Can you spot a good relationship? Of course nobody knows what really goes on between any couple, but decades of scientific research into love, sex and relationships have taught us that a number of behaviors can predict when a couple is on solid ground or headed for troubled waters. Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all — effort. Keep reading for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.
Love and Romance
Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge for couples is how to rekindle the fires of romance from time to time and cultivate the mature, trusting love that is the hallmark of a lasting relationship.
What’s Your Love Style?
When you say “I love you,” what do you mean?
Terry Hatkoff, a California State University sociologist, has created a love scale that identifies six distinct types of love found in our closest relationships.
- Romantic: Based on passion and sexual attraction
- Best Friends: Fondness and deep affection
- Logical: Practical feelings based on shared values, financial goals, religion etc.
- Playful: Feelings evoked by flirtation or feeling challenged
- Possessive: Jealousy and obsession
- Unselfish: Nurturing, kindness, and sacrifice
Researchers have found that the love we feel in our most committed relationships is typically a combination of two or three different forms of love. But often, two people in the same relationship can have very different versions of how they define love. of a man and woman having dinner. The waiter flirts with the woman, but the husband doesn’t seem to notice, and talks about changing the oil in her car. The wife is upset her husband isn’t jealous. The husband feels his extra work isn’t appreciated.
What does this have to do with love? The man and woman each define love differently. For him, love is practical, and is best shown by supportive gestures like car maintenance. For her, love is possessive, and a jealous response by her husband makes her feel valued.
Understanding what makes your partner feel loved can help you navigate conflict and put romance back into your relationship. You and your partner can take the Love Style quiz from Dr. Hatkoff and find out how each of you defines love. If you learn your partner tends toward jealousy, make sure you notice when someone is flirting with him or her. If your partner is practical in love, notice the many small ways he or she shows love by taking care of everyday needs.
Romantic love has been called a because it activates the brain’s reward center — notably the dopamine pathways associated with drug addiction, alcohol and gambling. But those same pathways are also associated with novelty, energy, focus, learning, motivation, ecstasy and craving. No wonder we feel so energized and motivated when we fall in love!
But we all know that romantic, passionate love fades a bit over time, and (we hope) matures into a more contented form of committed love. Even so, many couples long to rekindle the sparks of early courtship. But is it possible?
The relationship researcher Arthur Aron, a psychology professor who directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has found a way. The secret? Do something new and different — and make sure you do it together. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love. Whether you take a pottery class or go on a white-water rafting trip, activating your dopamine systems while you are together can help bring back the excitement you felt on your first date. In studies of couples, Dr. Aron has found that partners who regularly share new experiences report greater boosts in marital happiness than those who simply share pleasant but familiar experiences.
Diagnose Your Passion Level
The psychology professor Elaine Hatfield has suggested that the love we feel early in a relationship is different than what we feel later. Early on, love is “passionate,” meaning we have feelings of intense longing for our mate. Longer-term relationships develop “companionate love,” which can be described as a deep affection, and strong feelings of commitment and intimacy.
Where does your relationship land on the spectrum of love? developed by Dr. Hatfield, of the University of Hawaii, and Susan Sprecher, a psychology and sociology professor at Illinois State University, can help you gauge the passion level of your relationship. Once you see where you stand, you can start working on injecting more passion into your partnership. Note that while the scale is widely used by relationship researchers who study love, the quiz is by no means the final word on the health of your relationship. Take it for fun and let the questions inspire you to talk to your partner about passion. After all, you never know where the conversation might lead.
How Much Sex Are You Having?
Let’s start with the good news. Committed couples really do have more sex than everyone else. Don’t believe it? While it’s true that single people can regale you with stories of crazy sexual episodes, remember that single people also go through long dry spells. found that 15 percent of men and 27 percent of women reported they hadn’t had sex in the past year. And 9 percent of men and 18 percent of women say they haven’t had sex in five years. The main factors associated with a sexless life are older age and not being married. So whether you’re having committed or married sex once a week, once a month or just six times a year, the fact is that there’s still someone out there having less sex than you. And if you’re one of those people NOT having sex, : Americans who are not having sex are just as happy as their sexually-active counterparts.
But Who’s Counting?
Even though most people keep their sex lives private, we do know quite a bit about people’s sex habits. The data come from a variety of sources, including the , which collects information on behavior in the United States, and the International Social Survey Programme, a similar study that collects international data, and additional studies from people who study sex like the famous Kinsey Institute. A recent trend is that sexual frequency is declining among millennials, likely because they are less likely than earlier generations to have steady partners.
