Volume 2, Issue 7: July 2018
Are you interested in how marriage has changed over time, why those changes have made some marriages better and others worse, and how we can improve our own marriage? Check out my bestselling new book!
Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists, and other wise souls
“Some fragile relationships survive forever because they never encounter a relationship-toxic environment, but some very strong relationships dissolve—not because they weren’t close, or committed, or loving—but because fate … put their relationships in harm’s way."
Five things I'm thinking about this month
1. My friend and colleague Justin Lehmiller just published Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. It’s a fascinating read that reports on the sexual fantasies of over 4,000 Americans. My own assessment (from the book jacket): “Lehmiller’s groundbreaking book points to an alarming divide between the conversations we’re having about sex and the conversation we should be having about sex. It provides the nudge we need to change the conversation—and, in doing so, to live healthier, hotter lives.” If you want to get a sense of Lehmiller’s findings, check out this blog post, this Atlantic article, or this Wall St. Journal article.
2. This month brought even more evidence of the links between romantic relationships and physical health. This article in the British Medical Journal reviews 34 studies incorporating over 2 million participants, revealing that, during a given follow-up period, single individuals (never married, divorced or widowed) are around 50% more likely than married individuals to die from cardiovascular disease or stroke. Of course, although such effects are robust on average, the quality of the relationship is essential. Indeed, this article in Psychosomatic Medicine—first-authored by my former undergraduate honor student Sarah Stanton—reveals that declines over time in perceived partner responsiveness (the belief that our partner understands, appreciates, and cares about us) is linked to an risk of dying over the next 20 years, apparently because such declines hinder our ability to manage stress.
3. Several of Stanton’s collaborators on that paper—including Rich Slatcher , Emre Selcuk, and Anthony Ong—published a second fascinating article on perceived partner responsiveness, this one in the Journal of Family Psychology. Building on ideas in The All-Or-Nothing Marriage, these researchers tested the hypothesis that perceived partner responsiveness is more important in American than in Japanese marriages, as the emphasis on psychological fulfillment through marriage is especially strong in the U.S. Results revealed clear support of this hypothesis on both hedonic well-being (the experience of positive emotion and a general sense of satisfaction with one’s life) and eudaimonic well-being (living up to one’s potential and finding meaning and purpose in life), although the effect was especially strong for the latter. That is, the perception that our spouse understands, appreciates, and cares about us is linked to a more pleasurable life, but it is even more strongly linked to a meaningful one.
4. Regular readers of this newsletter will know that I’ve been thinking a lot about the #MeToo movement. As someone who studies relationship initiation and sexual communication, I find cases like Aziz Ansari’s (check out the next-day text messages between Ansari and “Grace”) much more interesting than cases like Harvey Weinstein’s, which involve truly monstrous behavior. (Full disclosure: I know Ansari, who wrote a blurb for my book.) One of the most interesting articles I’ve read in the #MeToo space is “How to Tell the Bad Men from the Good Men,” which Caitlin Moran published in The Cut. Her story is fascinating, and she underscores that we—all of us—need better guidebooks for understanding sex and gender. (Also check out this Slate piece, in which Megan Abbott offers an ambivalent and compelling reconsideration of the noir titan Raymond Chandler.)
5. On the topic of sexuality, I’ve been delighted to see the emergence of a movement to develop sophisticated sex ed for grownups. This New York Times article provides a nice introduction to this topic. I enjoy keeping track of what Dr. Zhana is up to in this space and attending to speculations about how technology will alter our sex lives in the coming years. But my favorite sexuality piece this month comes from the indispensable McSweeney’s: “The 30-Day Sex Challenge For Parents.” For example: “DAY 10: Roleplaying. Try out a classic pairing, like football player and cheerleader, priest and confessor, Rachel and Ross. If you start to feel self-conscious, just remember that not too long ago it felt strange to think of yourself as a parent, and yet now it’s overtaken every identity you have.”
A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)
July is a blissfully quiet month here in the RAMLAB. Katie and Lydia gave terrific talks at the International Association for Relationships Research conference. Eli enjoyed a delightful conversation with Amy Kaufman, the Los Angeles Times journalist who broke several major #MeToo stories and is the world’s leading expert on “The Bachelor.” As for me, I’ve decided it’s time to look for a new lover; if you know any cute sheep who might be interested, let me know.