The One Trait That Will Help You Get through Anything

Traumatic events come in all shapes and forms. They can be chronic, like enduring the long-term effects of a big breakup. Or they can occur in an instant: abuse, accidents, or the sudden loss of someone dear. 

Why is it that some people crumble under life’s pressures, while others who face arguably more trying circumstances find ways to flourish? Why do I have to fight back the tears when I get a parking ticket at the end of a tough day, while other people are out running marathons without legs?

Resilience, our ability to thrive in the face of adversity, is what makes the difference.  Maria Konnikova recently took a closer look at resilience and here are three things to know about it.

Resilient People Lack A Victim Mentality

There have been several variations of studies that track the performance of school children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and then examines what the children who thrive are doing differently from those who don’t.

One of the most profound differences is in the kids’ mindset. The most successful kids have a pronounced lack of victim mentality; rather, much the opposite. They have a strong sense personal agency, seeing themselves as influencing outcomes in their lives, and not the other way around. This is known in the literature as having an “internal locus of control.” 

Resilient People Assign Meaning To Setbacks

Another strategy that research has shown the most resilient people use is to assign meaning to the setbacks they experience. In crafting this narrative, in giving themselves a personal “why,” they are able to transform the mental experience from suffering to growing pains. This might explain why it’s probably not coincidence that resilient people tend to be more spiritual than average, and why spiritual people are happier than most. Spirituality can be a very effective tool for giving meaning to life, but it is not the only tool. 

The benefit is more than mental: reframing a stressful event from traumatizing to a challenge to be overcome can sooth the body’s fight or flight response, which can make you more effective in dealing with it.

Resilient People Re-frame Experiences

It’s important to note that the benefits of doing this can be enjoyed even by people who don’t do this naturally: when researchers have taught people to re-frame, (e.g. “This is temporary,” or “Not everything about this is bad,”) those people experience less anxiety and depression. So the next time you find yourself up against a tough battle, increase your chances of coming out the other side by asking yourself how you can re-frame things.

For more on resilience, see Maria’s full article here (newyorker.com).

The Reason Why Loneliness Is So Important

As taboo as it may be to talk about, the experience of loneliness is totally universal.  University of Chicago-based researcher John Cacioppo explains, “We’re trying to educate the public about this, to say that loneliness isn’t something that only certain individuals have. It’s something we all have, we can all fall into, and nearly all of us experience at some point in our lives.”

So why do we feel lonely? According to Cacioppo, it’s for survival: “Loneliness is a mechanism that’s in place because we need, as a social species, to be able to identify when our connections with others for mutual aid and protection are being threatened or absent. If there’s no connection, there could be mortal consequences. Those are threats to our survival and reproductive success.” We’re hard-wired to feel loneliness; it runs deep into our genes, and for good reason.

However, long-term loneliness can damage your relationships, so it’s important to keep tabs on it. Because loneliness necessarily makes us turn inward, Caciopoo explains: “Completely unbeknownst to you, your brain is focusing more on self-preservation than the preservation of those around you. This, in turn, can make you less pleasant to be around.” 

Another reason to smile at a stranger today.

You can read Cacioppo’s full interview with the NSF here

A Simple Tip to Naturally Relieve the Stress of a Breakup

Jo Marchant’s latest book explores how our minds exert influence over our bodies, and how we can use that to our advantage in the healing process. In an interview with NPR , she elaborated on what she’s learned, including one simple tip that can help when you’re feeling stressed or anxious: mindfulness.

On the power of mindfulness, she says: “There have been hundreds of studies on mindfulness now, and there’s very good evidence that it reduces stress and anxiety, and that it reduces symptoms such as chronic pain and fatigue. So that’s very well shown now in the analysis of lots of different studies, and that’s in healthy people but also in people with depression or people with serious illness.”

She continues: “With a stress response, the brain and the body are influencing each other in both directions, so if we see a danger then that’s going to make us feel stressed and one of the follow-ons from that is that our breathing is going to speed up… And, equally, if you calm the breathing down, you’re kind of forcing your body into a more relaxed state and you will then experience probably fewer negative thoughts as a result.”

Time to take a deep breath.

When Should You Move In With Your S.O.?

You’ve exchanged ‘I-love-you’s’ and you’re spending most of your free time schlepping to and from each other’s places. You’re ready to take your commitment to the next level…no, not marriage. Cohabitation. But is it a bad idea to move in before marriage?

For a long time, people thought so. Older research suggests that couples who live together before marriage were less satisfied with their marriages and were more likely to end up divorced.

But research since then shows that cohabitation before marriage does not make divorce more likely. Instead, the important predictor of divorce is your age when you settle down. People who were 18 when they moved in together had a 60% divorce rate, whereas people who were 23 had a 30% divorce rate. 

Besides maturity, another strong predictor of marital satisfaction and divorce is how intentional couples are in their decision-making process, which we wrote about here. Couples who are thoughtful and communicative about moving in together, as opposed to just letting things happen, have better outcomes. 

Bottom line: moving in before marriage is fine. But sliding into cohabitation? Not the best idea, especially if you’re young.

Why Your Girlfriends Are Good for Your Health

The closeness that allows girlfriends to co-author each other’s text messages and recount every moment of the previous night’s Tinder date has some clear health benefits.

Perhaps the most important study on female friendship came out of UCLA in 2002: researchers found that women respond to stress differently than men. The female response differs from males in that it isn’t nearly as binary as fight or flight; under stress, women see a rise in oxytocin, the same hormone responsible for bonding mothers to their children. This stress-induced rise in oxytocin made women more likely to seek out companionship from each other.

