Three key aspects of relationships are… 1) Depth, 2) Support and 3) Amount of conflict.

Depth is – how close you are and will be, how important this person is to you, how much you depend on each other.

Support is – how much you can turn to each other for help and support, to listen and do important things together.

Conflict is – how much you have to work to avoid conflict, how much you feel guilty or angry, how much you want each other to change or try to control each other. 

Here’s some research.

You could probably think about your key relationships and quickly place them in terms how much they combine these three qualities.

You could also think about which of these are most important to you in certain relationships, and what may have changed over time. 

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The University of California , San Diego, issued the following news release:

Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make
a Difference

For all those dismayed by scenes of looting in disaster-struck zones,
whether Haiti or Chile or elsewhere, take heart: Good acts — acts of
kindness, generosity and cooperation — spread just as easily as bad.
And it takes only a handful of individuals to really make a difference.

In a study published in the March 8 early online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the
University of California, San Diego and Harvard provide the first
laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and that it
spreads from person to person to person.

When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping
others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of
cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.
(more…)

The journal *Child Development* issued the following news release:

Depression In Pregnancy Tied To Antisocial Behavior In Offspring During Teens

Children from urban areas whose mothers suffer from depression during
pregnancy are more likely than others to show antisocial behavior,
including violent behavior, later in life.

Furthermore, women who are aggressive and disruptive in their own teen
years are more likely to become depressed in pregnancy, so that the
moms’ history predicts their own children’s antisocial behavior. (more…)

Can Acetaminophen Ease Psychological Pain?

Headaches and heartaches. Broken bones and broken spirits. Hurting
bodies and hurt feelings. We often use the same words to describe
physical and mental pain. Over-the-counter pain relieving drugs have
long been used to alleviate physical pain, while a host of other
medications have been employed in the treatment of depression and
anxiety. But is it possible that a common painkiller could serve double
duty, easing not just the physical pains of sore joints and headaches,
but also the pain of social rejection? A research team led by
psychologist C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky College of
Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology has uncovered evidence
indicating that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) may
blunt social pain.

“The idea–that a drug designed to alleviate physical pain should reduce
the pain of social rejection–seemed simple and straightforward based on
what we know about neural overlap between social and physical pain
systems. To my surprise, I couldn’t find anyone who had ever tested this
idea,” DeWall said.
(more…)

The journal *Personal Relationships* issued the following news release:

The Importance of Attractiveness Depends on Where You Live

Do good-looking people really benefit from their looks, and in what ways?

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia and the University
of Kansas found that yes; attractive people do tend to have more social
relationships and therefore an increased sense of psychological well-being.

This seems like common sense, and might be why we spend billions of
dollars each year trying to become more attractive.

However, the study, published in this month’s issue of Personal
Relationships, also determines that the importance of attractiveness is
not universal; rather, it is determined by where we live.

The importance of attractiveness in everyday life is not fixed, or
simply a matter of human nature.

Instead, the impact of our attractiveness on our social lives depends on
the social environment where we live.

Attractiveness does matter in more socially mobile, urban areas (and
from a woman’s point of view actually indicates psychological well-
being), but it is far less relevant in rural areas. In urban areas
individuals experience a high level of social choice, and associating
with attractive people is one of those choices.

In other words, in urban areas, a free market of relationships makes
attractiveness more important for securing social connections and
consequently for feeling good. In rural areas, relationships are less
about choice and more about who is already living in the community.

Therefore, attractiveness is less likely to be associated with making
friends and feeling good.

Furthermore, urban women need not have below average looks in order to
experience a diminished sense of well-being and social life. Dr.
Victoria C. Plaut and her team studied women at mid-life in the U.S.
based on data related to their well-being, social connectedness, and
their body attractiveness (assessed with a calculation of their waist-to-
hip ratio).

Plaut points out, “In the field of psychology, research results are
generally seen as having a natural and universal applicability.

This research suggests that this is far from being the case.

Rather, the importance of attractiveness varies with certain
sociocultural environments, and, if you think about it, urban
environments are actually a relatively recent addition to human life.”

