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Our experts talk share their thoughts on mating, dating, and relating.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Together

Can two wild, impulsive, spontaneous lovers find happiness together?

by Roy F. Baumeister, Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology and head of the social psychology graduate program at Florida State University, and author of The Cultural Animal and Psychology Today’s Cultural Animal blog.

What mix of partners makes for the best relationships? For decades, research has pitted two theories against each other. The similarity theory, which is the usual winner, holds that the smaller the differences between two people’s personalities, the better match they make. In contrast, the theory of complementarity says that opposites attract; therefore the bigger the difference, the better.

What about self-control? In recent years, evidence has pointed toward many benefits of self-control. This raises a challenge for the similarity theory. Can a good relationship form between two people who are similar precisely because both lack self-control? Or would complementarity make a better pair, such that one partner is disciplined, organized, and reliable, while the other brings spontaneity and a carefree attitude to the romance?

Several recent studies by Kathleen Vohs, Catrin Finkenauer, and myself have begun to sort out the answer. We assembled dating couples, married couples, and even pairs of same-sex friends, measured their self-control levels, and looked at how the combination of self-control scores predicted their satisfaction with the relationship.

The difference between partners’ scores predicted nothing. Neither similarity nor oppositeness produced a good relationship. These results contradicted both theories.

Rather, it was the total of the two scores that predicted success. The more self-control both partners had, the better they got along. This was true for friends, dating couples, and long-term spouses.

We did find that in romantic relationships (though not the same-sex friends), partners tended to be more different than similar. Thus, in terms of self-control, opposites do seem to attract – but oppositeness does not make for a better relationship.

Thus, to return to the question of whether two people with low self-control can find happiness together, the answer is that the odds are not good. They might have a very exciting and fun-filled fling for a short time. However, their prospects for a satisfying long-term stable relationship are poor. Over the long run, two people with good self-control share the best chance of a happy love relationship.

*****

Read more by Roy F. Baumeister on Psychology Today’s Cultural Animal blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:30 am

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Second-Hand Procrastination

How your task-delay affects those around you.

by Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and author of Psychology Today’s Don’t Delay blog.

With the fatigue of all-nighters, the stress of those last-minute efforts and perhaps the inferior result of not enough time spent on task, it might appear that procrastination only harms the procrastinator. The truth is, when the procrastinator finishes his binge of work, social devastation lays all about.

In the name of “working better under pressure,” too often social engagements are canceled, promises are broken, and favors called in to have others problem solve last-minute catastrophes (a jammed printer becomes a national emergency). Anyone within the vicinity suffers the intense pressure of the looming deadline. Procrastination harms relationships at home and at work.

Procrastination, the mundane yet quintessential self-regulation problem, undermines relationships. Just as the failure of self-regulation related to substance abuse, excessive shopping, gambling or over-eating does, procrastination has social consequences.

The irony is that procrastinators may feel smug relief on making the deadline once again at the eleventh hour, while those close to them are frustrated and fed up. Second-hand procrastination – the stressful effects of living or working with a procrastinator can strain relationships to their breaking point.

*****

Read more by Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD on Psychology Today’s Don’t Delay blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 10:18 am

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Love Choice

Having too many choices can be a bad thing.

by Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, and author of The Paradox of Choice and Psychology Today’s The Choices Worth Having blog.

It seems obvious that the more choice people have, the better off they are. Whether it’s about salad dressings, places to live, things to order on a menu, or romantic partners, the more options there are, the more likely you are to find just what you want.

Obvious, but empirically false.

There is now ample evidence that although some choice is good, there can be too much of a good thing. And when people have too many options, they are paralyzed into indecision. If they overcome paralysis and choose, they make bad decisions. And if they manage to make good decisions, they are dissatisfied, convinced that another option would have been better. These phenomena have been observed in choices of consumer products like jams and chocolates, choices of mutual funds for retirement, and choices of potential partners in speed dating settings. And the problems are exacerbated in people who are out to find the “best” (we call them “maximizers”) rather than just “good enough” (we call them “satisficers”). While there are probably not too many people in frantic pursuit of the “best” salad dressing, it’s a whole other story when it comes to romantic partners.

So, counterintuitive as it may seem, the evidence suggests that people are more likely to form romantic attachments, and be satisfied with them, if the set of possibilities is limited. “Limit your options” is not easy advice to follow in modern America, especially when it comes to romance. But it may be worth your while to try.

