Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Women decrease condom use during freshman year of college

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Women gradually use condoms less frequently during their first year of college, according to a new study by researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. This was particularly true for women who binge drink, have lower grade point averages or come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The findings, published online in the Journal of Sex Research, offer some of the first clues to how condom use changes during the college years – a time when young people are sexually active and use condoms inconsistently.

"We know unprotected sex puts women at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, yet there has been a gap in research specifically focusing on changes in condom use during women's college years," said lead author Jennifer Walsh, Ph.D., a researcher with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. "Identifying the demographic and behavioral changes associated with decreases in condom use can eventually lead to more targeted educational and intervention efforts."

The study included 279 first-year female college students who provided monthly reports on condom use. Predictors of condom use were assessed at the beginning of the academic year and included questions about participants' high school GPA, religious beliefs, parents' education levels and whether the had smoked marijuana or engaged in binge drinking during the month prior to college entry (August). Nearly three-quarters of participants were Caucasian.

Using a statistical technique known as latent growth modeling, researchers observed a gradual decline in condom use over the course of the students' first year of college, as predicted. This included condom use with all partners and with romantic partners specifically.

However, the study revealed several unexpected predictors of initial condom use. African American women, women who did not smoke marijuana, women who said they are less likely to practice safe sex after drinking and women with more previous sexual partners were less likely to use condoms at the start of the study.

Changes in condom use during the course of the year were predicted by women's socioeconomic status, high school GPA and substance use.

"College women often engage in serial monogamy, resulting in multiple partners during the college years, and they are often unaware of their partners' risk. This makes continued condom use important for women's health," said Walsh.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rekindling a Romance Often Extinguishes a Couple's Happiness

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Before renewing romance with an ex, it may be better to move on to the next.

Amber Vennum, assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, is studying couples in cyclical relationships -- the term used for a couple who breaks up and then gets back together. She is looking at why couples reunite and how it affects the relationship.

"There has been very little research on this topic, but it turns out that cyclical relationships are quite prevalent," Vennum said. "With college-age kids, about 40 percent are currently in a relationship where they have broken up and then have gotten back together. That's shocking, especially when you factor in the outcomes of being in a cyclical relationship."

For her research, Vennum analyzed information that cyclical and noncyclical couples gave about their relationship and its characteristics. The information was evaluated using the relationship deciding scale, or RDS, which assesses relationship qualities and accurately predicts what the relationship will be like 14 weeks into the future.
While movies, books and TV shows may portray rekindling a relationship as romantic, Vennum found that the results of getting back together were less than desirable.
Findings showed that couples in a cyclical relationship tended to be more impulsive about major relationship transitions -- like moving in together, buying a pet together or having a child together -- than those not in a cyclical relationship. As a result, the couples in cyclical relationships tended to be less satisfied with their partner; had worse communication; made more decisions that negatively affected the relationship; had lower self-esteem; and had a higher uncertainty about their future together.

"The idea is that because people aren't making explicit commitments to the relationship, they are less likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors, such as discussing the state of the relationship or making sacrifices for their partner," Vennum said. "The thought is that, 'I'm not committed to you, why would I work very hard for you?'"

The findings are in line with those from the only other U.S. research team to study cyclical couples, according to Vennum. That team studied the breakup strategies used by couples in cyclical relationships and their reasons for reuniting. The researchers found that couples said they got back together because they believed their partner had changed for the better or that communications had improved -- but the results indicated otherwise. Additionally, other couples stated that the relationship continued because it was unclear if they had actually ended their romance.

"When cyclical couples break up, they tend to be ambiguous about ending the relationship," Vennum said. "So it can be unclear to one or both partners if they broke up and why they broke up, which leads to them continuing the romantic relationship. Other times the breakup won't be unilateral, so one person pursues the other until they get back together."

Vennum also looked at the effect of premarital cyclicality on marriages.
She found that couples who were cyclical prior to marriage were more uncertain about getting married and began their marriages with lower satisfaction and higher conflict than noncyclical couples. Over time, satisfaction with the marriage continued to decrease for cyclical couples. Additionally, spouses who were cyclical before marriage were also more likely to experience a trial separation during the first three years of marriage.

