Looking for love? Try friendship first

July 2nd, 2015

The journal Psychological Science has released some new and very interesting findings on physical attraction in dating and relationships. According to lead researcher Lucy hunt of the University of Texas at Austin, when two individuals have more time to get acquainted before they begin a romantic relationship, factors like personality and compatibility weigh as heavily as physical attraction does when two people start dating right after meeting. Essentially this means that a person’s compatibility and personality can make them more attractive to someone who might not have been attracted to them in a typical meeting and dating situation.

This study was inspired by an interest that Hunt and colleagues Paul Eastwick (UT Austin) and Eli Finkel (Northwestern U) had in understanding why individuals are more likely to be with mates who have similar physical, behavioral, and psychological characteristics, otherwise known as “assortative mating.”

Obviously success in dating comes from one’s desirability, so those who are most physically attractive tend to get the most notice from others who are also considered highly desirable. This study challenged this by looking at how those who are less physically attractive could get an edge on the competition, and it appears they can when they can get to know someone over time and therefore, increase their attractiveness to that person. Looks then take a back seat to all those other qualities.

This is good news for anyone who feels left out in the typical dating scene—always left on the sidelines as your “beautiful” friends get chosen. It also gives more weight to what some relationship experts (myself included) have been saying for years—try to meet people through a passion, sport, activity, interest that you are involved in regularly. It will bring you into contact with like-minded people and give you a lot of face, body, mind, and soul time to connect, get to know one another, learn about what each has to offer, feel a connection and then maybe go for that first date.

Yes, friends can and do become lovers. According to this research, it might be the best way to find that right someone.

Want to read the study? Click here

Getting a “sleep divorce” may help your marriage

June 27th, 2015

Once again the topic of married couples sleeping apart is being discussed. This past week on NBC’s Nightly News there was a segment on it—which was probably prompted in part by the latest research on sleep deprivation and its impact on both our physical and emotional health. Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to longevity, good health, fighting disease and good brain health which impacts our thinking and emotions—not to mention our relationships.

Apparently over 25% of couples are now sleeping in separate beds or rooms. This number is reported to have risen in recent years as the rate of sleep disorders has also risen. There is an epidemic of sleep disorders out there—and they can take the shape of difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, frequent nighttime wakening, apnea, staying up too late, and/or using electronic devices too close to bedtime or turning them on when awakened during the night. All of these will result in not getting enough hours of sleep—especially those quality hours of deep sleep in which we dream heavily and our brains get to work excreting toxins and doing important repairs.

So why are couples separating at night? Sharing a bed can lead to being awakened by a spouse who snores, gets up frequently to go to the bathroom, is sick, is a light sleeper who tosses and turns, who snores, and/or uses their device in bed, impacting their partner with the light it gives off. Some of these can be addressed through changing behavior, but others are more complicated and may require seeing a Doctor and/or sleep specialist to address the problem.

I recommend to couples struggling with this that they begin with an open discussion, sharing ideas on what they can do to resolve it. Everything from having an agreement that the bedroom will be a no electronic zone, to having separate top sheets and blankets, to changing which side of the bed they sleep on, to changing their mattress to something larger or one that accommodates their different sleep needs. If one has apnea and/or is a heavy snorer, seeing a doctor is a must. There are many new treatments that can help sufferers get a better night’s sleep. The key is that the couple can work together on the problem and both be willing to make adjustments. If they decide it just isn’t workable, sleeping apart may be a necessity for them as going without sleep will lead to increased tension, anger and fighting, and could lead to serious marital discord.

If sleeping in separate beds, they can spend some time together in one before falling asleep. If separate rooms, they can spend time together in one in order to spend intimate time together. If weekends allow them to sleep in, they could do overnights if they desire. The key here is not to assume if you or someone you know is sleeping apart that it is the end of the relationship. Intimacy—both emotional and physical is shared throughout the day and there is plenty of time for couples to have it together. The bed is primarily for sleep—and since it’s a critical part of a healthy life, it’s important to ensure your partner is getting theirs. Sweet dreams.