From BBC News today:

Loneliness makes cancer ‘more likely and deadly’

Doctors know depressed cancer patients have poorer survival rates. Fresh evidence adds weight to suggestions that loneliness makes cancer both more likely and deadly.  Work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows social isolation tips the odds in favour of aggressive cancer growth.

Rodents kept alone developed more tumours – and tumours of a more deadly type – than rats living as a group. The researchers put it down to stress and say the same may well be true in humans. Cancer experts say more work is needed to prove such a link in people. Lead investigator Gretchen Hermes, of Yale University, said: “There is growing interest in relationships between the environment, emotion and disease. “This study offers insight into how the social world gets under the skin.”

Stress

Doctors already know that cancer patients who are depressed tend to fare worse in terms of survival.  And previous research has suggested that social support can improve health outcomes for patients with breast cancer. In the latest study, the researchers found that isolation and stress trebled the risk of breast cancer in the naturally sociable Norway rats. Outcast rodents developed 84 times the amount of tumours as those living in tight-knit social groups, and the tumours also proved to be more aggressive. The isolated mammals also had higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and took longer to recover from a stressful situation than fellow Norway rats.  The researchers ultimately hope their work will help cancer patients.

Lifestyle

Co-researcher Martha McClintock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, said: “We need to use these findings to identify potential targets for intervention to reduce cancer.”  Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study was done in rats. “Overall, research in humans does not suggest there is a direct link between stress and breast cancer. “But it’s possible that stressful situations could indirectly affect the risk of cancer by making people more likely to take up unhealthy behaviours that increase their risk, such as overeating, heavy drinking, or smoking.”

*New York Times* (Tuesday, Dec 1) includes an article: “We
May Be Born With an Urge to Help” by Nicholas Wade.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

What is the essence of human nature?

Flawed, say many theologians.

Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes.

Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.

But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind.

<snip>

The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is
that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others.

Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive.

But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.
(more…)

The University of Chicago issued the following news release:

Loneliness can be contagious
People who feel lonely spread that feeling to others

Loneliness, like a bad cold, can spread among groups of people, research
at the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and
Harvard shows.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study that has been following
health conditions for more than 60 years, a team of scholars found that
lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over
time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of
social networks.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to
be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,”
said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the
study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On
the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them
to losing the few ties they have left.”

Other members of the study team were James Fowler, Associate Professor
of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, and
Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Medical
Sociology in the Harvard Medical School.

Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit
feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become
lonely. “These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray
at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted
sweater,” said Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished
Service Professor in Psychology.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical
diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people
to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social
group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

The scholars’ findings were published in the article, “Alone in the
Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social
Network,” published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.

For the study, the team examined records of the Framingham Heart Study,
which has studied people in Framingham, Mass. since 1948. The original
group, including more than 5,209 people, was originally studied for the
risks of cardiovascular disease.

The study has since been expanded to include about 12,000 people, as the
children and the grandchildren of the original group and others have
been included to diversify the population sample. The Framingham study
now includes more tests, including measures of loneliness and
depression. The second generation in the study, which includes 5,124
people, was the focus of the loneliness research.

Because the study is longitudinal, researchers kept in touch with the
subjects every two to four years and accordingly collected names of
friends who knew the subjects. Those records became an excellent source
of information about the people’s social networks.

By constructing graphs that charted the subjects’ friendship histories
and information about their reports of loneliness, researchers were able
to establish a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported
fewer close friends. The data showed that lonely people “infected” the
people around them with loneliness, and those people moved to the edges
of social circles.

The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who
experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an
increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close
friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.

Previous work suggested that women rely on emotional support more than
men do, and in this study women were more likely than men to report
“catching” loneliness from others. People’s chances of becoming lonely
were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than
changes in family networks.

Research also shows that as people become lonely, they become less
trustful of others, and a cycle develops that makes it harder for them
to form friendships. Societies seem to develop a natural tendency to
shed these lonely people, something that is mirrored in tests of
monkeys, who tend to drive off members of their groups who have been
removed from a colony and then reintroduced, Cacioppo said.

That pattern makes it all the more important to recognize loneliness and
deal with it before it spreads, he said.

“Society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the
periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a
protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network
from unraveling,” he said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“Previous research has shown that loneliness and lack of social
connection can have a significant negative effect on the overall health
and well-being of older people,” said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of
the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which funded the
research. “This pioneering research into the connections of individuals
within their social networks has important implications for the larger
issue of social interactions and health.”

