You might want to lay off of social media—for your relationship’s sake. People who use Facebook more than once a day are more likely to report relationship conflicts arising from social media, according to a new study in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. And even worse—those conflicts had a significant correlation with negative relationship outcomes, like cheating, breaking up, or getting divorced.
Researchers surveyed 205 Facebook users about how often they use the site, if they’ve had Facebook-related conflicts with a current or former partner, and if these conflicts ever led to cheating or breaking up. On average, people were using Facebook daily, so the researchers looked at any users who logged on more often than that. The result: People who spent more time on the site had more Facebook-related conflicts and negative relationship outcomes. One noteworthy finding: these results only held for couples in relationships of three years or less—so it may be the case that Facebook use is most threatening for less-matured bonds.
“Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy,” says lead study author Russell Clayton, doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri. “Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”
But you don’t need to deactivate your account to have a healthy relationship. Follow these rules to make sure social media habits aren’t sabotaging your bond:
Rule #1: Avoid the premature relationship-status change
Relationship experts agree that the worst social media faux pas is becoming “Facebook official” before you’re actually official. “You need to have that conversation before you change it,” says Wendy Walsh, PhD, author of The 30-Day Love Detox. You should also hold off on posting about a date or sharing photos of you two together before you’ve become a couple. “When a relationship is in its fragile dating stage, it’s very important to have privacy. Intimacy needs privacy to grow,” says Walsh.
Rule: #2: Stop mindlessly browsing
In this study, just logging more time on Facebook was linked with more conflict. So it’s smart to limit your daily posting and tweeting—especially if you’re often sneaking a peak at your newsfeed while you’re together. Even if you’re just mindlessly scrolling through your feed while watching TV with your partner, it can give off the impression that they’re not as important to you, says Christie Hartman, PhD, author of Find the Love of Your Life Online. “Be aware of what you’re paying attention to,” says Hartman. “If they start complaining or showing annoyance, it’s a sign that you’ve gone too far.”
Rule #3: Log off when you’re upset
If you just had a fight or you’re going through a rough patch, step away from the computer (or your phone). Since your newsfeed can be filled with everything from humblebragging couples to photos of your (fitter than ever) ex, it can be filled with landmines that make you feel bad about your relationship—or worse. “It’s really easy to log on and imagine that there might be a bigger, better deal out there,” says Walsh. Plus, you may end up shooting off a passive-aggressive rant that you’ll later regret, says Hartman.
Rule #4: Friend exes with caution
One of the riskiest features of Facebook is that it makes it super easy to connect and communicate with an ex or old crush, which is why the common debate—can exes stay friends?—is only amplified online.
While you probably don’t want to make a point of friending an ex after you’ve started dating a new person, it’s important to tread carefully even if one or both of you are already friends with your exes. Stay cautious about your interactions with them, says Walsh. Her suggestion for staying on your toes: “Imagine that someone has the ability to cut and paste whatever you type and post it publicly.” The bottom line: Don’t be fooled by a false sense of privacy online.
Rule #5: Brag a little bit
Don’t worry: Not all social media habits are relationship kryptonite. In fact, couples who regularly post profile pictures with their partners and share things about their relationship online are also more likely to feel happier about their bonds, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Hartman says that a little bragging online is totally healthy for your relationship: “It shows that you aren’t on Facebook ignoring your partner—you’re including them.” So feel free to tweet about your boyfriend’s awesome promotion or Instagram the flowers he surprised you with. Just don’t go overboard, warns Hartman, or it won’t seem sincere.
A whole bunch of love stories have one thing in common this wedding season: The couples met on the Internet. And here’s some great news for those newlyweds: Married couples who first connected online have a slight edge when it comes to relationship longevity and marital satisfaction, according to a new study out of the University of Chicago.
The results are based on a survey of more than 19,000 people who tied the knot between 2005 and 2012. (Full disclosure: eHarmony.com commissioned the survey, but before the data was analyzed they agreed to publish the results no matter what, and independent statisticians oversaw the analysis.) Turns out, more than one-third of the now-married couples met online. And while you may think that the survey’s results are due to the fact that people who meet their spouses online tend to be older, that’s not the case: The researchers controlled for age, the year the couple was married, and more.
So what accounts for the added bliss? The researchers didn’t study the “why” factor, but lead study author John Cacioppo, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and a scientific advisor to eHarmony.com, has some ideas: For one, it follows that people who feel ready for marriage—who aren’t commitment-phobes—are typically the ones who go looking for it online.