"It really shows that those patterns of cyclicality tend to repeat," Vennum said. "If you tend to be cyclical while dating, you tend to be cyclical while married. The more you are cyclical, the more your relationship quality tends to decrease and that creates a lack of trust and uncertainty about the future of the relationship, perpetuating the pattern."

Vennum is currently putting together her findings for publication. She also has advice for couples who have broken up.

"Don't get back together," she said. "Study after study shows that when our relationships are poor, we don't function well. If it seems necessary to get back together, make sure the decision is carefully considered by both people and that specific efforts are made to establish clarity."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Some Formerly Cohabiting Couples With Children Keep Romantic Relationship

When low-income cohabiting couples with children decide to no longer live together, that doesn't necessarily mean the end of their romantic relationship. A new study suggests that about one in four of these couples who split their households still maintain some type of romantic relationship.

"When people have studied the end of cohabiting relationships, they have generally assumed that it would end in marriage or end in a permanent breakup," said Claire Kamp Dush, author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.

"But there seems to be a significant proportion who no longer live together, but aren't completely giving up on being a couple."

That continued relationship could be beneficial for their children, Kamp Dush said.

"Children whose parents are still romantically involved are going to see the parent they don't live with more often, and that's generally good," she said.

"Research has shown that father involvement is beneficial for children, and that involvement is one benefit we could see if couples continue a romantic relationship even after they stop living together."

In the new study, published recently in the journal Family Relations, Kamp Dush examined factors that are related to couples maintaining their relationship after moving apart.

Data from this research project came from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which examined low-income unwed mothers and fathers who had children in the United States between 1998 and 2000.

Kamp Dush's work included 1,624 mothers who were cohabiting at the birth of their child. The mothers were followed for five years after the birth.

About 46 percent the sample split their households within three years, and 64 percent did so within five years. Of those who moved apart, 75 percent ended their romantic relationship.

About three-quarters of these black mothers no longer lived with their partner after five years, compared to 52 percent of Hispanic mothers and 57 percent of white and other-race mothers.

These black mothers were also significantly more likely than Hispanic and white mothers to continue a romantic relationship after moving away from their partner.

Kamp Dush found that couples who stayed connected after moving apart tended to have two factors going for them: they had more relationship "investments" with each other and had less family chaos.

Relationship investments included things like pooling money, having a joint checking account or credit card, or having a second baby together.

"These investments help bring couples together and make it less likely that they will totally separate," she said.

"But if you have a lot of family chaos -- things like inflexible job arrangements, child care problems and constant moving -- it is harder to create and maintain family routines and time together, and hence cohabiting parents are more likely to permanently separate."

The study found that each additional indicator of family chaos increased the odds of a couple breaking up by 22 percent.

"There are clear disadvantages to the simultaneous end of living together and a romantic relationship, particularly when children are involved," Kamp Dush said.

"The negative effects of divorce for children are clearly documented and cohabitation dissolution likely has similar impacts on children when it ends in breakup."

From a policy perspective, Kamp Dush said the results point to the importance of providing good and flexible jobs and quality child care to low-income parents in order to help them stay together.

"If a mother can't change her work schedule to deal with sick kids or other issues, it just adds to the chaos of their family life. And more chaos means it is less likely they will stay romantically connected to their partners," she said.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Over 60 the fastest growing demographic in online dating

Finding Love Has No Expiration Date

People may think that online dating is only for the young, but individuals over the age of 60 are the fastest growing demographic in online dating. However, they may be looking for different qualities in their relationships than their younger counterparts.

Two Bowling Green State University professors of gerontology have started research about online dating in later life. A shortage of data about older adults and the online dating world spurred Dr. Wendy K. Watson and Dr. Charlie Stelle to look into the phenomenon.

They both are interested in older-life issues – her focus is mostly on females and his is mostly on males. They have combined their efforts to increase the quantity and improve the quality of information available about dating in later life, in this case, online dating.