The wisdom of those with age and experience can help prevent divorce

June 19th, 2015

A gerontologist from Cornell University conducted a project that studied nearly 400 Americans who were 65+ years old and had been married for 30+ years . Extensive interviews were designed to capture the wisdom and insights of these people who had managed to overcome the common marital challenges and problems of their shared life and keep their unions intact. Divorced individuals were also interviewed for their experience with breaking-up and how others might avoid the problems they encountered.

The Cornell Marriage Advice Project’s conclusions are detailed in the book by Karl Pillemer, the project’s author. In 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and marriage; Pillemer presents a list of the most frequently selected lessons for successful, long-term relationships.

Here are his top five lessons:

• Learn to communicate. Couples who talk things through openly and candidly usually work them out.

• Get to know a person well before making the commitment. This came even from those who married young and after a short courtship. Their bottom line, you can’t change anyone, ever.

• See marriage as a lifetime commitment, not just a limited contract that you can break when it’s no longer fun and/or easy like it was. It’s important to hang in there and work through your problems, not walk away.

• Be a team. If you treat marriage as two individuals, it will be every man for himself when the going gets rough. You are in it together and this attitude leads to mutual support and happiness.

• Choose someone who is similar to you or compliments you. It’s important that your interests, values, and world view are compatible—especially when it comes to handling money and raising children.

This study is important not just for those who have already walked down the aisle—but for those who are out there dating and in relationships moving towards commitment. It starts with who you choose and why—then it’s using both your head and heart when you make that important choice and once made—staying true to that commitment through thick and thin.

Healthy self-Esteem is at the root of good relationships

June 18th, 2015

It has often been said that we “should work on ourselves first” before making a lifelong commitment to someone else. There is a lot of wisdom in this as we need to be really OK with ourselves first, on the inside, not just the outside, and have a basic readiness that is essential to relationship success.

Researchers Nyla Branscombe from the University of Kansas and Catherine Haslam from the University of Queensland collaborated with lead author Jolanda Jetten on experiments that explored the importance of group membership to a person’s self-esteem.

Their subject group included school children, the elderly, and formerly homeless people from several countries. They found that people who belonged to several groups, regardless of what these groups were–had higher self-esteem. The only caveat was that these people needed to see the groups they were a part of to contribute to their sense of who they are—in other words, these groups offer a sense of identity along with belonging. Most interesting was the finding that having many friends did not correlate with higher self-esteem like being a part of several groups did. Apparently being a part of a group does more for our sense of self than just our interpersonal relationships do. So much for the old belief that having many friends makes us well-adjusted and raises our self-esteem.

According to the researchers, group membership offers people meaning, connection, support and a sense of control over their lives. Certainly helps to explain how important group identity is to a developing adolescent and why kids will gravitate to ANY group, even one that is seen negatively, rather than risking having no association or identity.

This also defines an old belief that somehow self-esteem is something we just possess or not. The good news is that anyone can raise theirs by seeking out groups that offer them something valuable and actively participating in them. It has been shown in previous studies that people who feel a part of something larger live happier, healthier lives than those who are isolated. Makes a lot of sense.

All this points to the importance for anyone in any relationship stage to stay connected to others outside of your primary relationship and family. Peer networks that grow from work relationships, shared passions, places of worship, community causes, or anything that brings people together and helps unite them is good for us. It appears that old adage has real wisdom—“No man is an island.”

Britt and Brady going strong

June 8th, 2015

Well it looks like there is another way to win the girl’s heart. Fall for the runner-up and pursue her while others are playing the game according to the rules.. Britt and Kaitlyn were in competition on the first night of this season’s Bachelorette, to see who the guys would choose as the new it girl. Apparently Kaitlyn won by a hair (or maybe a vote or two). After watching the guys exit the limo, meet and greet the women, and discuss their favorites, it didn’t look good for Kaitlyn. Britt seemed to notice as she appeared to be confident of a win and shocked when she was told she was “going home.”

