As humans we all have psychological needs that we are driven to fulfil, be they companionship or safety, a sense of belonging or personal growth. And we often meet these needs through our relationships with others: they care for us, make us feel secure, and help us develop as individuals.
When we are in romantic relationships, our partners are commonly the main source for fulfilling those needs. But sometimes they are away, or are simply not equipped to meet our particular needs. In those cases we turn elsewhere, to friends, family and others in our lives. This may benefit us personally — but how does it affect our relationship?
Entering into a new intimate relationship can feel exciting and full of possibility. And for many, it may seem to offer the chance to escape the patterns of our previous relationships: perhaps there will be less arguing, or maybe the new relationship will provide a greater sense of satisfaction. But a recent study suggests that once the initial honeymoon period is over, the dynamics of a new relationship may end up being pretty similar to the last one.
As everyone knows, the nature of romantic relationships usually changes over time. An early period of intense attraction tends to develop into a less fiery, deeper attachment bond. According to evolutionary arguments, the early stage, which typically lasts a few years, gives the pair the time and proximity that’s required for developing a deeper nurturing, supportive – and predictable – relationship. While this type of attachment is important for rearing children, and for ongoing wellbeing, it’s not necessarily great news for passion.
“Though passion can still be experienced in the later stages, it tends to decline, on average,” note the authors of a new study, published in Social Psychology. They go on, however, to report that there is a group of people who experience higher sustained levels of both supportive warmth and nurturance and eroticism than is typical in relationships – only, they don’t get both from the same partner.
Sex is an important part of most romantic relationships – and when couples are not on the same page about their sex life, it can become a source of frustration. Research has found that couples have sex about 1 or 2 times a week, but about half of sexual advances between partners go unfulfilled.
A preprint uploaded recently to PsyArXiv sheds some light on how responses to sexual advances influence individuals’ feelings of sexual and relationship satisfaction. The study suggests that while having an advance accepted leaves partners feeling more content, this effect may be short-lived compared to the dissatisfaction of being rejected.
The power (or powerlessness) of parents to shape their children for good or ill continues to preoccupy psychologists and the public alike. Among evolutionary-minded developmental psychologists, one specific idea is that girls’ later attitudes to relationships is influenced by their fathers’ behaviour. For instance, US research has found that girls with disengaged, harsh, and often absent fathers are known to start having sex at a younger age, and to have more sexual partners. However many questions about these findings remain. For example: might other aspects of the girls’ childhoods be involved; what about genetic effects; and which aspects of poor-quality fathering are the most consequential?
A new study of pairs of sisters, published in Developmental Psychology, provides some specific answers, particularly that it is contact with a poor-quality father, not paternal absence, that affects their daughters’ later relationships, including their expectations of men, and, in turn, their sexual behaviour.
When it comes to the heated subject of differences between how men and women behave, debate in psychology has centered on mate preferences and general interests. The available research shows that when it comes to (heterosexual) mating preferences, men are relatively more interested in physical beauty, while women are relatively more interested in earning capacity. As for general interests, men are more interested in physical things, while women are more interested in people.
Even the staunchest evolutionary psychologists would acknowledge these are partially overlapping bell curves: There are plenty of men who are fascinated by other people, and plenty of women looking for physical beauty in a partner above all else. Yet the findings have been met with fierce resistance in some quarters. One of the more sophisticated rejoinders is known as social roles theory: The differences do exist, but they’re entirely or largely the result of gender roles imposed by society on individuals. However, a new study released as a preprint at PsyArXiv and involving participants from 36 countries has failed to replicate a key finding that’s previously been cited in support of social roles theory.
It’s now well known that many of us over-estimate our own brainpower. In one study, more than 90 per cent of US college professors famously claimed to be better than average at teaching, for instance – which would be highly unlikely. Our egos blind us to our own flaws.
But do we have an even more inflated view of our nearest and dearest? It seems we do – that’s the conclusion of a new paper published in Intelligence journal, which has shown that we consistently view our romantic partners as being much smarter than they really are.
Half of us have been unfaithful in our lifetime, and one in five people within their current relationship. As sexual infidelity is the primary cause of divorce and one of the hardest issues to address in couples therapy, identifying any useful defences could make a huge difference to people’s happiness. In a recent paper in Personal Relationships Brenda Lee and Lucia O’Sullivan from the University of New Brunswick investigated what strategies people in relationships use to reduce the chances they will cheat – so-called “monogomy maintainance strategies” – and looked into whether or not they are actually effective.
From You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling to Nothing Compares 2 U, there’s no shortage of songs about heartbreak. None, I suspect, contains the line, “Now it’s time to give negative reappraisal a go.” But whether you’ve just been dumped or you’ve done the dumping, if you’re still in love with your ex, this could be your best strategy for falling out of love and moving on, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
“Romantic break-ups can have serious consequences including insomnia, reduced immune function, broken heart syndrome, depression and suicide,” note the authors, Sandra Langeslag and Michelle Sanchez at the University of Missouri, St Louis. Strategies that help people to fall out of love could relieve the agony of unrequited love or make it easier to get out of a dysfunctional relationship.
In 1914, the psychologist Leta Hollingworth’s experiments punctured holes in the prevailing idea that menstruating affects women’s intellect. But a century on, the ovulation cycle continues to interest psychologists, who today focus on how it affects sexual behaviour. A popular evolutionary psychology theory states that during fertile periods, women become more interested in men who use dominant masculine behaviour, as this signals they are likely to provide good genes for any offspring. A University of Goettingen team have now conducted the largest ever test of this idea, published as a pre-print at PsyArxiv.