We all know it feels good to have a friend in tough times, and the UCLA research validates this: the women who had sought out comfort in a friend reported feeling calmer and less stressed afterward. This suggests the power of non-romantic companionship to help us cope with life’s stresses (and there’s no end to the research showing that runaway stress can be damaging to health).

It may not take years of friendship to foster the kind of closeness needed for these benefits, either. In one study, researchers assigned 160 female college students across 2 groups to do either a neutral task or a task designed to bring them closer together. The girls who’d done the bonding task had raised levels of progesterone in their saliva, which translated into increased willingness to make sacrifices for each other one week after the initial bonding task.

Whether you’re surrounded by old friends or you’ve moved and are making new ones, the benefits are there. It can be hard to remember to prioritize friendships among life’s stresses – and that’s exactly the reason why we all should.

How Exercise Helped Me Curb Negative Self Talk

Negative self talk nearly ruined my life. I’m not being dramatic, I’m just being honest.

It’s like having a perverted sense of humility: “they’re only giving you compliments because they want something,” you tell yourself, or “they haven’t seen you fail yet,” or “they don’t know some key fact that invalidates you,” or “they’re just being nice (insincere)”. “You only got the grades because you got lucky”, or “the professor just liked you.” And so on. It’s the opposite of the Midas effect, where every good thing you touch turns to dust.

The strangest part, in my experience, is that I didn’t know this was a habit I had formed. Not when I was depressed, or anxious, or sabotaging my romantic relationship because I felt unworthy of great love. And that’s precisely the fuel and the fire of it: you are not aware the things you tell yourself are lies, so you believe them. This causes you to feel inferior to pond scum, which makes you do things that confirm your worthlessness. Cognition and emotion affect each other in both directionsFrom there it’s rinse and repeat, basically.

I had no idea I was giving myself a toxic emotional IV drip of negative self-talk. And I did this for years. 

On a whim last year, I decided to make fitness a serious hobby. My motivations were shallow: I wanted to feel better, and I envied the endorphin-induced glow I saw in 6am runners and obsessive yogis. If I had known how hard it would be, I probably never would have gotten started. But therein lies the magic: sometimes naivete is your friend. 

When my motivation started to sputter a few weeks in, I felt mystified as to how so many people stay committed. So, as with most things in my life, I went on a research binge. I found that over and over, athletes affirm how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate your each and every step. I wanted to reject this on grounds of sheer corniness, but I was desperate to make the habit stick. I couldn’t afford not to try.

I thanked myself for every set of jump lunges that made me want to scream profanities. I cheered myself on for every few seconds I gained in a plank hold. I repeated positive affirmations in my head. It felt incredibly unnatural, but for the first time in so many years, I took moments to be proud of what I’d done. I literally congratulated myself in my head each time I did something hard – a radical departure from years of never feeling my efforts measured up.

Late one night, several months into my new habit, understanding swept me like a tidal wave. In no other aspects of my life did I ever make deliberate attempts to be proud of what I was, as I was. To decide I was good enough. What would happen… if I did? My body felt electric at the thought, the understanding was so strange and so new.

I definitely don’t have this all figured out. But as someone who has mostly recovered from the feedback loop of self-induced suffering, I am completely aware that anyone struggling with this issue who happens to read this will default to the assumption that speaking positively to themselves, as I describe here, would be to lie to themselves. 

As desperately as I want to shake anyone who believes that and plead with them not to buy into that idea, I know that this change must happen on its own time. And that’s okay – that’s part of the journey. I have faith that you will have an exit ramp, a moment of clarity that shatters the glass ceiling you’ve built yourself; but there’s probably no great way to predict what your exit ramp will be. 

Mine happened to involve grungy sneakers and a lot of cheesy pop music playlists, and I’m still working at it. But yours? It could be anything. I only hope you’ll take heart that it’s there.

What Our Brains Do During Meditation

Ever wondered what happens in your brain during meditation?

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and colleagues scanned the brains of eight Buddhist monks who altered between a “neutral” state of mind and a meditative state. Many traditional forms of meditation involve focusing on fostering a sense of compassion toward others and the larger world, usually known as loving-kindness meditation.

The kinds of brainwaves that appeared during the monks’ meditation, including loving-kindness meditation, were “high-amplitude gamma-oscillations in the brain,” the same kind of waves associated with neuroplasticity, or a state of learning. This suggests that the brain is actively re-organizing neural networks or generating new neurons as you meditate.

The regions of the brain seen to activate during meditation are actually some of the older regions, which are associated with our so-called primal instincts, as well as some bodily functions. This might explain why some studies have found improved immune responses in meditators.

Most religious and spiritual practices invoke some form of meditation such as prayer or reflection, as well as a call for compassion toward others, such as taking care of the poor. If these aren’t inherently good practices, scientists can begin to confirm some of the ways they benefit our health, both mentally and physically. Whether you’re a meditation newbie or a long-time practitioner, taking time to reflect and foster a sense of compassion probably stands to offer some benefits to your wellbeing.

Nine Steps to Forgive for Good from Forgiveness Expert Fred Luskin

Dr. Fred Luskin is a bona fide forgiveness expert. He has dedicated his career to revealing the link between forgiveness and our psychological, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing as Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project and bestselling author of Forgive for Good. We caught up with him to talk about forgiveness and romantic relationships.