While in the very early research stages, they are finding that older adults appear to market themselves differently on online dating sites than younger adults. Gone is the focus on appearance and status. They believe the senior population appears to be more interested in honest self-representation and being compatible rather than discussing areas such as sexual prowess and nightlife.

They found traditional online coding terms used to describe younger generations seem to “miss some key elements relevant for ads placed by older adults,” according to their initial findings presented recently during the Gerontological Society of America’s international conference.

Watson and Stelle suggest online sites geared at those over 60 might want to consider adding personal characteristics such as affection, intelligence, independence, purpose and goals, religion and spirituality, political beliefs, health and status. Also missing on the young adult online sites were lifestyle categories such as compatibility and companionship, which are important to daters 60 and older.

The researchers also found the language of seniors’ online ads was different when describing themselves and what they were looking for in a relationship, Watson explained. Terms such as “young at heart” and “active” were used to show physical fitness and good health.

In previous research on dating in later life, Watson and Stelle found that older women had specific expectations regarding dating. Watson says women don’t have a need that has to be fulfilled. “Instead their philosophy is: ‘Please don’t waste my time,’” he said. “They are less likely to play games,” Stelle said. “They want to make a decision quickly and cut their losses, because they have learned life is too short for dating games.”

Watson and Stelle will continue this research and expand the analysis within the match.com and ourtime.com dating sites. Interviews of dating couples to understand the dynamics of dating in your 60’s and beyond are also being planned.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Online dating research shows cupid's arrow is turning digital

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The graph shows the percentage of Americans who met their partners online as a function of the year they met. The data is adapted from a study by Michael Rosenfeld from Stanford University and Reuben Thomas from City College of New York and is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,009 partnered respondents.

Credit: University of Rochester. Data is adapted from a study by Michael Rosenfeld from Stanford University and Reuben Thomas from City College of New York..



Online dating has not only shed its stigma, it has surpassed all forms of matchmaking in the United States other than meeting through friends, according to a new analysis of research on the burgeoning relationship industry.

The digital revolution in romance is a boon to lonely-hearters, providing greater and more convenient access to potential partners, reports the team of psychological scientists who prepared the review. But the industry's claims to offering a "science-based" approach with sophisticated algorithm-based matching have not been substantiated by independent researchers and, therefore, "should be given little credence," they conclude.

"Online dating is definitely a new and much needed twist on relationships," says Harry Reis, one of the five co-authors of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Behavioral economics has shown that the dating market for singles in Western society is grossly inefficient, especially once individuals exit high school or college, he explains. "The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health," says Reis.

But online love has its pitfalls, Reis cautions. Comparing dozens and sometimes hundreds of possible dates may encourage a "shopping" mentality in which people become judgmental and picky, focusing exclusively on a narrow set of criteria like attractiveness or interests. And corresponding by computer for weeks or months before meeting face-to-face has been shown to create unrealistic expectations, he says.

The 64-page analysis reviews more than 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys, painting a full and fascinating picture of an industry that, according to one industry estimate, attracted 25 million unique users around the world in April 2011 alone. The report was commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science and will be published in the February edition of its journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Other highlights from the analysis include:

Online dating has become the second-most-common way for couples to meet, behind only meeting through friends. According to research by Michael Rosenfeld from Stanford University and Reuben Thomas from City College of New York, in the early 1990s, less than 1 percent of the population met partners through printed personal advertisements or other commercial intermediaries. By 2005, among single adults Americans who were Internet users and currently seeking a romantic partner, 37 percent had dated online. According to research by Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, in 2007-2009, 22 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples had found their partners through the Web. Those percentages are likely even larger today, the authors write.





IMAGE: "Online dating is definitely a new and much needed twist on relationships, " says Harry Reis, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "The...
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Attitudes have changed radically. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, a stigma was associated with personal advertisements that initially extended to online dating. But today, "online dating has entered the mainstream, and it is fast shedding any lingering social stigma," the authors write.

Men and women behave differently online.