*****

Read more by Barry Scwartz on Psychology Today’s The Choices Worth Having blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:00 am

Friday, March 6, 2009

Other People Matter

Loving relationships make life worth living.

by Christopher Peterson, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, and author of A Primer in Positive Psychology and Psychology Today’s The Good Life blog.

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. The topics of concern to this new field range from the biochemical bases of joy to the well-being of nations. However, a three-word summary suffices: Other people matter. There is not a finding or theory in positive psychology that does not underscore the importance of other people for our happiness and health.

The best way to savor pleasure is in the company of others. The most important determinants of a satisfied life are social. Indeed, good relationships with others may be a necessary condition for a happy life. Money can buy happiness – if we spend it on others. Achievement results not just from genius and perseverance but also from teaching and nurture. Character is learned from our parents and teachers. A good friend at work matters more than salary or status. People with close relationships are healthier than those without, despite – we assume – greater exposure to germs.

The Beatles told us that all we need is love. Positive psychology explains why. The good life follows in the wake of loving relationships with friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and spouses.

Other people matter. And we are all other people to someone else.

*****

Read more by Christopher Peterson, PhD on Psychology Today’s The Good Life blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:00 am

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Love Acts

How to cultivate love in your life.

by Steven C. Hayes, Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada Reno, and author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life and Psychology Today’s Get Out of Your Mind blog.

You can look at a flower in three different ways.

You can look at it the way a judge at the county fair might, comparing it to an ideal to see if it measures up. It rarely will. This petal is wilted. That leaf is brown.

You can look at it the way an artist might, taking it in with attentive appreciation. There is a beautiful totality to a flower. Its wholeness speaks in a resonant mix of tones, including even the wilted petal, and browning leaf.

Or you can look at it the way that a gardener might, noting what it needs to prosper, and taking careful steps to support its growth.

If you want to cultivate love in your life, foster the gaze of the artist and the active care of the gardener. And begin with the person in the mirror.

Science teaches us that love is an action, not just a feeling. When we accept people for who they are, we are doing something loving. When we see through our normal habits of judgment and criticism, and attend to others as whole human beings we are doing something loving. When we step forward and serve the deep purposes of others we are loving, one moment at a time.

If you think of times you felt truly loved, see if it isn’t the case that those times had such qualities. You were accepted, noticed, and actively treated as worthy by another.

But if that is the essence of a loving stance, it needs to begin at home. When we allow our deepest feelings, thoughts, and memories to be subjected to the critical skills of the judge within, we begin to believe that we are neither capable nor worthy of love.

It does no good to try to fix what we see, pulling off a petal here, and spray painting a leaf there. We know what is underneath, and if we fool others by such methods, we will simply devalue the love of the fools we have created. That is why the love of others rarely batters its way in. We have to invite it in, by doing love as an action – with others, for others, but first and foremost, with yourself.

*****

Read more by Steven C. Hayes on Psychology Today’s Get Out of Your Mind blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 8:00 am

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

“Obamalot”

A cool, new brand of marriage that may just inspire young men.

by Paul Dobransky MD, clinical psychiatrist, and author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love, The Power of Female Friendship and Psychology Today’s The Urban Scientist blog.

The Obamas are without a doubt, exemplars of “coolness.” This isn’t a scientifically definable term. But as the torch of leadership gets passed from generation to generation, the youthful term coolness is no less real as an assessment of one’s character, social value, and behavior to be emulated by the masses.

After September 11, it was well noted that a resurgence of committed relationships came into favor with even the least likely stragglers to walk down the aisle – young males. Cut back to the present. Recently, a New York blogger bemoans the ongoing trend toward being “caught between responsibility and a perpetual adolescence. Now one wonders what happened to the young single man’s interest in commitment.

Enter the Obamas: The new Camelot. They are the cool, hip, rad, in vogue, royal couple. The husband represents not just a celebrity rock star, nor the serious role of a world leader, but both. He is the Rock Star President – the likes of which we’ve never seen before. With unhappiness in committed relationships, the divorce rate, and the high number of abandoning fathers out there, one has to ask what Obamalot will do to glamorize marriage, as well as what kind of positive effect the new president may have on young males who would rather avoid commitment.

How will this happen?

By dividing a man’s behavior into:

  1. Masculinity
  2. Character

It is clear. Often, today’s young men seek role models who exude masculine identity, regardless of the questionable character in their dalliances with women, their ethics in generating an income, and their raison d’etre sometimes amounting to nothing more than money as an end unto itself.