This morning’s *USA Today* includes an article: “‘With this doubt, I
thee wed’: Some know marriage will fail” by Sharon Jayson.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Tracie Donahue had some doubts before the wedding, but she got married,
anyway.

So did Crystal Neumann and Cherrie Rasmussen, who say they also ignored
the red flags and tied the knot, only to sever it later.

<snip>

Counselors and those who study dating, marriage and divorce say plenty
of couples get married when they shouldn’t.

And their numbers may be increasing, because more couples are casually
living together, which can complicate decisions about whether to marry,
says Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family
Studies at the University of Denver.

Stanley says his research on couples who cohabit before marriage has
found that “some of those wouldn’t have married if they hadn’t been
living together.”

“People have committed themselves before talking about the commitment to
the future, and that can get you walking down the aisle not being sure
that’s the right thing, or what you want to do,” he says.

(more…)

From John Gottman “7 Principles that make marriage work”

First – what does not work:  Signs of a marriage in trouble

  • A harsh start up — leading off a discussion with criticism and/or sarcasm, a form of contempt.  If your discussion begins with a harsh start up it will inevitably end on a negative note.
  • The “four horsemen of the apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling strongly predict divorce.
  • A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination — “what’s wrong with you?”
  • Contempt includes sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.  It is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.  It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you are disgusted with him or her.  Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict.
  • Defensiveness rarely has the desired effect.  The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize.  This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.  You are saying in effect, “the problem is not me, it’s you”.  Defensiveness just escalates the conflict.
  • With stonewalling, eventually one partner tunes out.  Rather than confronting his wife, the husband disengages.  By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage.  This is far more common among men.  He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound.
  • Usually people stonewall as protection against feeling flooded.  You feel so defenseless against the sniper attack you learn to do anything to avoid a replay.
  • Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons.  First they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress.  Second, the sensations of feeling flooded make it almost impossible to have a productive, problem solving discussion.  Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it’s harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.  When either partner begins to feel flooded routinely, the relationship is in serious trouble.  Frequently feeling flooded leads almost inevitably to distancing yourself from your spouse.  This in turn leads you to feel lonely.
  • Failure of repair attempts (“let’s take a break”, “wait I need to calm down”) to put on the brakes so that flooding is prevented.  When the four Horsemen rule the couples communication, repair attempts often do not even get noticed.  In unhappy marriages, a feedback loop develops between the four Horsemen and the failure of repair attempt.  The more contemptuous and defensive the couple is with each other, the more flooding occurs and the harder it is to hear and respond to a repair attempt.
  • In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on the early days fondly.  When a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten – for the worse.  Or the past is difficult to remember because it has become unimportant or painful.

What does work: the 7 principles Gottman discovered by observing successful couples

  • Principle one: enhance your love maps – awareness of your partner’s life and experieinces. Check in with each other often, share lots.
  • Principle two: nurture your fondness and admiration. Give messages of appreciation and affection. Focus on the good in your spouse.
  • Principle three: turn towards each other instead of away. Make a habit of helping each other cope, turn to each other in times of stress, connect lots.
  • Principle four: let your partner influence you. Yield in order to win. Accept influence. Choose “us” over “me”. Compromise.
  • Principle five: solve your solvable problems. Do this by raising problems gently and respectfully, make and receive efforts to moderate conflict, sooth self and each other,
    compromise and be tolerant of each other’s faults.
  • Principle six: overcome gridlock on unsolvable problems (70% of marital problems never really go away). move from gridlock to dialogue.  Learning to be able to talk about it without hurting each other.  You learn to live with the problem.  You first have to understand its cause.  It is a sign that you have dreams for your life that are not being addressed or respected by each other.
  • Principle seven: create shared meaning with shared goals, values, stories, symbols, rituals, and compatible roles in life.

Obviously there is much more to this than a checklist, and Gottman’s book includes many questionnaires for couples to use to study their relationship and identify problem areas along with practical exercises to increase the quality of the relationship using the 7 principles.

Summarized by Brian Grady PhD R.Psych.