A 2010 study of 6,485 users of a major online dating site found that men viewed three times more profiles than women did (597,169 to 196,363).
Men were approximately 40 percent more likely to initiate contact with a woman after viewing her profile than women were after viewing a man's profile (12.5 to 9 percent).
Online sites may encourage "soulmate" search. The authors caution that matching sites' emphasis on finding a perfect match, or soulmate, may encourage an unrealistic and destructive approach to relationships. "People with strong beliefs in romantic destiny (sometimes called soulmate beliefs) -- that a relationship between two people either is or is not 'meant to be' -- are especially likely to exit a romantic relationship when problems arise … and to become vengeful in response to partner aggression when they feel insecure in the relationship," the authors write.

Online dating sites are not "scientific". Despite claims of using a "science-based" approach with sophisticated algorithm-based matching, the authors found "no published, peer-reviewed papers – or Internet postings, for that matter – that explained in sufficient detail … the criteria used by dating sites for matching or for selecting which profiles a user gets to peruse." Instead, research touted by online sites is conducted in-house with study methods and data collection treated as proprietary secrets, and, therefore, not verifiable by outside parties.

Online dating fundamentally changes access to information. "In the words of one online dater: 'Where else can you go in a matter of 20 minutes [and] look at 200 women who are single and want to go on dates?' "

Grading The Online Dating Industry

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New Scientific Report Finds Some Positives, Many Areas for Improvement

The report card is in, and the online dating industry won’t be putting this one on the fridge. A new scientific report concludes that although online dating offers users some very real benefits, it falls far short of its potential.

Unheard of just twenty years ago, online dating is now a billion dollar industry and one of the most common ways for singles to meet potential partners. Many websites claim that they can help you find your “soulmate.” But do these online dating services live up to all the hype?

Not exactly, according to an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the article, a team of psychological scientists aims to get at the truth behind online dating, identifying the ways in which online dating may benefit or undermine singles’ romantic outcomes.

Lead author Eli Finkel, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University, recognizes that “online dating is a marvelous addition to the ways in which singles can meet potential romantic partners,” but he warns that “users need to be aware of its many pitfalls.”

Many online dating sites claim that they possess an exclusive formula, a so-called “matching algorithm,” that can match singles with partners who are especially compatible with them. But, after systematically reviewing the evidence, the authors conclude that such claims are unsubstantiated and likely false.

“To date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works,” Finkel observes. “If dating sites want to claim that their matching algorithm is scientifically valid, they need to adhere to the standards of science, which is something they have uniformly failed to do. In fact, our report concludes that it is unlikely that their algorithms can work, even in principle, given the limitations of the sorts of matching procedures that these sites use.”

The authors suggest that the existing matching algorithms neglect the most important insights from the flourishing discipline of relationship science. The algorithms seek to predict long-term romantic compatibility from characteristics of the two partners before they meet. Yet the strongest predictors of relationship well-being, such as a couple’s interaction style and ability to navigate stressful circumstances, cannot be assessed with such data.

According to Finkel, “developers of matching algorithms have tended to focus on the information that is easy for them to assess, like similarity in personality and attitudes, rather than the information that relationship science has found to be crucial for predicting long-term relationship well-being. As a result, these algorithms are unlikely to be effective.”

Many online dating sites market their ability to offer online daters access to a huge number of potential partners. However, online profiles are a feeble substitute for face-to-face contact when it comes to the crucial task of assessing romantic chemistry. Furthermore, browsing through all those online profiles may overwhelm people or encourage them to treat their search more like shopping than mate-finding, which can lead singles to pass over potential partners who are actually well-suited to them.

Finkel and his co-authors conclude that online dating is successful insofar as it rapidly helps singles meet potential partners in person, so that they can discover whether a romantic spark is there. The chats and messages people send through online dating sites may even help them to convey a positive initial impression, as long as people meet face-to-face relatively quickly.

Given the potentially serious consequences of intervening in people’s romantic lives, the authors hope that this report will push proprietors to build a more rigorous scientific foundation for online dating services. In a preface to the report, psychological scientist Arthur Aron at the State University of New York at Stony Brook recommends the creation of a panel that would grade the scientific credibility of each online dating site.

