The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
But American psychologists now declared that the key to wedded bliss may actually be in our DNA.
They believe a gene involved in the regulation of the “happy hormone” serotonin can predict how much our emotions affect our relationships.
The study, from the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University, may be the first to link genetics, emotions, and marital satisfaction, the researchers say.
Senior author of the study, UC Berkeley psychologist Robert W Levenson, said: “An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage, and another so oblivious?”
“With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people.”
Specifically, researchers found a link between relationship fulfillment and a gene variant, or “allele”, known as 5-HTTLPR. All humans inherit a copy of this gene variant from each parent.
Study participants with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were found to be most unhappy in their marriages when there was a lot of negative emotion, such as anger and contempt, and most happy when there was positive emotion, such as humour and affection.
By contrast, those with one or two long alleles were far less bothered by the emotional tenor of their marriages.
“We are always trying to understand the recipe for a good relationship, and emotion keeps coming up as an important ingredient,” said Levenson, who heads up a study that has tracked over 150 married couples for more than 20 years.
The new findings don’t mean that couples with different variations of 5-HTTLPR are incompatible, the researchers note.
Instead, it suggests that those with two short alleles are likelier to thrive in a good relationship and suffer in a bad one.
The results of the study, which looked at the genotypes of more than 100 spouses and observed how they interacted with their partners over time, bore this out, they said.
“Individuals with two short alleles of the gene variant may be like hothouse flowers, blossoming in a marriage when the emotional climate is good and withering when it is bad,” said Claudia M. Haase of Northwestern University and lead author of the study.
“Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate.”
“Neither of these genetic variants is inherently good or bad,” she added. “Each has its advantages and disadvantages.”