Then, of course, there is the sheer number of options you have on the Internet, says Cacioppo. In one night, you can see 10 men in a bar—or hundreds of men’s dating profiles.
There’s also a big difference in self-disclosure, says Cacioppo.
Online, you’re learning a lot more about those dudes much faster—a list of interests, values, even their reasons for revving up their dating profile, says Diana Kirschner, PhD, a relationship expert and CEO of LoveIn90Days.com, who was not involved in the study. “You can read that in five minutes,” she says. “You could not get all that information talking to someone at a party for five minutes.”
But even if you prefer meeting dates at parties versus on profiles, there’s something to be learned from all that online disclosure: “Don’t be afraid to share what you enjoy the way you would do in the profile,” says Kirschner. “Talk about what gives you a lot of passion or pleasure or joy.” You’ll set yourself up for a healthy and happy relationship if you find someone who knows about—and is into—the real you from the start.
And just as you’d list your favorite activities in an online profile, stick to those when you’re getting to know someone in person, too. “I think it’s important to suggest activities that you’re really having fun with,” says Kirschner. “Suggest a mini golf outing or a trip to the beach that you’re going to enjoy and be present for.”
Overall: “Be honest and authentic,” she says. That’s great advice for long-lasting love—whether you’re several years into your relationship or are feeling out a new guy.
Having a child is right up there with your wedding and the honeymoon as one of the best times of your relationship…right? Right? Uh…maybe not so much. Sixty-seven percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet within one year post-baby, according a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Between lack of sleep, wacky hormones, and the stress of figuring out how to change a diaper or calm a crying kid—on top of the effort required to maintain a happy, healthy relationship, whether or not you have an infant to worry about—it’s no wonder people go through a rough spell.
Now, new research has pinpointed the top source of first-time parents’ gripes: how parents handle the different tasks related to raising a child. “For moms, their main happiness determinant is whether they’re satisfied with the division of labor of caretaking activities,” says study author Kari Adamsons, PhD, assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut. For dads, having a clearly defined role in child-rearing is key to marriage satisfaction. Find out which relationship issues crop up most often for new moms and pops—and how to make sure they don’t wreck your bond:
The problem: You feel like he’s not pulling his weight in child-rearing–and, by association, your relationship.
The solution: You don’t need to strive for a perfect 50-50 split of duties—many moms don’t even necessarily want that, says Adamsons. What matters is that you’re on the same page with your partner about which tasks you’ll each be handling. “Communication is key,” she says, “and you have to start talking before the baby is born.” Discuss who’s going to change the diapers at night, whether or not you’ll return to work full-time, if your hubby will take over baby duties when he gets home so you can have a break, whether you’ll use a bottle so he can do some of the feedings, who will handle things like bathing and putting the baby to bed, etc. You can always re-evaluate your roles after the little one’s born, but starting the conversation early on is smart so you know where the other person stands and you aren’t caught off guard later. And as Adamsons’ research found, fathers in particular respond well to having their duties clearly defined.
The problem: He feels picked on.
The solution: When your partner takes on baby-related jobs (yay!), resist the urge to let him know if he’s off the mark. “One reason men don’t participate more in caretaking is that women tend to micromanage,” says Carolyn Pirak, LCSW, founding director of the Bringing Baby Home program at The Gottman Institute. But when you criticize the way someone performs a task, they’re likely to stop doing it altogether. It may make you cringe to see him put the diaper on backward or use the wrong onesie, but as long as he’s not doing anything that could harm the baby, it’s better to step back and let him figure it out on his own.
The problem: Sex takes a nosedive.
The solution: One thing you should know: It’s (unfortunately) normal for your sex drive to dip after you have a baby. “It generally takes at least six weeks for your body to recover and be ready for intimacy,” says Pirak. Hormonal changes in your body can also make you averse to sex for—yikes—up to a year (it’s your body’s way of preventing you from getting pregnant again too soon). Understanding and anticipating these shifts ahead of time makes the dry spell easier to deal with. That said, physical intimacy is of course key to a healthy relationship. Beyond working out any unequal divisions of labor (which kills the mood for many women), try focusing on nonsexual but still romantic actions, says Pirak. “Does he hold your hand? Do you tell him he looks nice?” she says. Focus on those sweet things you used to do in the early stages of dating, and desire should follow.
