partners often used methods that were more unclear, such as the “Let’s take a break” excuse. Such method may increase uncertainty whether the relationship is merely ‘on break’ or if it has been terminated.

Several recommendations include the need to address internal factors in the relationships, and the need for certainty,  for both partners to be explicit in their desires to continue or end a relationship.

Celebrity Couples Who Separate and Reunite

On-again/off-again dating relationships: How are they different from other dating relationships? Dailey et al (2009). Personal Relationships

Photo: “2004-12-02 – Light Switch – Messed. Up” by , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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When the past comes to haunt

Pop culture is rife with stories of people who blame their negative childhood experiences for their incapacity to stay within relationships or marriages, from the fictional serial killer Dexter who felt it impossible to connect to anyone to Jennifer Aniston’s announcement that her experience of her parents’ divorce made her wary of interpersonal intimacy. But are these mere pop psychology incarnations or are children who experienced traumas any likelier to experience certain marital troubles as adults?

Whisman’s (2006) study on childhood traumas looked at seven different childhood traumas: physical abuse, rape, sexual molestation, serious physical attack, experiences of being threatened with a weapon, life threatening accident, and natural disasters; and the effect of these on marital disruption and marital satisfaction. Physical abuse, rape, and sexual molestation were associated with higher probability of marital dissolution. Lower marital satisfaction was associated with individuals who had experienced rape or sexual molestation. Traumas with assaultive violence, or those where another person directly harmed the child were more likely to be associated with marital disruption and dissatisfaction, as these are seen to be more likely to lead to attachment insecurity (characterized by avoidance, lack of trust) which may then lead to lower marital stability.

Photo: “Goodbye my lover.” by Andii Jetaime, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

Dexter crosses media lines, captivate fans

Aniston: ‘Childhood Trauma Blighted My Marriage’

Whisman M. A. (2006) Childhood trauma and marital outcomes in adulthood. Personal Relationships

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Marriage and Parenting: For Better AND For Worse

Couple_01 A recent New York Times Science article documents the efforts that family clinics and parenting groups are making to get fathers more involved in parenting. However, the issue is not only getting them involved, but in getting the mothers to let them be involved in their own ways. The biological connection that a mother and child share is undeniable but, as the article explains, our social and cultural constraints on fathers, and what is expected of them, can often make parenting confusing and unbalanced.

This article comes only a few days after another article on family relationships in the Times Magazine — one documenting the Obamas’ marriage. That article presents the Obamas as committed to one another but also not afraid to have conflicts, experience difficult times, and turn them into “teachable moments.” As a recent article in Social Development argues, conflict can actually be productive — if it occurs under the right circumstances. As the authors explain, both the type of conflict (constructive or coercive?) and the type of relationship in which it occurs (positive or negative?) can help predict the consequences of conflict.

So, whether the task is negotiating a balanced parenting arrangement in a society with fairly prescribed gender (and parental roles) or negotiating a marriage, psychology reminds us that conflict can be productive, and the process of working through the conflict can be beneficial to the relationships in the family.

square-eye Laursen and Hafen (2009). Future directions in the study of close relationships: Conflict is bad (except when it’s not).

square-eye Fathers gain respect from experts (and mothers). New York Times.

 

square-eye The Obamas’ Marriage. New York Times.

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