“Thus far, the industry certainly does not get an A for effort,” noted Finkel. “For years, the online dating industry has ignored actual relationship science in favor of unsubstantiated claims and buzzwords, like ‘matching algorithms,’ that merely sound scientific.”

He added, “In the comments section of the report card, I would write: ‘apply yourself!’”

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Does online dating really work?

Mobile dating gets potential daters face-to-face faster and may hold most promise in helping Cupid work his magic

Whether enlisting the help of a grandmother or a friend or the magic of Cupid, singles long have understood that assistance may be required to meet that special someone.

Today such help is likely to come from online methods of matchmaking. But online dating, according to new Northwestern University research, depends largely on ineffective algorithms and profiles for finding potential love interests.

Mobile dating, the latest iteration in digital dating, however, may hold promise, because it brings together potential partners face-to-face fast to see if "sparks" exist, the research suggests. Although the research on mobile dating is scarce, Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study, is optimistic about this approach.

"GPS features on smartphone apps can tell you who is nearby and willing to be browsed," Finkel said. "With a little bit of basic information, potential daters can get together right away for a quick face-to-face meet-up."

Good old-fashioned face-to-face contact still is paramount in finding that special someone, and the faster that happens the better, the research suggests. In previous research, Finkel and his co-authors found that ideal preferences of daters viewing online profiles fell by the wayside after in-person meetings with potential partners.

The research will be published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Finkel maps three generations of online dating and discusses each approach.

The first generation in 1995—the launch of Match.com:

"We use the analogy that dating sites like Match.com are like supermarkets of love," Finkel said. "You check out the wares (online profiles) and see what you like. Upon first blush, this approach seems reasonable, but there are two major problems with it: People really don't learn much from a profile, and people get overloaded by choice."

The second generation in 2000—enter eHarmony:

Sites like eHarmony market themselves less as supermarkets of love than as something akin to real estate brokers of love. They use "matching algorithms" in an effort to identify which potential partners are especially compatible with a given online dater. The choice issue, Finkel observed, is somewhat solved by the algorithm approach. Only a handful of people are chosen as compatible matches. "But there is no compelling evidence that any of these algorithms work," he said. "Limiting the number of potential partners is only helpful if the algorithmic-selection process favors compatible partners over incompatible ones, which it fails to do. Even if the algorithms are cutting 2,000 potential partners down to five, if that process is random, is it really any better than strolling into the neighborhood bar?"

The third generation in 2008—mobile dating:

With the advent of smartphone apps, mobile dating was launched. Mobile dating's ability to get people face-to-face fast may make a big difference, according to the new Northwestern research.

"You have a little bit of basic information," Finkel said. "Is this person below threshold or above threshold for a five-minute meet-up—five minutes from now? There's no better way to figure out whether you're compatible with somebody than talking to them over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer."

The authors hope their report will push proprietors to build a more rigorous scientific foundation for online dating services.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Lonely Heart Can Make You Sick

Newly divorced middle aged women are more vulnerable to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, according to Christopher Coleman, PhD, MPH, RN, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, because they tend to let their guard down with new sexual partners and avoid using protection since they are unafraid of getting pregnant.

Additionally, as aging occurs, physiological changes due to menopause such as the thinning of vaginal walls make it more susceptible for a woman to contract a virus. Medications that would be used to treat an STD or HIV become hard for a woman to tolerate because an aging body metabolizes medications differently.

"There is a knowlege gap with women knowing what the physiological changes associated with menopause are," said Dr. Coleman. "There is very little research on this subject and society and the government don't talk about it, but these high risk sexual behaviors need to be addressed because the rate of HIV positive middle aged women is inscreasing."