Then came the twist. Brady Toops, one of the male contestants was not interested in wooing Kaitlyn. He had come for Britt and when she left, he requested that he be allowed to stop by her hotel room before she left for home. He did and it seems love bloomed. Britt and Brady have been airing pics of themselves together since that first night. They have announced they are in a relationship and are going strong. Apparently the show was planning on letting us in, but they more or less jumped the gun, or in this case, the air time.

It’s well known that contestants sign all kinds of confidentiality agreements, the most important one being that if they are the final choice, they must keep it a secret until the unveiling during the last rose ceremony. However, given that Britt and Brady never attended even one rose ceremony together, it appears they are off the hook.

I can just see it now—subsequent seasons where two, three, or even four men or women are chosen to compete to see who will be the Bachelor or Bachelorette that season. Then after the losers make their exit, different contestants will take off in hot pursuit. It will be like the Bachelor or Bachelorette with several plot lines going at once. Imagine 3 or 4 nights a week of watching each of the original contestants being pursued by the few who only had eyes for them.

The show’s creators and producers must be licking their lips at the possibilities.

Tempted to cheat? Get a better job

June 5th, 2015

Christin Munsch from the University of Connecticut is a sociologist and author of a new study on the economics of sexual infidelity. In a nutshell, her research found that the greater the income gap between what a couples makes, the more likely it is that one of them will have an affair. Not really surprising is that when the woman is the primary earner, the likelihood of infidelity s higher than if the man earns more or is the sole breadwinner. Ms. Munsch calls this “masculine overcompensation.” Put in simple terms, men have issues when their wives are the primary breadwinners. Guess most of us knew this instinctively. Guys don’t like being dependent on women and this study shows it can lead to them seeking other ways to feel good about themselves.

Women also are more likely to have an affair if their spouse earns much more money than they do or is the sole breadwinner, and men who earn a high income and are the sole provider also have affairs more often than, say, guys who earn less and/or about the same as their wives.

So who isn’t cheating according to this study? Couples who both work outside the home and have comparable salaries. Hopefully couples who have this income disparity won’t jump to conclusions about what their partner might be up to. Women won’t be checking the computer and his cell phone for evidence of infidelity and he won’t be wondering what she is up to at home when he is out at work. After all, this study may offer clues to what contributes to cheating but it doesn’t mean a couple is doomed if they fit the infidelity profile found here.

There are many variables that could be contributors here and this study should be followed up with other research that goes further and looks at what else could be in play here. Things like boredom, opportunity, depression, stress and overload, feeling taken for granted or undervalued—could all be issues for couples who have very different schedules, roles, demands on their time and energy, and either more freedom from household duties or less pressure from financial burdens. In other words, they could be miles apart in their day to day lives which can lead to losing touch with one another on a number of different levels.

My take away is that all couples need to be conscious of the importance of checking in with one another, acknowledging the contributions of their partner, not taking their partner for granted, and understanding that whatever role each has, it is critical to the health and well-being of their home/family life.

Bromance—Loving Friends VS Brokeback Lovers

June 3rd, 2015

The topic of “bromance” has been on my mind lately. In the last segment of The Bachelorette, two men in the house got a lot of attention for the bromance they are developing—one the other guys and many viewers are scratching their heads over. Most of us know what this kind of relationship entails and may know a guy who has a friend that they feel very close to and can share their intimate feelings and thoughts with. However, these relationships don’t cross the physical intimacy boundary. Think Gus and Woodrow from Lonesome Dove VS Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain. Yet, the innuendos are flying around the set of The Bachelorette after one of the guys verbalized that he was feeling love for his new friend, or was he just saying, “I love the guy, he’s great…”

Then there is the new book by Robert Garfield, a psychiatrist and faculty member at The University of Pennsylvania titled, Breaking the Male Code Unlocking the Power of Friendship: Overcoming Male Isolation For a Longer, Happier Life. Dr. Garfield’s book is about the healing power of intimate friendships between men and how rare these seem to be in our world. His advice sounds much like what is offered on dating sites or that couples’ counselors give when working with two people who want to grow and strengthen their connection. The importance behind this connection according to Dr. Garfield, is that men live longer, happier lives when they share platonic intimacy with other males.