WHY HE BEGAN STUDYING FORGIVENESS
“A very close friend betrayed me and I struggled for years to let it go. I was angry and full of mistrust and the pain went on for years. Until finding the word forgiveness I was stuck in anger and despair and was alienating my wife. I complained a lot and felt victimized. He had certainly done wrong, but I was stuck in a pit.  Then, I found the word to forgive around the time I started work on my doctorate at Stanford. 

“I used what worked for me as the basis for my dissertation and the successful resolution of that work launched the Stanford Forgiveness Projects. The successful dissertation project allowed us to get a larger grant which replicated the research on a much larger scale. Then when Bill Clinton had his affair with Monica Lewinsky we got a good deal of publicity because forgiveness was a hot topic for a while and we had research showing it could be health-enhancing.”

ON HIS 9 STEPS TO FORGIVE
“This has been a very useful framework for making me better able to handle life’s inevitable difficulties. The simple reminders to calm down, affirm that I am not the center of the universe, remember to smell the coffee and stop talking like a victim underlie most effective strategies.”

“When they are practiced regularly they rewire the brain and become easier to practice. I am a gentler person and one who is more willing to say and do kind things because of the regular teaching and practice of these steps. The teaching of forgiveness helps me because it reminds me over and over again how to react to difficulty with skill and compassion.”

Step 1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK.”

Step 2. Make a commitment to yourself to feel better.”

Step 3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upset you or condoning the action.”

Step 4. Get the right perspective on what is happening.”

Step 5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response.”

Step 6. Give up expecting things from your life or from other people that they do not choose to give you.”

Step 7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.”

Step 8. Remember that a life well-lived is your best revenge.”

Step 9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.”

More on these steps.

WHAT HE’S LEARNED ABOUT PARTNERSHIPS

“That each person is a vulnerable mess and needs help and care including me. That each person comes with a unique set of difficulties based on biology, past experience, and current stresses. That each person will continue to display their difficult qualities and it is each partner’s responsibility to try to be tender with those qualities. That ultimately I am choosing the partner that I can live with; that includes their flaws, wounds, difficult aspects of personality.”

“That the romantic relationship is the place for old wounds to be healed and for each partner to feel safe enough to share. That requires a lot of listening and a lot of talking and I learned I have to make the decision to engage on a daily basis. The acknowledgment that I made a choice of partner and choice to every day engage leads to taking responsibility for myself and forgiveness of both of us.”

“Whenever possible be kind. This sums up relationships. It’s hard… and it requires us to bring our best self to the table. Where else is there to go than to search for and give love? Our brains are wired for connection with other human beings. Our hearts are designed to join with others and our souls crave the broadening of caring for others.”

HIS FAVORITE SONG ABOUT HEARTBREAK
The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley

Three Ways to Make the Post-Breakup Move Easier

So it’s all happening – your partner is moving out of your place, you’re moving out of theirs, or you’re both headed in different directions. Packing that first box can feel like a feat of courage akin to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. 

If you’ve decided that living together is no longer sustainable or beneficial for your relationship, or if you’ve ended your relationship altogether, here are some thoughts on transitioning through that climb: the moving out process.

Do your packing solo.
It may be helpful to organize between yourselves some alone time to do the bulk of the packing. There are probably enough reminders of a dead relationship everywhere you look – having your ex within earshot will probably only make matters worse. Giving each other some space to do the necessary work can ease some of the pressure or anxiety so that you can just get the job done quickly.

Take action swiftly.
On that note, getting the job done quickly is important, too. Dragging feet are a sign of indecision or worse, a tendency to leave a former partner in limbo. If you’re the one leaving, aim to condense your move into as little coming-and-going as possible to minimize pain for the other person. It’s also a compassionate gesture to make sure not to leave behind any of your things; regardless of who did the breaking up, take the high road and don’t force anyone to live with reminders.

Start fresh where possible. 
Our environment and the things in it are more than a backdrop for our lives; they are extensions of our self and of our life narrative. For this reason, it might be helpful to start over as much as possible when settling into your new living situation. Purge where possible – if you haven’t touched, used, or worn something in a while, chances are you won’t need it any time soon.

Moving out is a crossroads, an opportunity to create the kinds of conditions that set us up to get us closer to being who we want to be. While we’re totally guilty of dwelling on all the reasons that moving out stings, this time of life has such huge potential for positive transformation. 

In the midst of trying to remember who bought those wooden spoons, or feeling the primal urge to defend your things, it is possible to make the process a tiny bit more comfortable. Now, with U-Haul in tow, you are on the road to mending already.

A Guide to Getting Un-Stuck from Your Last Relationship

So you broke up. Maybe it happened last week, maybe it happened 10 years ago. Here’s your troubleshooting guide for those of us who could use a little nudge out of a rut.

Let’s start with the basics: relationships are serious business. Primary attachment is the term psychologists use for the bond we form with our mothers as infants, and later in our romantic relationships with our partners. When that bond breaks, detachment can cause a lot of emotional and physical pain that you may have a tough time shedding.

Here are a few situations you might find yourself in, and what to do when you’re there:

If you feel physical pain when you think about your ex…
What’s happening: It’s not all in your head. The physical component of attachment is very real, and there are good biological reasons for it. Bonding hormones (especially oxytocin) are what we have to thank for making us think that being in an ex’s arms again is just what we need (spoiler: not true).

What to do: The good news is that there are proven ways to minimize the physical pain we feel after heartbreak. Exercise is a powerful tool to boost your mood, fight depression, and is a surefire way to boost self-esteem. Mindfulness meditation also soothes activity in brain regions associated with pain and anxiety.

