What is new in the domain of intimate relationships that allow us to shift the conversation towards something specific, intelligent, and prevalent based on research?
Dr. Robert J. Waldinger MD., Psychiatrist, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, studies human development over the adult lifespan. He is directing 70-year longitudinal research commencing in the 1930’s to current on how adult intimate relationships affect overall health, both Medical Health and Psychological Mental Health. Dr. Waldinger’s research includes committed relationships by marriage, and un-married committed couples cohabitating.
The United States of America Federal Census Bureau Data reports the number to couples living together, both married and un-married, has doubled from 6% to 12% since the last decade. Of those, it remains uncertain how many couples are same sex couples, or same sex couples who would marry legally if allowed.
These numbers are impressive and significant because it means more individuals are choosing to cohabitate. And, perhaps on average, cohabitating for longer periods of time regardless of martial status. There is a long standing contention held that “the youth” are waiting longer to marry because of career opportunities in the work place, or marriage stifles independence, and divorce rates “will always be high,” yet new statistical data appears to be providing, if nothing else, an opportunity for a second analysis at what this accumulative data really suggests.
Whether couples are married legally or not, happy couples are more likely to achieve physical and psychological wellbeing simply by being together, happily.
According to Dr. Waldinger, we know the latest research shows a happy marriage is a big contributor to Medical Health and Psychological Mental Health.
“If one were going to predict who would be physically healthy at age 75 the better predictor would be to see how high they rank their marital satisfaction levels rather than their medical cholesterol levels. “ —- Robert J. Waldinger, MD
Based on his research Dr. Waldinger believes that happily married couples are less likely to develop:
And, if they do get sick, the support of the relationship is a great buffer against Depression.
His research also shows that a strained marriage can have the opposite affect and exacerbates negative physical health and Mental Health. He has gone as far as to say even hazardous to one’s health.
Dr. Waldinger’s research, and couples Fran & Marlow Cowan, Earl & Myrtle Tully, are featured in the VIDEO: NEED TO KNOW | Healthfully ever after, or why marriage is good for you | PBS
Historically What We All Agree On
What we all agree upon are the standard censuses regarding what makes relationships work and they include the following:
1. Communication: Partners displaying a willingness to talk openly concerning conflicts, which are inherent in all relationships, disagreements, as well as positive experiences shared. The term “effective communication” is used so frequently in Couples Therapy it would be easy to lose track of what it means really. Briefly, transformative effective communication would be a couple’s willingness to tackle difficult relationship dilemmas no matter how conflict ridden they may seem.
2. Trust: Displaying mutual trust not only to remain by a partner’s side, but more importantly that individual choices and decisions made that will potentially impact the relationship as a whole, we can trust will be made in the best interest of the partnership relationship.
What this speaks to is an expectation that the decisions made, and actions taken by another will never be to maliciously, or sadistically harm the other in the relationship.
I have personally come to love an “interesting” phrase I have heard others state ……”I will make all the decisions until I am convinced you can make good decisions for yourself!” ……… This is humorous yes in a cheeky way for someone who wishes to dominate the situation, yet it would never breed confidence of trust if a mate said it to his or her partner. To promote mutual trust in any relationship each must be allowed freedom to autonomously make decisions for themselves with full knowledge of how those decisions may affect the relationship. Otherwise, there is no trust. Just problematic dominance over another.
3. Time Together: Date Night! The term date night has traditionally been the “safety net” as it were for couples to ensue they reserve time to be together. Date Night can be a escape from the kids at home, but seriously it is a time to be romantic on a date, have dinner together as a couple, attend a play, see a movie at the theater, share a late night creamy gelato, or attend a opening of a new gallery show for new artist. It can be anything. The most important thing is that the couple is able to share time together as they did perhaps during their courtship phase of the relationship….when they loved spending endless time together. When relationships are new, one always finds time for their lover regardless of external demands on their schedule.
4. Sex: Participation in and initiating a healthy, active sex life is top priority in most relationships for keeping them intimate and lasting. Sex is great for increasing and maintaining shared intimacy in a relationship. During the act of sex for both females and males, the hormone Oxytocin is released which helps biologically bond individuals. The release of Oxytocin naturally impacts ones desire to attach to another, establish an intimate connection among the sexes; experience feelings of love and enduring affection.
3 Key Concepts: New Unexpected Finding
Establishing Defined Roles ===== Increased quality time
New Activities Together ===== Marriage enhancing chemicals
Conflict Resolution ===== Displaying affection despite conflicts present
1. Establishing Defined Roles: It does not matter how they are defined, but that they are, and each partner can agree they are equitable. If not, they become a source of negative conflict that subtract from spending quality time together. These roles for example can be who in the relationship can by expected to take care of the finances, cooking, cleaning, who cleans the dishes, takes out the trash, laundry, dry cleaning, shopping, yard work, who is employed and who is not, child care, or who takes the children to school, etc.,.
Dr. Waldinger explains if a person has to negotiate with one’s partner each night about who does what roles it becomes exhausting leading to negativity, reduced energy, and strain in the relationship.
It is seen as a positive act however to establish routines as it allows for couples to experience more time not arguing, hence more quality time is made available to participate in positive experiences together and couples can actually experience more energy to participate in the activities they enjoy. As a result, increased quality time is achieved.
2. New Activities Together: Research conducted at the State University of New York on Date Night report it may not be as advantages as we first believed. Rather researchers discovered when couples participated in a new activity together, they rated their marital satisfaction level higher than couples who participated in a mundane activity together; say a Date Night.
Why? We can just cast the bright light on marriage enhancing chemicals as the principle contributing factor. Because when we try something new our brains release a biological chemical Dopamine and Neropinehrine (Noradrenaline); the same chemicals believed to be at play during a relationships’ initial passionate infatuation phase [ early courtship; temporary passion, or an intense but short-lived and irrational passion for somebody or something ]. Creating the same feelings one has when falling in love. Therefore, intermittent exposure to new activities can theoretically re-create feelings of falling in love all over again.
3. Conflict Resolution: How couples handle conflict is paramount and Dr. Waldinger suggests it serves as an indicator to gauge relationship longevity. In a best case scenario, couples are advised to address and resolve conflicts quickly, and the display of fondness expressed towards one’s partner, even in the mist of feeling angry at them or disgust you feel towards them when conflicts surface, is the best predictor of a couple surviving long term happily.
Dr. Waldinger’s recent study included couples being video taped discussing topics which provoke conflict and then researchers rated the couples observed level of anger expressed, and level of affection they displayed towards their partner during conflicts.
Five (5) years later, they followed up with the same couples. Couples who displayed high levels of affection despite negative conflict present Dr. Waldinger’s study concluded those couples were more likely to stay together. Displaying affection despite conflicts present is the key.
Since 1930, we have come a long way in the way we view intimate relationships and researching what makes them successful over time. Woman now have greater choices regarding what age they choose to marry, or not. In fact, in record numbers since only a decade ago more and more individuals have decided to cohabitate and not marry. Additionally, a same sex marriage debate has evolved rightly into a human rights debate for equality in the USA unheard of in 1930. Not with standing, at the end of the day in a modern 21st Century America, the common denominator in all intimate relationships are the human factors of connection and affection contributing most to relationship longevity and happiness. It is the unmistakable genuine human connection with one another which is curative and eternal.
I would love to hear your feedback, read your comments, on today’s article.
Until Next Time: a’ Donf
Read more about Psychological Normalcy Psychological Précipice
Research Study Title: What’s Love Got to Do With It? Social Functioning, Perceived Health, and Daily Happiness in Married Octogenarians.