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While some couples say marital bliss comes down to compatibility, like cheering for the same football team or enjoying the same cheese, researchers from California say how happy we are in our marriage may be a result of our DNA.
The study, conducted at the University of California-Berkeley and published in the journal Emotion, reveals that a gene concerned with regulating serotonin predicts to what degree our emotions affect our relationships.
Researchers, led by psychologist Robert W. Levenson, say this may be the first study to link genetics, emotions and marital satisfaction.
The link was made between relationship fulfillment and an allele - a gene variant - called 5-HTTLPR, which the researchers say is inherited from each parent.
"An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage, and another so oblivious?" says Prof. Levenson.
"With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people."
The researchers have followed 156 couples since 1989, and they are now middle-aged and older. Every 5 years, the couples go to UC Berkeley to assess their marital satisfaction and interact together in a lab, while researchers evaluate their conversations based on facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and topic of conversation.
Of the participants, 125 recently provided DNA samples, and Prof. Levenson and colleagues matched their genotypes with their own marital satisfaction, as well as the interactions observed in the lab.
The team found that participants with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were the most unhappy in their marriages when there was a lot of negative emotion and the most happy when there was positive emotion.
But those participants with one or two long alleles were less affected by the emotional current of their marriages.
Claudia M. Haase, now an assistant professor at Northwestern University but who conducted the study as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, says:
"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. Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate."
She adds, "Neither of these genetic variants is inherently good or bad. Each has its advantages and disadvantages."
Spouses in the study with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles made up 17% of the participants studied, and the researchers found that there was a strong connection between the emotional spirit of their conversations and how they related to their marriages.
However, the 83% of spouses with one or two long alleles did not show a correlation between emotions displayed in their conversations and marital satisfaction.
The researchers are quick to note that the new findings do not mean that couples with different variations of 5-HTTLPR are incompatible, but rather, it suggests that individuals with two short alleles are more likely to blossom in a good relationship and wither in a bad one.
"We are always trying to understand the recipe for a good relationship," says Prof. Levenson, "and emotion keeps coming up as an important ingredient."
The team found that the link between genes, emotion and marital satisfaction was more pronounced for older adults.
"One explanation for this latter finding is that in late life - just as in early childhood - we are maximally susceptible to the influences of our genes," Levenson adds.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study that found a good family environment in adolescence is linked to marriage quality In adulthood.
Written by Marie Ellis
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
The 5-HTTLPR Polymorphism in the Serotonin Transporter Gene Moderates the Association Between Emotional Behavior and Changes in Marital Satisfaction Over Time, Claudia M. Haase, Robert W. Levenson, et al., Emotion, published online 7 October 2013. Abstract
UC Berkeley Release , accessed 9 October 2013.
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