If you can’t stop thinking about your ex…
What’s happening: Researchers at Rutgers scanned the brains of people who had recently been rejected by someone they still loved. The areas of their brains that showed activation are associated with obsessive behavior, similar to the kind seen in cocaine addicts in other studies. When we lose the source of our feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters, we naturally seek out a replacement “fix.”

What to do: If you’re obsessing, don’t beat yourself up. Negative self talk – you know, the “Why am I still thinking about this? I’m so weak!” kinds of thoughts? They actually encourage the cycle of obsession to continue, as every time you beat yourself up about not having moved on already, you lower your self-esteem, and your resolve and willpower drop. Be kind to yourself, and if you can’t, try some self-compassion exercises.

If you feel alone and it’s getting to you…
What’s happening: I guess I should have titled this article “Why Hormones Rule Your Life,” because it’s basically true. Touch is vital to life for social primates like us – research shows that the hormones stimulated by touch make us feel supported, connected, and less stressed.

What to do: Start by acknowledging that loneliness is just as vital to life as a connection. They are two sides of the same human experience, and both play important roles. Second, remember that there are lots of ways to stay supported if you’re missing the encouragement from your ex. Pick a goal, get a goal-digging buddy in on it with you, and go for it. Reach out to people you haven’t seen in ages. You never know what will come of it.

If the feeling of emptiness is overwhelming…
What’s happening: Sometimes the most devastating breakups are an indicator that our lives had lost their balance; that we cleared everything away for this relationship. When a large part of our identity and self-worth becomes wrapped up in a relationship, if and when it ends, the loss can feel more devastating.

What to do: Assess whether your life was balanced before the breakup. If it feels like there’s nothing left in your life you can get excited about, this is a great opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. When we work hard to enrich all the other facets of our lives: work, community, family, friendships, self-growth, health, spirituality, travel, and so on, the end of a relationship is still devastating, but the richness of the rest of our lives softens the blow of a breakup. Pick one area of your life you’d like to enrich this month and go for it. See what happens.

If you feel like you can’t move forward…
Dig deep to figure out why. There are lots of reasons we get stuck. One way we do this is by giving ourselves permission to, consciously, or otherwise. Staying stuck is an easy way out of our problems because we don’t have to face the unknown or whatever is next. Sometimes subconsciously we can also become addicted to the pain of heartbreak, so it’s important to assess whether you’re grieving or whether you’ve become hooked on your own suffering.

As Heather Havrilesky put it in her interview in The Atlantic: “There must be something evolutionarily adaptive about wearing out the same grooves in your brain over and over again. Or that just must be the way that effective animals are wired like they don’t mind just chasing the rabbits down the holes over and over. But oftentimes if you can simply get someone to just let go of the problem and admit that it can’t be solved using their brain, that’s half of the struggle. I see more and more that the core root problem of a lot of these mind puzzles is a basic lack of compassion for the self.”

If you find that you’re in any of these situations, stay strong and know that you are not alone. And then ask yourself: how would it feel to get unstuck? You can do it, one step at a time.

What Is the Winning Combo for Online Dating?

We’ve all showed up for a Tinder date to find that the prospect was, well, not exactly as advertised. 

Lying in online dating is so common: of the 15% of Americans who have used online dating services, more than half of them admit to lying in their profiles.  Women are more likely to lie about their age or looks, while men are more likely to give themselves a more flattering occupation description.

This comes at a cost: most of us become a little suspicious when something or someone seems too good to be true. A study from the University of Iowa suggests that, in fact, to increase your attractiveness in online dating, it’s best not to try not too hard – or at least, to appear not to be trying too hard.

Researchers looked at the combinations of two dimensions: the extent to which people edited themselves favorably, versus how much people backed up claims about themselves with external information like links to portfolios, bios or websites.

The most attractive combination? “Warranting” with fact-checkable information while not dedicating much profile real estate to “selective self-presentation” comes off as reliable and more attractive. Meanwhile, people who make big claims about themselves without any verifiable information come off as untrustworthy. Profiles that show high amounts of both behaviors get perceived as arrogant. 

The bottom line: even though the dating pool is a marketplace, there’s no need to sell yourself. You’ll probably fare better if you don’t overthink it, so you and your bad self can just keep it real.

Research Shows More Millennials Are Opting out of Sex

Taking a rain check on sex? You may be part of a broader cultural shift. According to a study recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, younger Millennials are more than twice as likely to report not having had sex since turning 18 (15%) compared to Baby Boomers and Gen X at the same age (6%). This is particularly true for women, people with college educations and Black Americans.

Millennials also tend to have fewer sexual partners than earlier generations, with an average of 8 compared to Baby Boomers’ 11 at the same age. We’re also seeing fewer people report that they have sex with multiple partners, down from 19% in the early 1990s to 12% today.

Although the changes in the statistics aren’t exactly cataclysmic, a Washington Post article speculates on some of the reasons why younger people seem to be a little more sexually conservative than their parents. As the article’s author Tara Bahrampour points out, Millennials have grown up awash in caution: we’ve grown up wearing our seat belts, eschewing and basically eradicating cigarette smoking, with “safe spaces” on our college campuses and trigger warnings aplenty. Increased risk aversion may be translating into an avoidance of the vulnerability of sex, lest we might “catch feelings.”

The media also love to suggest that Millennials struggle to form intimate in-person connections, having spent our entire young adult lives with a large chunk of socialization happening online. Perhaps this drives some part of the trend. But whatever the reasons for change, as anthropologist Helen Fisher points out, sex is as vital to life as water, and those who aren’t having sex now almost certainly will at some point. So if your friends are giving you a hard time about the cobwebs between your legs, know that you’re definitely not alone (and maybe get some new friends). After all, it’s really important to experience loneliness, and there’s no such thing as a perfect sex life, anyway.

