Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We're emotionally distant and that's just fine by me

Closer relationships aren't necessarily better relationships - More important is whether your degree of closeness matches your desires When it comes to having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, common wisdom says that feeling close to your romantic partner is paramount. But a new study finds that it's not how close you feel that matters most, it's whether you are as close as you want to be, even if that's really not close at all. "Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship," says the study's lead author, David M. Frost, PhD, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it's important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner." Results will be published in the April issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and will also appear ahead of print online on February 13. A sample of 732 men and women, living across the U.S. and Canada, completed three yearly surveys online. They answered questions about relationship closeness, relationship satisfaction, commitment, break-up thoughts, and symptoms of depression. Current and ideal closeness were assessed by choosing from six sets of overlapping circles; varying degrees of overlap signified degrees of closeness. This well-established psychological measure of closeness is known as Inclusion of Other in Self and indicates a couple's "we-ness" or shared identity, values, viewpoints, resources, and personality traits. More than half of respondents (57%) reported feeling too much distance between themselves and their partner; 37% were content with the level of closeness in their relationship; and a small minority (5%) reported feeling too close. The degree of difference between a respondent's actual and ideal—their "closeness discrepancy"—correlated with poorer relationship quality and more frequent symptoms of depression. The effect was the same whether the respondent reported feeling "too close for comfort" or "not close enough." Surprisingly, the negative effects of closeness discrepancies were evident regardless of how close people felt to their partners; what mattered was the discrepancy, not the closeness. Over the two-year study period, some respondents' experiences of closeness became aligned with their ideals. In such cases, their relationship quality and mental health improved. The inverse was also true. Those who increasingly felt "too close" or "not close enough" over time were more likely to grow unhappy in their relationships and ultimately break up with their partners. Closeness discrepancies could shape new approaches to psychotherapy, both for couples and individuals, because it takes seriously real differences in the amount of closeness people want in their relationships, says Dr. Frost, a psychologist and professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School. "It's best not to make too many assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship," he says. "Rather, we need to hear from people about how close they are in their relationships and how that compares to how close they'd ideally like to be." Ongoing studies are looking at the issue of closeness discrepancies from both sides of a relationship to see how someone's sense of relationship closeness might differ from their partners, whether someone's closeness discrepancy affects their partners, and how it affects their sex life. The concept could also be extended to non-romantic relationships such as co-workers, parent-child, and patient-provider interactions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A brief writing intervention helps spouses adopt a more objective outlook on marital conflict

Marital satisfaction -- so critical to health and happiness – generally declines over time. A brief writing intervention that helps spouses adopt a more objective outlook on marital conflict could be the answer. New Northwestern University research shows that this writing intervention, implemented through just three, seven-minute writing exercises administered online, prevents couples from losing that loving feeling. "I don't want it to sound like magic, but you can get pretty impressive results with minimal intervention," said Eli Finkel, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern. The study involved 120 couples, half assigned the reappraisal intervention and the other not. Every four months for two years all spouses reported their relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment. They also provided a fact-based summary of the most significant disagreement they had experienced with their spouse in the preceding four months. The reappraisal writing task asked participants to think about their most recent disagreement with their partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. Replicating prior research, both groups exhibited declines in marital quality over Year 1. But for the spouses who experienced the reappraisal intervention -- who completed the writing exercise three times during Year 2 -- the decline in marital satisfaction was entirely eliminated. Although couples in the two conditions fought just as frequently about equally severe topics, the intervention couples were less distressed by these fights, which helped them sustain marital satisfaction. "Not only did this effect emerge for marital satisfaction, it also emerged for other relationship processes -- like passion and sexual desire -- that are especially vulnerable to the ravages of time," Finkel said. "And this isn't a dating sample. These effects emerged whether people were married for one month, 50 years or anywhere in between." This finding may be especially important given that low marital quality can have serious health implications, according to Finkel. Finkel cites data that among coronary artery bypass patients, those who experienced high marital satisfaction shortly after the surgery were three times more likely to be alive 15 years later than those who experienced low marital satisfaction. "Marriage tends to be healthy for people, but the quality of the marriage is much more important than its mere existence," Finkel said. "Having a high-quality marriage is one of the strongest predictors of happiness and health. From that perspective, participating in a seven-minute writing exercise three times a year has to be one of the best investments married people can make."

Psychological and Sexual Costs of Income Comparison in Marriage

As the percentage of wives outearning their husbands grows, the traditional social norm of the male breadwinner is challenged. The upward income comparison of the husband may cause psychological distress that affects partners’ mental and physical health in ways that affect decisions on marriage, divorce, and careers. This article studies this impact through sexual and mental health problems. Men outearned by their wives are more likely to use erectile dysfunction medication than their male breadwinner counterparts, even when this inequality is small. Breadwinner wives suffer increased insomnia/anxiety medication usage, with similar effects for men. There were no effects for unmarried couples or for men who earned less than their fiancĂ©e prior to marriage.