The problem: You have zero couple time.
The solution: You don’t have to make reservations at a Michelin-starred restaurant to reap the benefits of spending time together sans infant. You can keep it casual—breakfast, a walk, a glass of wine on your patio before dinner while la bebe is sleeping, even running errands together. There are only two rules: Don’t talk about the kid (well okay, you can debrief for a couple minutes right at the beginning), and group hang-outs don’t count. This is clutch for giving you and your partner time to connect so you can stay in sync, says Pirak.
The problem: Your parenting philosophies clash, so you start to question your partner’s core values.
The solution: He rushes in the room every time the baby makes a peep; you want to let her cry it out. He thinks it’s no big deal for kids to play with iPads; you’re anti-gadgets. Parenting is full of hot-button topics, so when a disagreement comes up, have a discussion where you both voice your opinions. “Try out each person’s technique for two days, see how it goes, and then reevaluate,” suggests Pirak. When you test things out, it’s quickly becomes apparent that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing; often you’ll realize there’s some value in the other person’s opinion and the solution will involve some sort of compromise, says Pirak.
No matter what difficulties parenthood throws at your relationship, remember to set a peaceful tone and express appreciation and admiration for your partner (like telling your man how great he is at comforting the baby or sending him a quick thank-you email for filling the gas tank). Also: Don’t forget to focus on the good stuff. “Babies are hard work, and many couples tend to dwell on the negative aspects,” says Pirak. You can be honest about your frustrations with your hubby, but how upset would you be if you let them overshadow the awesome parts of parenthood?
Sooner or later, the man in your life is bound to mess up. (He’s only human!) But if you trust your partner, you’re more likely to forgive and forget his mistakes than if you don’t trust him, according a new study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Researchers from Northwestern University and Redeemer University College used a questionnaire to assess trust levels in 69 undergraduates’ relationships. Then, the students filled out surveys about their partners’ recent mishaps every two weeks for the next six months. They also rated the severity of the issue, how well their partner tried to make amends, and their own degree of forgiveness. At the end of the six-month period, participants in the most trusting relationships remembered their partners’ past transgressions as less serious and were ultimately more forgiving.
While the study didn’t examine exactly what caused these results, lead study author Laura Luchies, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Redeemer University College, says that trust appears to distort people’s memory of the past. One explanation: when you trust your partner to act in your best interest, you’re more likely to let his mistakes slide because you see them as one-time events. But when you don’t trust him, you might play and replay the situation in your head, or assume it’s part of a pattern of bad behavior—making it a lot more difficult to forget (or forgive).
The thing is, trust plays a more integral role in relationships than in simply keeping the peace. “Trust helps people think less about the risks of getting close to someone, depend on them, and see them in a positive light,” says Luchies. The result: a more secure, fulfilling relationship for both of you.
To boost your bond at any stage in the game, follow these trust-amplifying tips:
Let him plan date night
Trust is learned and earned—you’ll grant it, over time, to those who act supportive, dependable, and trustworthy, says Luchies. To give your partner opportunities to strut his stuff, ask him to make decisions that affect you. Start small: let him choose a restaurant. When he picks a place that suits your palate—not the burger joint he frequents with his friends–you’ll feel more comfortable relying on him for bigger decisions.
Show him your flaws
Not everyone can tally a dinner tab tip in her head, or wake up in the morning with her hair as well-coiffed as it was the night before. But when you let him see your true colors, you give him the opportunity to accept the real you—even it reflects your insecurities. Once you realize that he won’t berate you for your math skills, or reject you for your bed head, you’ll feel more comfortable revealing bigger things–like life goals and family issues–and trust that he’ll be totally supportive.
Confide in him
If you leave your office fuming, don’t keep it all in when you meet him for after-work drinks. “By and large, you get what you give,” says Joel Block, Ph.D., a certified couples therapist and author of over 20 books on love and sex, including Broken Promises, Mended Hearts: Maintaining Trust In Love Relationships. “If you’re open and self-revealing, your partner is more likely to be more open with you.”
Every time your partner tells you something personal—like the major mistake he made at work–it’s a critical moment that can either strengthen your intimacy or deteriorate it, says Block. If you criticize his behavior or dismiss his feelings, he’ll think twice about confiding in you next time. To make him feel accepted and promote more self-disclosure, express empathy and suggest solutions. And if he judges you? Say this: “I need to feel safe confiding in you and right now I feel attacked.”