Why An Identity Crisis Post-Breakup Is A Great Thing

As they say, chaos is the precursor to all great change. And there’s no question that the aftermath of a breakup, even an amicable one, can feel like chaos.

One framework for understanding this post-breakup confusion comes from the husband and wife team of developmental psychologists Erik and Joan Erikson. Aside from being credited with coining the term identity crisis, they observed trends in the stages of human development that explain why everyone tells you to “go find yourself” after a breakup.

According to the Eriksons, most people experience development in stages, where different needs drive different behaviors in each stage. Throughout our teens and early twenties, they observe that most of us are strongly driven by the quest to establish an identity independent of inherited factors. During these years we experiment, sometimes radically, with our choices, beliefs and tastes (as one look at my high school yearbook can confirm).

These years of exploration, they say, are a necessary foundation for the next major phase of our lives: in our twenties and thirties, most people become driven to seek out romantic partnerships. Only once we’ve developed clear personal identities can we build romantic, deeply intimate relationships. We must be strong as individuals before we can be strong as partners.

Over half a century after the Eriksons published their theory, an observational study in the Journal of Adolescent Research seems to confirm a link between our identity and our ability to be intimate. Of the 473 adolescents ages 12-24 whom the researchers interviewed, those with a stronger sense of their psychosocial identity were more likely to report having had intimate relationships. They were also more likely to possess other traits associated with a stronger sense of identity: they were less self-conscious, more able to be passionate in their relationships (a sign of vulnerability), and they tended to prefer being in committed relationships. It makes sense that the more sure we feel of ourselves, the more certain we can be of what we want, and the more authentically we can ask for it.

Of course, categorizing life and our deepest drives into clean stages with finite beginnings and endings probably doesn’t do justice to the reality of being human. Life is a lot more complicated than a flow chart of development. But if you’ve gone through a breakup and are whipsawed by confusion, take heart: sometimes we must move backward to move forwards.

Why Telling Stories Is Great for Your Relationship

The stories we tell ourselves matter. It’s entirely up to us to determine what those stories are, and in turn, how resilient and happy we are.

But what about the way we share our stories with others? The urge to share ourselves is a bonding mechanism: movies, plays, television, book clubs, and even studies of religious texts are all ways we experience stories together. They create a shared experience and facilitate social bonding.

Good Storytellers Are Attractive

Research shows that being able to participate in this social bonding experience pays off in perceived attractiveness – at least for men, it does. Research in the Journal of Personal Relationships describes three studies encompassing more than 300 men and women who rated each other’s attractiveness against their abilities to tell stories, where about half the stories told were intentionally unclear and rambling, while the other half were concise and engaging.

Women rated the men who were good storytellers as more attractive, more likely to be good leaders, and more socially adept. Whether or not women were good storytellers had no measurable effect on whether or not the men found them attractive. Sad but true.

There could be many reasons why women prefer men who can craft a good narrative: certainly storytelling ability is a good indicator of the ability to communicate and connect with others. And since the women associated this trait with leadership, it may also be seen as indicating a man’s ability to influence others to procure resources.

Stories Can Bring Us Together

In a Wall Street Journal article covering this research, relationship therapist Anna Osborn suggests couples can harness the power of storytelling as a healing tool by turning it into a joint exercise. The next time you and your significant other (or anyone you care about, for that matter) are in conflict, try individually telling the stories of your experiences with the problem. Then work to combine your stories into a shared narrative, which helps create a common understanding.

For another way to take advantage of the power of storytelling, seek out novel experiences: travel, take a glassblowing class, say yes when your crazy roommate invites you to karaoke night. If you’re single and dating, these stories make great first date fodder. And if you’re coupled, we’ve written about this before: getting outside your comfort zone together can be a powerful tool for keeping love alive.

But beyond stimulating love-related neurotransmitters, new experiences also bring up stories that otherwise might never come up between you and your partner. Not to mention the stories you’ll be able to share with others later… and we all know there’s nothing hotter than watching your significant other work a crowd. Or as the research suggests, maybe that’s just the female in me talking.

How Marriage Has Changed In The Past Thirty Years

It’s no secret that the institution of marriage is changing – and rapidly.

For a closer look at these changes, Nathan Yau of Flowing Data graphed the results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation to illustrate long term trends.

Screen Shot 2016 05 20 At 12.05.02 Pm

Looking at the percentage of people who are married, we see the biggest shift in people who are in their mid to late twenties: in 1986, about 75% of people between ages 25 to 29 were married. By 2009, only about half of people in that age group were married. Research suggests this trend might be a very healthy thing.

It’s also interesting to see the notorious Seven Year Itch show up in marriage and divorce data – in this time period, the median age for marriage was 22.3 and the median age for divorce was 30.1. 

All that said, if you want to get married, the numbers are on your side. This data shows that nearly everyone (95%) has married by the time they reach the 55+ group. That number doesn’t move much between 1986 and 2009, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 30 years – we’re guessing a lot will change.

Why The Two Year Mark In A Relationship Is Important

Ah, love. It’s practically a cultural obsession, and it’s something we think about a lot at Mend: what’s happening in your brain when you see your significant other and turn into the happiest little puddle of jello? How do you love someone without losing yourself? What makes couples happy and keeps them together?

But does love actually make us happier? It looks like the answer is no. Er, well, not exactly.