The masculine drives for ambition and power we see in male celebrities – the coolness that appeals to young men – is something Barack Obama displays in spades. Yet while he has that appeal for the young, Obama also has the high character and maturity required to lead the free world. And if anything, maturity is needed in a lasting relationship – as well as patience, wisdom, equanimity, and empathy.

It is these two forces – masculinity and character – that equip a man to have both the coolness that feeds healthy pride, as well as the maturity to commit to lasting love in the arms of another.

*****

Read more by Paul Dobransky MD on Psychology Today’s The Urban Scientist blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 10:12 am

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Should I Say?

How to communicate in a relationship.

by Steven Stosny, PhD, author of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It and Psychology Today’s Anger in the Age of Entitlement blog.

Most people fret about what to say when a partner says or does something. “What should I say?” is the question I hear most. My pat response: “Don’t worry about what to say; focus on the emotional state you are in and the emotional state of your partner when you say it.”

Emotional disconnection is the biggest single factor in divorce. Most divorcees say they just “grew apart,” largely because they “couldn’t communicate.” This is sad because the problem was not about communication, it is about disconnection.

The chronic stress of disconnection in marriage stems from a slight difference in the way the sexes experience fear and shame. This subtle difference is inherent in the dilemma, “Do we talk about the relationship or not?” The real reason women usually want to talk about it is disconnection makes them feel anxious and isolated.

The real reason men typically don’t want to talk about it is that her dissatisfaction with him makes him feel like a failure. His shame is too great to allow him to understand her anxiety, and her anxiety keeps her from seeing his shame. When they try to alleviate their feelings of vulnerability in opposite ways – by talking and not talking – all they end up sharing are disappointment and heartache.

Instead of starting discussions with complaints, approach your partner differently:

  • A desire for connection (this is actually the goal of wanting to “talk about it”).
  • Curiosity about her perspective.
  • Mindfulness that he is someone you love and value.
  • Appreciation of the assets she brings to your relationship.
  • The belief that he is a reasonable person: If you convey value and respect and give enough information, he will at least acknowledge the importance of what you say, even if he disagrees.

If you can do the above, almost anything you say will be successful and will eventually lead to a compassionate and loving connection that goes beyond words.

*****

Read more postings by Steven Stosny on Psychology Today‘s Anger in the Age of Entitlement blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 3:34 pm

Monday, March 2, 2009

In Times of Sickness

What does not destroy you binds you for life.

by Pamela Weintraub, senior editor at Discover Magazine, author of Cure Unknown: Inside The Lyme Epidemic, and author of the Psychology Today’s Emerging Diseases blog.

When my family moved from New York City to the Westchester suburbs in 1993, what started as a dream of paradise ended in nightmare: The beautiful deer traipsing across our property in Chappaqua carried thousands of ticks, and the ticks carried Lyme disease. Five years later we were all sick in the heart of an epidemic, and there was no diagnosis in sight. Especially sick was our eldest son – once a straight A student and traveling basketball player.

We went from doctor to doctor looking for answers, commenced treatment for our son’s late stage Lyme, spent our life savings to pay medical bills, and even lost our house. It’s no surprise that my relationship with my husband was mightily strained. With other people my husband and I might discuss a movie or politics or some light-hearted foible on the job – but for each other we had only troubles. There were bills, doctors, disturbing calls from the school, a pain-stricken child who might never recover.

Could any relationship survive these travails?

Fast forward to 2009: Our family of four has left the suburb to a better place, the brownstone expanse of Brooklyn. In Brooklyn we have espresso bars on the corner and movie houses down the street, and even the local park is concrete. In Brooklyn, the sidewalks are endless and the ticks, very few. So many years later our son has recovered – in fact, graduated from Brown University – and our family has stayed intact.

The reason? Despite all the stress, my husband and I were the only people who cared enough to dig out of this desperate situation, to stay and fight. We plundered our resources and fought until our sick child recovered. We might have wanted to flee each other, but when water is flooding your ship, you don’t toss the only set of hands helping you pump it out.

Years after the fact I can say without a doubt: What does not destroy you makes you stronger. It’s true that the illness of a child can push you apart – but it can also bring you together. After all, who else but the other parent of your child is going to walk with you to the ends of the Earth, relinquish everything and never stop trying until life has been set right.

*****

Read more by Pamela Weintraub on Psychology Today’s Emerging Diseases blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 1:42 pm

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