Based on that research, here’s some of what we know about sex:
- The average adult has sex 54 times a year.
- The average sexual encounter lasts about 30 minutes.
- About 5 percent of people have sex at least three times a week.
- People in their 20s have sex more than 80 times per year.
- People in their 40s have sex about 60 times a year.
- Sex drops to 20 times per year by age 65.
- After the age of 25, 3.2 percent annually.
- After controlling for age and time period, those born in the 1930s had sex the most often; people born in the 1990s (millennials) had sex the least often.
- About 20 percent of people, most of them widows, have been celibate for at least a year.
- The typical married person has sex an average of 51 times a year.
- “Very Happy” couples have sex, on average, 74 times a year.
- Married people under 30 have sex about 112 times a year; single people under 30 have sex about 69 times a year.
- Married people in their 40s have sex 69 times a year; single people in their 40s have sex 50 times a year.
- Active people have more sex.
- People who drink alcohol have 20 percent more sex than teetotalers.
- On average, extra education is associated with about a week’s worth of less sex each year.
Early and Often
There is empirical evidence of the causal impact of social relationships on health. The social support theory suggests that relationships might promote health especially by promoting adaptive behavior or regulating the stress response. Troubled relationships as well as loneliness and social exclusion may have negative consequences on health. Neurosciences of health investigate the neuronal circuits implicated in the context of both social connection and disconnection.
Poor relationships have a negative impact on health outcomes. In 1985, Cohen and Wills presented two models that have been employed to describe this connection: the main effect model and the stress-buffering model.
The main effect model postulates that our social networks influence our psychology (our affect) and our physiology (biological responses). These three variables are thought to influence health, as described in Figure 1. This model predicts that increasing social networks enhance general health. A possible mechanism by which social networks improve our health is through our behaviors: if our social network influences us to behave in a certain way that enhances our health, then it can be argued that our social network influences our health.
For example, it has been demonstrated that higher social support improves our level of physical activity, which in turn has a positive effect on our health. It is unclear if this effect of social support is a threshold or a gradient. The difference between the two of them is that a threshold effect is a necessary amount of social support required to have a positive effect on health. On the opposite, a gradient effect can be described as a linear effect of the amount of social support on health, meaning that an increase of x amount of social support will result in an increase of y level of health.
There is evidence that social integration is negatively linked to suicide and marital status is negatively linked to mortality rates from all-causes.Hibbard (1985) explored the link between social ties and health status by conducting a series of household surveys. Indeed, she found that people who have more social ties, more perception of control, and are most trustful with others tend to have better physical health. Thoits investigated how social ties can improve both mental and physical health.
The results showed that social ties might influence emotional sustenance and promote active coping assistance. The other significant point of this research is that we can define two types of “supporters” able to provide different types of social support. Significant others (i.e., family, friends, spouse, etc.) tend to provide more instrumental support and emotional sustaining whereas experientially similar others (i.e., people who experienced the same life events than us) tend to provide more empathy, “role model” (a similar person looked like a model, a person to imitate) and active coping assistance.
Furthermore, social support can help us to regulate emotions above all when we are facing a stressful event. Probably one of the most famous studies on this field of investigation was conducted by Coan, Schaefer, and Davidson. In their study, they told married couples to go together in the laboratory. All couples reported a high level of marital satisfaction. The study aimed to evaluate the effect of handholding on the neural response to a threat. To create a stressful event, they informed the woman participant of each couple that she will receive moderate electric shocks.
There were three experimental conditions: no handholding, stranger handholding, or spouse handholding. The findings suggested that both spouse and stranger hand holding attenuated neural response to the threat, but spousal handholding was particularly efficient. Moreover, even within this sample of married couples with high satisfaction levels, the beneﬁts of spousal handholding under threat were even more important in those couples who have reported the highest quality of marital relationship.
- Cohen, Sheldon; Wills, Thomas A. (1985). “Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis”. Psychological Bulletin. 98 (2): 310–357. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.98.2.310. ISSN 1939-1455. PMID 3901065.
- Eisenberger, Naomi I; Cole, Steve W (May 2012). “Social neuroscience and health: neurophysiological mechanisms linking social ties with physical health”. Nature Neuroscience. 15 (5): 669–674. doi:10.1038/nn.3086. ISSN 1097-6256. PMID 22504347. S2CID 2039147.