So why don’t more men have these kinds of friendships? It’s complicated and has to do with everything from how guys are constructed, to cultural influences, to what they learned from their own fathers about what it means to be a man. At the core of all this is the concern about how a close relationship with another guy could be viewed by others. The Bachelorette backlash is a great example of this. It seems that many people see something more than friendship there, but so far there is no evidence of anything more except how Clint’s comments are being interpreted.

However it turns out, Clint has already said he is not that interested in Kaitlyn but is enjoying his time in the house with JJ and wants to stay for that reason. JJ hasn’t really offered any specific comments about his new buddy but is clearly enjoying the rapport and time they spend together. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out—between Kaitlyn and these two men and between the guys after the show ends.

I just hope that this now very public bromance won’t discourage guys from buying this great book and taking its advice to heart. A great and trusted friend is a wonderful asset in anyone’s life and too many men find themselves with no one they can really talk to who gets them, really gets them—except their significant other who really doesn’t get them and who can’t be a truly open and objective listener and confidant because of the clear conflict of interest that would be there if she tried to be both lover and objective friend.

Is monogamy old school?

May 28th, 2015

Most folks know that there are websites that cater to the married but looking people—those who want sex with no attachment or sex and companionship, but with the agreement it will not change their marital status. Now it seems that there are an increasing number of young, “progressive,” couples who are completely open about it with their partners. This is actually not new, think the “open marriage” movement that began in the early 70’s and developed into several different kinds of agreements between individuals who are married but want to have other relationships as well.

What might be different now is that the taboo against this kind of extra marital relationship seems to be lifting. Couples are increasingly seeking other options for their relationships and there is a website that is happy to help them to find these. “Open Minded” is a dating site for those who are in relationships already, but are seeking new and satisfying attachments. These attachments are not necessarily limited to one new person, but can include multiple people and couples as well. Swingers, polysexuals and the curious are all welcome. The belief of its founder Brandon Wade is that people are realizing that many married couples don’t stay together for life anymore and that this is a practical way to deal with the needs and issues that used to lead to cheating. His belief is that marriage is a transaction and was founded in order to provide a secure lifestyle for raising a family—this is now out of date apparently. Hummmm…

Yes we do have a 50% divorce rate, and cheating is alive and well, but is this the solution? Each couple and the individuals within it will have to decide this themselves. I will offer a word of caution, however. While this might seem to have no downside, there can be several. Primary among these is that people can’t really control how they feel, who they fall for, etc. In other words, feelings can and will develop as people form these extra-marital bonds. This new friend may seem to have the qualities that one’s spouse is lacking, the sex might be a lot better, the desire to spend more time with them might grow and grow—and then what?

I’m reminded of the two couples back in the 60’s who decided to try swinging. The guys were both professional baseball players and there was a friendship and bond already before they decided to “swap” partners for a while. Each had children and strong bonds to their lifestyles/families/communities. But guess what? One of the newly matched pairs fell in love. It all ended with them leaving their spouses/families for one another. They might have been happy, but their exes and the children involved were not. It’s an old tale, but it never changes. Someone can and often does get hurt—and there are a number of ways this can happen.

If you are feeling bored, restless, ready to try something new for fun—just remember that you might be risking a lot. Are you sure it’s worth that risk?

The Bachelorette—Why Kaitlyn and not Britt?

May 27th, 2015

The newest season of The Bachelorette started last week, and as usual, it had a twist. This time, the guys had to decide who would be this season’s Bachelorette. The first night, they came out of the limo and each introduced himself to the two contestants Kaitlyn and Britt. After introductions were completed, each went inside to wait until everyone had arrived. Then there was the (not so) usual cocktail party where the guys got to spend time with the two ladies to see who they felt the strongest connection with. Of course, the women were sizing them up as well and it turned out one of them would be doing a rose ceremony that very night.