Keep your promises
“Trust goes both ways,” says Luchies. Meaning? If you’re not dependable, you can’t expect your partner to be. To show him you’re trustworthy, be accountable: If he asks you to watch his intramural basketball game, show up before the first buzzer to secure a bleacher seat where he can see you from the court. And if you say you’ll call him before bed, actually pick up the phone before you tuck in.
Be yourself in front of others
If you tell him you got a measly raise, and tell his parents about your absolutely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G promotion, he’ll wonder what else you’re capable of hiding. Present yourself accurately no matter what crowd you’re in, and you’ll show him you’re a person that’s worthy of his trust.
Tell him the truth
“Even small lies are like psychological termites,” says Block. “They take unnoticeable bites over time and eventually weaken the foundation of your relationship.” So if your new statement bag cost more than what your guy earns in a month, be honest when he asks what you paid.
Arrive on time
If you say you’ll be over at 7, but miss your train, call him to say you’ll be closer to 8:10. Being on time isn’t just considerate: it’s part of being able to count on someone, says Block. And if he knows he can count on you, then he’ll make more of an effort to show that he’s equally dependable.
Take his side…or at least be diplomatic
Sometimes it’s more important to be supportive than it is to be right. When you’re brought into an argument between him and his buddy, stand up for your guy. And when he’s wrong? Say, “You both have good points, and I can see where you’re both coming from.” Then, discuss it later in private.
Avoid unnecessary secrecy
Especially if your partner has been betrayed before–or worse: you’ve cheated on him–it’s important to be as open as possible. So tell him who you’re texting. And leave your phone unlocked. “Don’t think of it as supervision. It’s making a choice to help the other person heal,” says Block.
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Honesty may not be the best policy when it comes to relationships. Couples lie to each other an average of three times a week, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to a recent study soon to be published in the journal Communication Quarterly.
Researchers looked at how often people expressed affection toward their partners even when they weren’t genuinely feeling it—otherwise known as deceptive affection. This could be anything from complimenting your guy’s haircut when you actually think it’s heinous to kissing him goodbye even when you’re really pissed.
For the study, 57 participants (one person per couple) between the ages of 18-27 kept a weeklong diary. “First we trained them on what is deceptive affection. Every time this occurred with their romantic partner they were asked to write down what they were actually feeling, what they expressed to their partner, and why,” says lead study author Sean Horan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University. The research showed that participants were faking their feelings an average of three times per week, according to Horan and study co-author Melanie Booth-Butterfield, Ph.D., of West Virginia University.
So how bad is all this lying? Surprisingly, it’s not so horrible for your bond. “Although it’s very common, the motives behind it aren’t bad,” says Horan. “The most dominant motives were to avoid conflict, negative feelings, and hurting your partner.” For the most part, deception was used to help maintain the relationships. And according to researchers, these little white lies are pretty harmless. “We don’t always want to know the truth all the time,” says Horan.
That said, if your motives include covering up something major—like that you’re over the relationship or that you’ve been cheating—you’re probably doing more harm than good. “In any relationship, if you’re primarily relying on deception then problems will likely result,” says Horan.
When do you think it’s acceptable to lie in a relationship? Sound off in the comments below.
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Ready to put a ring on it? Survey says that’s still the man’s job. Both men and women overwhelmingly believe that the man should propose to the woman (in a heterosexual relationship), according to a study conducted at the University of California in Santa Cruz.
Researchers surveyed 277 male and female undergrads about their preferences surrounding traditional marriage roles. While two-thirds of respondents said they’d “definitely” want the man to propose, not a single man or woman said they’d “definitely” want the woman to do so. The students were a little more flexible where marital name changes were concerned: 60 percent of men said they’d want to keep their surname, and 60 percent of women said they’d want to change theirs.
There’s a reason that students at an otherwise progressive-leaning university still adhere to such traditional gender roles: it’s all in the narrative. “What people like with a marriage proposal in particular is a story,” says first study author Rachael Robnett, a UCSC psychology graduate student. “A story that people can understand can lend legitimacy to the fact that this couple is now engaged.” The more a proposal narrative follows a familiar, established script, the more it seems to validate the union in outsiders’ eyes. It’s something we’ve all seen a thousand times: the man takes a knee, opens the ring box, and gives a tender speech; the woman starts sobbing and enthusiastically nodding her head. For many, messing with this arrangement signals a lack of conviction. In fact, research has shown that if the woman proposes, “people don’t take that marriage proposal as seriously, and they question the engagement,” Robnett says.