- Kouvonen, A.; De Vogli, R.; Stafford, M.; Shipley, M. J.; Marmot, M. G.; Cox, T.; Vahtera, J.; Vaananen, A.; Heponiemi, T.; Singh-Manoux, A.; Kivimaki, M. (2012-08-01). “Social support and the likelihood of maintaining and improving levels of physical activity: the Whitehall II Study”. The European Journal of Public Health. 22 (4): 514–518. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckr091. ISSN 1101-1262. PMC 3402714. PMID 21750013.
- Selye, Hans (1976), “Stress without Distress”, in Serban, George (ed.), Psychopathology of Human Adaptation, Springer US, pp. 137–146, doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-2238-2_9, ISBN 978-1-4684-2240-5
- Cohen, Sheldon; Janicki-Deverts, Denise; Turner, Ronald B.; Doyle, William J. (February 2015). “Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness”. Psychological Science. 26 (2): 135–147. doi:10.1177/0956797614559284. ISSN 0956-7976. PMC 4323947. PMID 25526910.
- Hwang, Stephen W.; Kirst, Maritt J.; Chiu, Shirley; Tolomiczenko, George; Kiss, Alex; Cowan, Laura; Levinson, Wendy (September 2009). “Multidimensional Social Support and the Health of Homeless Individuals”. Journal of Urban Health. 86 (5): 791–803. doi:10.1007/s11524-009-9388-x. ISSN 1099-3460. PMC 2729873. PMID 19629703.
- Kawachi, I. (2001-09-01). “Social Ties and Mental Health”. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 78 (3): 458–467. doi:10.1093/jurban/78.3.458. PMC 3455910. PMID 11564849.
- Barnett, R.C. (1987). Gender and stress. Free Press. pp. 257–277.
- Shumaker, Sally A.; Hill, D. Robin (1991). “Gender differences in social support and physical health”. Health Psychology. 10 (2): 102–111. doi:10.1037/0278-622.214.171.124. ISSN 1930-7810. PMID 2055208.
- Martínez-Hernáez, Angel; Carceller-Maicas, Natàlia; DiGiacomo, Susan M.; Ariste, Santiago (December 2016). “Social support and gender differences in coping with depression among emerging adults: a mixed-methods study”. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. 10 (1): 2. doi:10.1186/s13034-015-0088-x. ISSN 1753-2000. PMC 4704269. PMID 26744601.
- Croezen, Simone; Picavet, H Susan J; Haveman-Nies, Annemien; Verschuren, WM Monique; de Groot, Lisette CPGM; van’t Veer, Pieter (December 2012). “Do positive or negative experiences of social support relate to current and future health? Results from the Doetinchem Cohort Study”. BMC Public Health. 12 (1): 65. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-65. ISSN 1471-2458. PMC 3275524. PMID 22264236.
- Garcia, E. Lopez.; Banegas, J. R.; Perez-Regadera, A. Graciani.; Cabrera, R. Herruzo.; Rodriguez-Artalejo, F. (March 2005). “Social network and health-related quality of life in older adults: A population-based study in Spain”. Quality of Life Research. 14 (2): 511–520. doi:10.1007/s11136-004-5329-z. ISSN 0962-9343. PMID 15892440. S2CID 2428977.
- House, J.; Landis, K.; Umberson, Debra (1988-07-29). “Social relationships and health”. Science. 241 (4865): 540–545. Bibcode:1988Sci…241..540H. doi:10.1126/science.3399889. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 3399889.
- Hibbard, Judith H. (March 1985). “Social Ties and Health Status: An Examination of Moderating Factors”. Health Education Quarterly. 12 (1): 23–34. doi:10.1177/109019818501200103. ISSN 0195-8402. PMID 3980238. S2CID 12514075.
- Thoits, Peggy A. (June 2011). “Mechanisms Linking Social Ties and Support to Physical and Mental Health”. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 52 (2): 145–161. doi:10.1177/0022146510395592. ISSN 0022-1465. PMID 21673143. S2CID 18169869.Coan, James A.; Schaefer, Hillary S.; Davidson, Richard J. (December 2006). “Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat”. Psychological Science. 17 (12): 1032–1039. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01832.x. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 17201784. S2CID 3446344.