Research shows that after the blissful intoxication of falling in love, most people come off the high within 2 years of starting the relationship, at which point their happiness levels return to about where they were beforehand (there are outliers, though: the people who experience the biggest happiness gains when they fall in love have a longer happiness half-life).

Psychologists refer to this ability to adapt to the things that bring us happiness– and to therefore eventually enjoy them less– as “hedonic adaptation.” So the very adaptive ability that makes us a dynamic species capable of reacting to change also robs us of perma-infatuation.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; as Jane Brody wrote for the New York Times, the transition from pure passion to partnership is a completely necessary and healthy function of growing together.

If the kind of love we experience inevitably changes, how can we make the Two Year Transition well? Most therapists agree that it’s important to put in the work to maintain a healthy relationship long before there are ever problems, and research shows there are many ways to go about this. Here are 4 research-supported ideas for you to try:

1. Try Something New
Excitement is invigorating, and stimulates all the same neural pathways that light up when we fall in love, so try an activity together that’s totally out of of the norm.

2. Support Them
To make your partner feel loved, try making a point of supporting him or her in the things they care about. 

3. Get In Touch
Research also shows that consciously upping nonsexual touch also helps strengthen the sense of connection and support. 

4. #NetflixAndChill (And Then Talk About It)
Even something as simple as watching a movie together and discussing the relationship aspects of the story can bring you together and benefit the relationship long term.

A Simple Tip to Stay Madly In Love

When I was in college, I had a knack for meeting men who were traveling through Italy (where I lived), and for some reason they kept falling in love with me. I mean, not that falling in love with me is such a preposterous idea – but it always seemed so rapid and so intense. 

I often wondered why this seemed to happen so often as I showed them the Foro Romano and my favorite little Giardino degli Aranci. Meanwhile, at home in the States I’d have felt flattered if someone bothered to chat with me while we queued for coffee (which 9 times out of 10 was not coming from a place of romantic interest).

As much as I like to think it was just me, a new study shows this difference may have been related to brain chemistry: research shows that the brain responds to new experiences by pumping out dopamine and norepinephrine, the same neurotransmitters that flood the brain when you’re madly in love.  This, it turns out, may be why it is very common to fall madly in love while traveling .

New experiences have an effect on relationships, too.  Researchers surveyed 53 couples before and after assigning them to complete either a new task (e.g. seeing a play, going to a new part of town, skiing) or a familiar but pleasant one (e.g. watching a movie, going to dinner).  10 weeks later, the group who’d had “exciting” date nights reported feeling happier and more satisfied in their marriages than those who’d stayed in their comfort zones.

So if you’re dating or in a relationship, plan a date night where you’re doing something new. Go see a band you’ve never heard of, and make fun of it if you hate it. Take a capoeira lesson. See a cabaret, just for the hell of it. 

Here are 50 more ideas to get those loving neurotransmitters going. You can thank us later.

Four Ways Marriage Has Transformed Dramatically

Marriage has undergone a pretty rapid transformation in the past few decades alone. It’s happening later for most people, and the importance placed on marriage has shifted in younger generations. Here’s what you might not know about marriage:

1. We’re marrying later

In the 1980s, 75% of women ages 25 to 29 were married. By 2009, only about half of women between those ages were married.

2. We’re a lot more likely to live together beforehand

According to the Census Bureau, unmarried couples now live together at double the rate of the 1990s. According to the Pew Research Center, that’s a total of about 64% of adults.

3. We’re not as interested in marriage as an institution

In 2010, 4 in 10 Pew Research survey respondents said they felt marriage was becoming obsolete, compared to 28% of respondents who agreed in 1978. The 64% of adults I mentioned earlier who were cohabiting outside of marriage were the group most likely to agree with this sentiment, naturally. About half of respondents said they didn’t believe staying single would preclude them from having a great sex life, getting ahead at work, or having a happy social life.

4. But we still believe strongly in the importance of family

If you’re panicking that society is deviating from long-standing traditions and norms, hold your worry. In 2010, 76% of people said their family was the most important part of their life, and nearly as many people (75%) said they were very satisfied with their family life. Family love isn’t going anywhere, even as parameters of what constitutes a family expand and become more inclusive.

This Survey Predicts When You’ll Get Married

Worried you’ll be alone forever? Or are all your friends getting married and having babies? If you’re in your 20s or 30s, it can feel like the whole world is sprinting toward these milestones. That’s probably because, well, it’s kind of true, according to  Nathan Yau’s analysis  of the 2014 American Community Survey data. 

Most people marry by age 40

Never Married Chart

The graphs here help us see the percentage of people who have never been married by the time they reach a certain age. As shown above, most people get married for the first time in their 20s and 30s, and the never-married curve falls steeply during those years. Right – tell us something we don’t know.

Ethnicity predicts when you’ll get married

The story that’s easily obscured in the big picture is that the timing of marriage depends greatly on your ethnicity.

Black Women Never Married

These data on marriage may reveal the ripple effect of the well-documented and utterly disheartening online dating bias black women face: 67% of black women have never married at age 30, compared to 41% of their hispanic counterparts, 36% of white women, and 33% of asian women. 

The curves of women of other ethnicities are steeper initially and flatten out sooner, much closer to average. 

Men’s rates of never having been married are about the same but delayed by 2 to 3 years.

Educated + Employed = Attractive

Educated Marriages

In general, people with a high school degree (both genders) are less likely to be married than those with bachelor’s or advanced degrees.

People with a job and more education tend to get taken off the market more quickly. This tendency gets amplified by the fact that those more educated people are marrying each other.