But Robnett cautions against assuming that honoring tradition is a setback for feminism, or a sign that the power dynamic in your relationship isn’t 50/50. “I don’t think that doing a traditional proposal connotes a lack of equality,” she says. “Every couple needs to make the decision that is right for them.”
A better way to gauge whether your bond has an even balance of power is in studying the day-to-day dynamic. And sometimes, maintaining that balance of power requires work. “It’s an additional skill set that you need to learn,” says Susan Heitler, PhD, Denver psychologist and founder of poweroftwomarriage.com.
Want to know if you and your guy are equals in your relationship? Look for these signs.
When you’re talking, each person gets equal air time
Long monologues are better left to Shakespeare. In an equal relationship, nobody should dominate the conversation. To even things out, make sure you give each other a chance to chime in. Interrupting is okay, says Heitler—it can even signal increased engagement—but make sure to circle back to any ideas that didn’t get fully expressed.
Your dialogue has a volume control button
If you notice the volume of your voice gradually rising, it’s a sign that you’re trying to dominate your partner. Volume should not be a factor in whose opinions get heard. If he’s the one getting shouty in the middle of a discussion, let him know that you won’t continue to engage until volume levels return to normal.
You’re mutually supportive of each other’s career goals
No one should be forfeiting his or her dreams for the sake of a partner. If you suddenly land your dream job and it’s all the way across the country, he should be open to discussing ways for you to follow your dreams and maintain your relationship. However, “It’s not going to work unless he also has a vision of how this could be positive for him,” says Heitler. If your dream job is in a town or city with zero opportunities for your mate, it’s unfair to expect him to tag along—and vice versa.
Orgasms are a two-way street
As in other areas of your relationship, bedroom activities should involve give and take. As a general rule, “If he brings her to orgasm first, that tends to be a hallmark of an equal relationship,” says Heitler, for the simple reason that his orgasm tends to bring the action to a close. Far too often, women don’t feel like they can speak up about their needs, but Heitler says it’s crucial. Positive feedback is key: increase your keep-going moans and groans to show him when he’s getting hot, and back off when he’s getting cold. If he still can’t take a hint, tell him what you really love in bed (emphasize the positive to avoid him feeling criticized). Say, “I noticed that I enjoy sex the most when you … ” then fill in the blank.
Paying (or not paying) isn’t a power move
The subject of who pays can be tricky. If he insists on treating you now and then, he may just be following a cultural script, much like the marriage norms referenced in the UC-Santa Cruz study. But Heitler says it’s more clear-cut when the roles are reversed. “A man who lets the woman always pay—that’s a red flag,” she says. Since this uneven arrangement has no basis in tradition, it’s a sign that he may be simply taking advantage of you. When he’s comfortable with your paying occasionally, or when you both pay as much as you comfortably can, then that signals a positive lack of tension.
You consult each other before making large purchases
If you’re sharing expenses or bank accounts, this one is crucial. Before you throw down for a new iPad or a fabulous winter coat, it’s important to give him a chance to weigh in. To avoid confusion, decide on a number as your mutual price cutoff—below it, and it’s each person’s individual call. Above it, and you’re both duty-bound to let the other person have a say.
You play musical chairs with household chores
Whether he’s the designated chef and you’re the head priestess of laundry or vice versa, no one should be picking up the majority of the slack at home. Divvy up chores based on what each of you enjoys (or at least doesn’t hate), but be willing to switch things up if circumstances call for it, Heitler says. The chef should be able to run a load of laundry if and when you have to work late. Likewise, you shouldn’t be above whipping up a meal when he needs a hand. What’s important is that your contributions feel about even and that no one feels unfairly overburdened.
No one has a monopoly on decision-making
The relationship is bound to feel lopsided if one person’s preferences continually dominate. If you mention that you’re dying to visit a tropical locale over the holidays and he says he’d rather stay home and catch up on work and that ends the discussion, you have a problem. Try suggesting a compromise instead: “How about if we go someplace warm where you can still get some work done?” “In a healthy relationship, what both people say counts,” says Heitler. This holds true even if you don’t agree. Look out for times when you feel ignored, dismissed, or negated right after expressing a preference. If you make an observation that he automatically negates, “keep bringing your piece back,” says Heitler. He’ll realize that you want to have an actual discussion.