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Fascinating New Studies on "The Science of a Happy Marriage"

Comedians and real-life married couple Abbi Crutchfield and Luke Thayer. Photo by Gregory A. Gilbert.

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times columnist and author of the new book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, has written a piece detailing several scientific experiments trying to decipher people’s motives for cheating and the factors that lead to a contented relationship.

Parker-Pope says research suggests “that while some people may be naturally more resistant to temptation, men and women can also train themselves to protect their relationships and raise their feelings of commitment.” You hear that, ladies? As you potty train your babies, you can pooty train your husbands. (Okay, okay. If the 30,000 women signing up for Ashley Madison yesterday is any indication, I guess women cheat, too.)

Hasse Walum of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “studied 552 sets of twins to learn more about a gene related to the body’s regulation of the brain chemical vasopressin, a bonding hormone.” For the record, it’s been a long time since someone was pressin’ my vas. I’m happy to bond with any interested parties.  Haha?

As it turns out, “men who carried a variation in the gene were… more likely to have had serious marital problems and unhappy wives. Among men who carried two copies of the gene variant, about a third had experienced a serious relationship crisis in the past year.”

Research out of McGill University indicates that men and women in relationships react differently to flirtation. “In a study of 300 heterosexual men and women, half the participants were primed for cheating by imagining a flirtatious conversation with someone they found attractive. The other half just imagined a routine encounter.  Afterward, the study subjects were asked to complete fill-in-the-blank puzzles like LO_AL and THR__T.”

Now stop.  If you’re married, take a minute to imagine yourself flirting with your boss, or your favorite bartender, or if you’re a new mom and you don’t get out much, the man in the yellow hat.  (He is kinda hot.  But I’m a sucker for nerds.)  Then fill in the blanks on those words, and I’ll tell you what it means after the jump. 

Men: if you imagined the words LOCAL and THROAT, turns out, you’re normal, and ambivalent about cheating.

Women: if you envisioned LOYAL and THREAT, turns out you’re like most women in the exercise, which “touched off subconscious concerns about commitment” in the female participants.

I filled in the blanks and got LOCAL THREAT, which either means I’m both ambivalent and concerned, or that I’m single and it doesn’t matter.  Haha!  (Thud.)

Parker-Pope says, “Of course, this does not necessarily predict behavior in the real world. But the pronounced difference in responses led the researchers to think women might have developed a kind of early warning system to alert them to relationship threats.”  Yeah, it’s called women’s intuition.  Unfortunately, though almost every woman I know admits to having it, we also also tend to ignore it.

Psychologist Arthur Aron of SUNY StonyBrook says “self-expansion,” a selfish sort of feeling that encourages loyalty based on how much your partner “enhances your life and broadens your horizons,” enhances committed relationships.  Aron theorizes that “couples who explore new places and try new things will tap into feelings of self-expansion, lifting their level of commitment.”  All the more reason to stop putting off date night: so your spouse doesn’t start dating someone else.

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