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Men Behaving Nicely: Selfless Acts by Men Increase When Attractive Women Are Nearby

Men put on their best behaviour when attractive ladies are close by. When the scenario is reversed however, the behaviour of women remains the same. These findings were published February 2, 2012, in the British Psychological Society's British Journal of Psychology via the Wiley Online Library.
The research, which also found that the number of kind and selfless acts by men corresponded to the attractiveness of ladies, was undertaken by Dr Wendy Iredale of Sheffield Hallam University and Mark Van Vugt of the VU University in Amsterdam and the University of Oxford.

Two experiments were undertaken. For the first, 65 men and 65 women, all of an average age of 21, anonymously played a cooperation game where they could donate money via a computer program to a group fund. Donations were selfless acts, as all other players would benefit from the fund, whilst the donor wouldn't necessarily receive anything in return.

Players did not know who they were playing with. They were observed by either someone of the same sex or opposite sex -- two physically attractive volunteers, one man and one woman. Men were found to do significantly more good deeds when observed by the opposite sex. Whilst the number of good deeds made by women didn't change, regardless of who observed.

For the second experiment, groups of males were formed. Males were asked to make a number of public donations. These increased when observed by an attractive female, where they were found to actively compete with one another. When observed by another male, however, donations didn't increase.

Dr Iredale said: "The research shows that good deeds among men increase when presented with an opportunity to copulate. Theoretically, this suggests that a good deed is the human equivalent of the peacock's tail. Practically, this research shows how societies can encourage selfless acts."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Here is what real commitment to your marriage means

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What does being committed to your marriage really mean? UCLA psychologists answer this question in a new study based on their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage.

"When people say, 'I'm committed to my relationship,' they can mean two things," said study co-author Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. "One thing they can mean is, 'I really like this relationship and want it to continue.' However, commitment is more than just that."

A deeper level of commitment, the psychologists report, is a much better predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.

"It's easy to be committed to your relationship when it's going well," said senior study author Thomas Bradbury, a psychology professor who co-directs the Relationship Institute. "As a relationship changes, however, shouldn't you say at some point something like, 'I'm committed to this relationship, but it's not going very well — I need to have some resolve, make some sacrifices and take the steps I need to take to keep this relationship moving forward. It's not just that I like the relationship, which is true, but that I'm going to step up and take active steps to maintain this relationship, even if it means I'm not going to get my way in certain areas'?

"This," Bradbury said, "is the other kind of commitment: the difference between 'I like this relationship and I'm committed to it' and 'I'm committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work.' When you and your partner are struggling a bit, are you going to do what's difficult when you don't want to? At 2 a.m., are you going to feed the baby?"

The couples that were willing to make sacrifices within their relationships were more effective in solving their problems, the psychologists found. "It's a robust finding," Bradbury said. "The second kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship."

Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, according to Bradbury, Karney and lead study author Dominik Schoebi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who is currently at Switzerland's University of Fribourg.

For the study, the couples — all first-time newlyweds — were given statements that gauged their level of commitment. They were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I want my marriage to stay strong no matter what rough times we may encounter," "My marriage is more important to me than almost anything else in my life," "Giving up something for my partner is frequently not worth the trouble" and "It makes me feel good to sacrifice for my partner." The psychologists videotaped the couples' interactions and measured how they behaved toward each other.

The psychologists also conducted follow-ups with the couples every six months for the first four years (and again later in their marriages), The couples were asked about their relationship history, their feelings toward each other, the stress in their lives, their level of social support, and their childhood and family, among other subjects.

The research is published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the premier journal in social psychology, and will be published in an upcoming print edition.

'We're not saying it's easy'

So what does it mean to be committed to your marriage?

"It means do what it takes to make the relationship successful. That's what this research is saying. That's what commitment really means," Karney said. "In a long-term relationship, both parties cannot always get their way."

When a couple has a dispute, they have many choices of how to respond, the psychologists said.

"One choice," Karney said, "is if you dig your heels in, then I can dig my heels in too. I can say, 'You're wrong. Listen to me!' But if this relationship is really important to me, I'm willing to say, 'I will compromise.' What is my goal? Is it to win this battle? Is it to preserve the relationship? The behaviors I might engage in to win this conflict are different from those that are best for the relationship. The people who think more about protecting the relationship over the long term are more likely to think this is not that big a problem."