If that weren’t enough confirmation that people are laughably stereotypical in how they choose partners, employment status affects the genders just as predictably. Men who were unemployed at the time of the survey were less likely to have ever married; for women, employment status doesn’t seem to matter quite as much.

Unemployed Men

Unemployed Women

Almost everyone still marries, eventually

All of this is to say that you’re likely to get married. For many, it’s just happening later.

Pew Research Center predicts that 25% of today’s adults still won’t be married by their mid-40’s and 50’s because they are delaying marriage. 30% say they haven’t found the right person, 27% say they aren’t financially stable enough and 22% say they aren’t ready to settle down.

But if we look at the trends from the survey data above, only about 5% of us will never marry by the time we’re in our 80s. I guess it’s never too late for love.

Love, Mapped: Do You Live in America’s Divorce Belt?

If you’ve ever perused Tinder in suburban New Jersey (did I just publicly admit to doing that?), you’ll know firsthand just how much location impacts the dating pool. And this isn’t a coincidence. Nathan Yau of Flowing Data used stats from the American Community Survey to visualize where people in different types of relationships tend to cluster.

Though some of the results aren’t surprising, it’s interesting that there’s such a tangible connection between where people choose to live, the life stage they find themselves in, and the life choices they find themselves making. 

Getting Hitched

The Midwest has proportionally more married couples than the rest of the country. Texas and Nebraska earn the distinction of having some of the most marriage-dense counties in America.

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Singles Belt

Contrary to popular stereotypes about marriage in the South, the Southeast has a surprisingly large population of unmarried folks.

Singles

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Divorce Belt

There is a higher proportion of divorces in the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, western Montana, northern California and parts of Nevada), and between the Southeast and the Midwest in the Divorce Belt, which sweeps through Tennessee, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Divorce

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Is Love Doomed Because Half Of Marriages End In Divorce?

More than half of marriages now end in divorce, right? Time to call B.S. on this persistent myth, because it’s just not true.

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times covered exactly why the 50% statistic is incorrect. It’s true that according to the 2014 American Community Survey, there were 18.1 marriages and 8.7 divorces for every 1,000 women. Divide the marriage rate by the divorce rate, and it looks like only about half of couples stay together.

However, the problem is that this doesn’t account for the fact that the survey data only represents a slice in time – in this case, the year 2014. The people divorcing each other in 2014 were not the same people getting married in 2014, so the 50% figure isn’t relevant.

So what is the divorce rate, really?

Miller’s chart for the New York Times shows clearly that divorce rates jumped in the 1970s and 80s, closer to 45%, but they have since dropped. Couples who married in the 90s are currently divorcing each other at a rate of about 35%.

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Most of the improvement in the divorce rate has occurred among the more affluent segments of the population. As shown by Nathan Yau’s interactive chart on Flowing Data, the divorce rate has improved much more for the college-educated than for those without a degree.

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This isn’t to say that marriage isn’t on the decline in other ways. To be sure, our feelings about marriage are changing: younger people are more skeptical about the necessity of marriage as an institution, and as a result, fewer Americans are getting married. But as the data show, those who are getting married now seem to have longer-lasting marriages than couples in the recent past. So it’s not all bad news.

How To Prevent Financial Problems in Relationships

The way we handle money is deeply personal, and its impact on relationships is substantial: research shows that arguments about money are the number one predictor of divorce. 

So, whether you’re single or in a relationship, you should spend some time understanding your relationship with money. If you have a partner, the next step is figuring out whether your goals and attitudes about money align (or don’t). 

To help, here are 3 tips to prevent money problems from hurting your relationship.

#1: Try to understand your relationship with money (and your partner’s)
Deeper attitudes about money consciously or unconsciously affect every aspect of your decision making, whether you’re single or in a relationship. Are you inclined to spend or save? What are the values that drive your decision making process around money; for instance, what do you value more, experiences or objects, security or freedom to spend? What are the long term goals guiding your spending? How much emergency money do you like to have stashed away? If you’re in debt, what’s your plan to get out of it? These are great questions to ask a partner, but you should start by asking yourself.

#2: Plan ahead to minimize surprises
Money issues are bound to happen in life, but if you have a game plan in place and you understand where your partner comes from, money issues can be tackled together and feel less traumatic. In other words, if life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans, then you need to have a game plan in place before life happens.

Start by asking questions at every stage of the relationship so that unexpected rough patches don’t cause a rift in your relationship. If you’re married, have a monthly money check-in to avoid the problem of unforeseen expenses de-railing you and to make sure you’re ready for big (read: expensive) life transitions like buying a home or having children. 

If you cover the financial ground before you get married, you can make sure you don’t get blindsided by unexpected debts or surprising hidden habits.

#3: … And be honest
You won’t get anywhere if you or your partner can’t fully come to the table, so make sure you’re both able to be completely transparent about financial matters. If your partner is evasive with your questions, or if you’re struggling to stay honest with your partner, try to figure out what’s behind it. For example, could your partner be avoiding conversations out of shame that he or she earns less? Do you have debt shame? If the behavior persists and doesn’t add up, it could be a sign of financial infidelity.

Has Swiping Culture Made Relationships Disposable?

It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly mobile, faster-paced, convenience-based world. The criticism of the resulting “throwaway culture” is widespread. So how do these broader changes affect us and our love lives?

What is “throwaway culture”?

Researchers Omri Gillath and Lucas Keefer are two researchers who have studied “throwaway culture” as it relates to people moving around. They surveyed research participants on their history of moving around, to find that people with a history of moving frequently disposed of things more readily than those with deeper roots. 

This tendency held up even when the researchers tweaked the experiment: when subjects were primed to think about moving, even if they had not actually moved, they still showed increased propensity to dispose of things.