From the start, Britt seemed the most confident and sure of herself. She looked beautiful and many guys were overheard discussing her attractiveness—more it seemed then they were Kaitlyn. It also seemed that at least early on, most of the men approached Britt first when they exited their limos—telling her how beautiful she looked and how happy they were to see/meet her. Several times, Kaitlyn could be heard whispering about how awkward she felt and how it seemed many of the guys were more physically attracted to Britt. It was the impression I think viewers got as well.

Then the tide turned a bit, and a number of guys burst out of the limo and went to Kaitlyn, professing their interest and attraction. Britt pouted a bit, mumbling her surprise at the turn of events.

Then the party began. There was the very drunk guy who had to be asked to leave due to his behavior. There was also the very sure of himself guy, the guy who felt that he was better than the rest, the ones who were lobbying hard for one girl or the other—and soon, the night passed. The voting was announced and the men trickled into a back room to vote for their favorite—often a bit drunk, but most sure of their decision. For viewers, it was too hard to tell. Kaitlyn talked about how much she wanted to be The Bachelorette and even commented about getting a number or two of guys she was impressed with, just in case she had to leave.

So imagine the surprises all around when Kaitlyn was chosen, according to Chris, it was close, but Kaitlyn came out on top. Britt was shocked and Kaitlyn very happy for her but concerned about Britt.

Now if you are wondering why Kaitlyn over Britt, the clues are in this blog, in what various guys said and in the behavior of the two women throughout the night. Kaitlyn was humble right from the start while Britt just assumed she was the fairest of them all. The guys who wanted Britt focused on her looks, her smile, and her openness. They were very into her in a physical way and made no secret of it. The guys who wanted Kaitlyn used descriptives like, “down to earth,” “warm and easy to be around,” “great sense of humor,” “easy to talk to,” etc., etc. In other words, Britt won the looks category, which Kaitlyn won the overall cool woman category. Which one would you have rather won?

Kaitlyn’s win also speaks to that myth that all guys are just into looks. Apparently not. These guys were given the choice and looks did not win out. Now Kaitlyn is an attractive young woman with a great build, etc. But she also has this energy and sense of humor that are pretty irresistible.

So ladies please keep this in mind that next time you are heading out for a night with friends or a first date. Guys do care about what you look like—but that isn’t what holds their interest and keeps them coming back for more. Just watch this season of The Bachelorette and see what I mean.

Are you putting your financial cart before your marriage horse?

May 17th, 2015

In today’s Washington Post, Michelle Singletary has written a good piece on the wisdom (or not) of becoming financially committed to someone before deciding on marriage. In her column, The Color of Money, Ms. Singletary clearly states that she is not trying to make a judgment about the morality of living together before marriage—her concern is that you don’t share your finances before saying I do. She understands how it happens—folks think, two can live cheaper than one, why don’t we just combine our money in a joint bank account since we spend it together, let’s not waste money on rent, let’s buy something together, etc. After all, they are in love, so what could possibly go wrong? For starters, the relationship could end, and it could end badly. Ms. Singletary fears that folks are “sliding into a relationship” not realizing how tough it could be to separate their finances if they want out.

Turns out Ms. Singletary’s concerns are backed by hard data. Scott Stanley, PhD, Howard Markman, PhD, and a few other colleagues at the University of Denver have been studying and discussing this issue for some time. They are the founders of PREP, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, and every year they meet to discuss research, policy and programs that contribute to healthy relationships and marriages.

Ms. Singletary attended a conference in Oklahoma where they watched a 4 minute video from PREP that makes a good case for why couples should slow down and think about the consequences of moving too fast into cohabitation and mingled finances. Ms. Singletary gave it an A+ and thinks it should be played in every program working with couples. The film is based on extensive research that has found that people slide through major life transitions without really looking ahead as they do so. By the time they figure it out, they are so far in, there are many reasons to stay in a dysfunctional or unsatisfying relationship. Suddenly breaking up means taking a big financial hit, which people are often reluctant to do.

Therefore the recommendation is to slow down, enjoy and get to know one another well, and don’t let yourself slide into anything. Thinking choices only please. Ms. Singletary says that the video‘s bottom line is all about avoiding a DUI—decisions under the influence. Want to read more? Click here