science_of_commitment_garden_couple.jpgRelationships are a science—at the basic level, it's a lot of math (one and one make two); it's fired up by a lot of chemistry; there are definite biological benefits; and there are no absolutes, requiring a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error tactics. But most people don't think about them as being scientific, preferring to think that relationships are more about the heart than the head.

Still, leading scientists across multiple fields are beginning to think that science is going to help us learn more about relationships and commitment, as this blog entry on The New York Times website shares. They have begun to use their heads to shine light on matters of the heart. Read on to learn what their studies have shown.


IT'S IN THE GENES

As much as people would rather not believe it, genetics does factor as an influence on people's willingness to commit and the stability of those commitments when they make them. At least, that's what the study conducted by Swedish biologist Hasse Walum of the Karolinska Institute indicates. Walum is studying variations of a gene related to the body's regulation of a bonding hormone, a brain chemical called vasopressin.

The results of Walum's study suggest that compared to men without the gene, men who carry a variation of the gene are:

- less likely to be married

- more likely to have serious marital problems if they are married

- twice as likely to have relationship issues.

Walum is currently trying to discover if these effects are true for women who carry the gene (erroneously labeled the "fidelity gene") as well as men.

But genetics aren't everything. Other studies show that it's more a question of conditioning and training than genetics—that is to say, mind over matter.


TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO BE FAITHFUL

It's easy to be faithful when there's no one around to tempt you. But what about when you are tempted, and fidelity becomes all the more important? John Lydon is a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal and is the lead researcher in studies that look into how committed people react when faced with temptation.

One study's results reveal that people view individuals who represent a potential threat to their relationships as less attractive than they do when they are asked about the attractiveness of the self-same individuals intellectually speaking.

Another study involving heterosexual men and women looks into the subconscious reactions of the test subjects to flirtatious conversations versus routine encounters. Some participants were asked to imagine engaging in a flirtatious conversation with an attractive person, whereas others simply imagined a routine encounter. They were then tested using fill-in-the-blank puzzles, and results showed that no pattern emerged for routine encounters. On the other hand, men who imagined flirtatious encounters chose to form neutral words, while women in the same situation chose words suggesting concerns about commitment, suggesting a protective instinct.


science_of_commitment_intimate_moment.jpgWHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

A third round of studies, this one conducted by Stony Brook University psychologist and relationship researcher Arthur Aron, explores the importance of what Aron calls self-expansion in relationships. Aron's theory is that commitment levels are less about love and loyalty than they are about how your partner "enhances your life and broadens your horizons."

The results of Aron's study indicates that couples who face down and overcome challenges together show "greater increases in love and relationship satisfaction." Aron and his team are now conducting a new study on how this sort of self-expansion affects a relationship—the theory is that couples who consistently explore new experiences will show higher levels of commitment.

As Aron says, "We enter relationships because the other person becomes part of ourselves, and that expands us. . . . That's why people who fall in love stay up all night talking and it feels really exciting. We think couples can get some of that back by doing challenging and exciting things together."


science_of_commitment_hands.jpgHOW TO KEEP "THAT LOVIN' FEELING"

So between genetics and conditioning, how can you keep love and fidelity alive in your relationship? Female Network feels that Aron may have something with the studies he's conducting. As such, we've listed five tips for keeping the fire burning between you and your partner.


Go somewhere new.

Plain and simply, plan a getaway from the rat race and head someplace you've never been to before. You may want to check out each of the multitude of beaches that pepper Philippine coastlines. Want venture beyond our borders? Check out FN's budget guide to Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangdong.


Look for new experiences to share in life.

The key to keeping your romance fresh is to change it up a bit. That doesn't necessarily mean going for extravagances like going to a gala or becoming a jetsetter. This can mean everything from making a new habit, like sending each other little love notes via email and text; to trying out new exercises for couples; to finding a new interest, such as gardening or theater.


Experiment in the bedroom—or out of it.

Just as you need to keep things lively in the other aspects of your life together, you need to be willing to try new things in your sex life as well. What you don't know, when it comes to sex, may be having negative effects on your relationship, so you may want to check out FN's articles on sex myths and mistaken assumptions. You may even want to venture outside the bedroom for "the bedroom tango"—sex on the beach isn't for everyone, but the more adventurous may want to give it a go.


Challenge yourselves and each other.

Keep a healthy competition against each other, yourselves, and others. Play games with each other, in which the victor gets a weekend free from chores or wins a night on the town. Take a class in a foreign language or a new form of exercise and challenge yourselves to finish on top. This will help stimulate your relationship and help you feel that you as a person are expanding your horizons.


Make the mundane exciting.

Integrate excitement into your daily lives. Challenge your partner to a game of surprises—promise to surprise each other in some small way at least once a day. Play word games or debate on issues that interest you while doing the dishes after dinner or de-junking your home. You just may find that even living an outwardly ordinary life will result in an extraordinary commitment.


For more on these commitment studies, check out Tara Parker-Pope's blog entry, "Tracking the Science of Commitment," on The New York Times website.


(Photo source: sxc.hu—garden couple; intimate moment; hands)

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