"When the stakes are high, our relationships are vulnerable," Bradbury said. "When we're under a great deal of stress or when there is a high-stakes decision on which you disagree, those are defining moments in a relationship. What our data indicate is that committing to the relationship rather than committing to your own agenda and your own immediate needs is a far better strategy. We're not saying it's easy."

How do you do this when it's difficult?

"Find ways to compromise, or at least have the conversation that allows you and your partner to see things eye to eye," Bradbury said. "Often, we don't have the big conversations that we need in our relationship. The very act of communicating in difficult times can be as important as the outcome of the conversation. Everybody has the opportunity to engage in a conflict, or not, to say, 'You're wrong, I'm right.' When people are in it for the long term, they are often willing to make sacrifices and view themselves as a team. They both are."

The couples whose marriages lasted were better at this than the couples who divorced, Bradbury and Karney said.

"The people who ended their marriages would have said they were very committed to the marriage," Bradbury said. "But they did not have the resolve to say, 'Honey, we need to work on this; it's going to be hard, but it's important.' The successful couples were able to shift their focus away from whether 'I win' or 'you win' to 'Are we going to keep this relationship afloat?' That is the ideal."

In a marriage, disagreement is inevitable, but conflict is optional — a choice we make, Bradbury and Karney said. When the psychologists give workshops for couples, they encourage them to discuss a source of disagreement. Finding such a topic is rarely, if ever, a problem.

The psychologists recommend against "bank-account relationships," in which you keep score of how often you get your way and how often you compromise.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (both part of the National Institutes of Health) and the UCLA Academic Senate.

The 'invisible forces' in your marriage

Have you ever noticed that some couples seem to be in sync with each other while other couples are much less so, and wondered why?

In another new study that used data on the couples who were still married after 11 years, Karney, Bradbury, Schoebi and Baldwin Way, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University and former UCLA psychology postdoctoral scholar, suggest that some people, on the basis of their genetic makeup, appear to be more responsive to their spouse's emotional states.

Their study appears in the online edition of the journal Emotion, published by the American Psychological Association. It will also be published in an upcoming print edition of the journal.

Building on prior research, the psychologists hypothesize that a gene — the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR — might play a role in making us more, or less, responsive to our spouse's emotions. Some people have one variant of the gene, and some have a second variant.

The two variants of the gene strengthen or weaken the link between your emotions and your spouse's emotions, the psychologists report. People with one variant (called the "short form") tend to stay angry, sad or happy longer than people with the other variant.

"The extent to which we are connected, to which my emotions become your emotions, is stronger or weaker as a function of the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR," Bradbury said.

"In the face of a negative event, your genes control how long your reaction lasts," Karney said. "What we are showing in this paper is that if I have one form of this gene, I'm more responsive to my partner's emotional states, and if I have the other form, I'm less responsive."

"I think this creaks open a door," Bradbury said, "to a field of psychology that helps people to realize that who they are and who their partner is, is actually in their biology. Who you are and how you respond to me has a lot to do with things that are totally outside your control. My partner's biology is invisible to me; I have no clue about it. The more I can appreciate that the connection between who I am and who my partner is may be biologically mediated leads me to be much more appreciative of invisible forces that constrain our behavior."

While the researchers suspect the role of 5-HTTLPR is important, they say there is probably a "constellation of important genes" that plays a role in how responsive we are to emotions.

"It's much more complex than a single gene," Bradbury said.

This research may imply that we should be forgiving of the behavior of a loved one and not demand that a spouse change her or his behavior, the psychologists said.

"If it's so easy for you to tell your partner to change, perhaps you should just change yourself," Bradbury said. "Go ahead and take that on, see how that goes."

Bradbury and Karney are writing a book tentatively titled "Love Me Slender," scheduled for publication next year, which connects one's relationship with one's physical health. Decisions we make about our health when we're in a relationship are closely connected with our partner and his or her health, they argue.

Perhaps all this research is a reminder than when choosing a relationship, choose carefully and wisely — and even then, don't expect it to be easy.