What does this mean for love?

In an interview with the LA Times, Gillath says “throwaway culture can include relationships.” The experience of frequently moving may nudge people to treating their relationships as more disposable. 

In a similar way, popular criticism of apps like Tinder is that they facilitate throwaway culture by creating the illusion of infinite mating options. This makes individual people seem easily replaceable, and therefore dispensable. If this is true to experience for the majority of users, it could be problematic long-term: research shows that a lack of fixed, meaningful relationships is bad for our health.

So is it harder to form meaningful relationships? We wouldn’t be discouraged. Dating apps and sites do make it more likely that you’ll meet someone of interest, and despite the alarmism, they can and do lead to meaningful relationships. Happy swiping.

The Future of Love Looks Less Heterosexual According to Gen Z

Recent research shows that Gen Z can teach Millenials a thing or two about making the world a little more gender inclusive. According to trend forecasting agency J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, Gen Zers (ages 13 to 20) are much more fluent in queer vocabulary compared to Millennials (ages 21 to 34), and are much more likely to identify themselves somewhere on the non-binary gender spectrum.

Gen Z doesn’t hold back from exploring their sexuality: only 48% of Gen Z said they were no-questions-asked straight, versus 65% of Millennials. Instead, a large portion of Gen Z said they were bisexual to some degree, 35% compared with 24% of Millennials.

And Gen Z doesn’t feel limited to binary genders in other ways, either. They reported that they were less likely to shop for clothes made exclusively for their own gender, more likely to know someone who goes by a gender neutral pronoun such as “ze,” and as a group, they feel very strongly that gender-inclusive bathrooms should be the norm.

In an article by Broadly, Gen Zers who were interviewed pinpointed lifelong, unfettered web access as the tool that’s been most informative in promoting their personal and broader gender awareness. Where gender-confused youth of yesterday may not have known that their experiences weren’t unique, the rich diversity of the web has allowed Gen Z to plug into resources and communities that advance self-discovery to help them identify their sexual niches earlier and faster.

A good sign for things to come.

This Is The Most Important Predictor of a Happy and Lasting Relationship

What makes a relationship successful? There’s no end to the hypotheses, but the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia suggests that good old-fashioned generosity is the best-known predictor of relationship success we have. To the researchers, generosity had to do with how likely a partner was to go beyond daily expectations to do something nice for the other person.

In the study, they asked couples to evaluate their happiness by asking them about how they communicated, how often they fought, how they’d rate their marriages, and so on.

The results? Half of the couples who reported above-average levels of generous behavior said they were very happy together, whereas only 14% of couples with lower generosity scores claimed to be happy together.

Other research by Dr. John Gottman has come to similar conclusions about kindness and thriving marriages. His lab found that expressing kindness in the form of support (e.g. encouraging a partner, taking an interest in what matters to them, etc.) led to a much higher probability of staying together: 90% in supportive couples versus just 33% in less supportive couples.

Couldn’t it be the case that happier couples are just more likely to be kind to each other and that the causality is reversed? Perhaps; or maybe the repercussions of kindness flow in both directions. In fact, they probably do: kindness and generosity in relationships is not a zero-sum game.

The bottom line: if you’re making an effort to improve your relationship or to keep it healthy, Otis was on to something: try a little tenderness.

This Research Predicts When You’ll Break Up

It is notoriously difficult to get good data on failed relationships – who wants to think about that? But The Washington Post recently  covered the research of Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford, who is trying to fill in the gaps. He started a longitudinal study in 2009, tracking 3,000 people in relationships of all kinds: married and unmarried, same sex and straight.

How Likely Is A Breakup?

In general, as time went on, all forms of couples were less likely to experience a breakup. The couples least likely to experience a breakup were straight married couples and same-sex couples in marriage-like relationships.

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The 5 Year Mark

For the kinds of couples where enough data are present to gauge, chances of a breakup plummet each of the first 5 years of a relationship, after which point most relationships stabilize. At 5 years, unmarried couples hover around a 20% chance of splitting.

Breakups Are Normal

So if your relationships usually end early, don’t worry – most relationships do! And probably for the better: the less time we invest in something that isn’t working, the sooner we can move on to find something that does.

Why Playing Hard to Get Doesn’t Make Them Like You More

In our interview with poet Jessica Semaan, she gave us her take on modern dating in the age of Tinder: “Many men still want to court women. I think that’s not happening as much, but it’s still ingrained. A lot of men need to go through courting to fall in love, but sometimes as women we forget about that.” So, should we court or just be upfront? Is it a mistake to show interest in someone you like? A new dating experiment sheds light on what to do the next time you like someone.

An Experiment in Speed Dating

In the experiment, researchers at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Toronto sent male undergrads on speed dates with a female actress. With some of the men, the actress made clear indications of interest (e.g. smiling, warmth, more engagement). Meanwhile, with the other group of men, she played hard to get by sending mixed signals (e.g. interspersing clear interest with ambiguity, not being eager to hand out her phone number, etc.).

Did Playing Hard To Get Work?

The survey found that men were more likely to want to pursue her only when they selected the actress first from photos of possible dates. The really interesting finding is that while they wanted to pursue her more, they reported liking her less than the men who received clear indications.

On the other hand, playing hard to get backfired with the men who had been sent off to the speed date with no say in their date. Those men reported liking the actress less, as well as being less motivated to pursue her when she played hard to get.

Should You Play Hard To Get?

So, if your only goal is simply to be chased, let their texts go unanswered, but know that things may change when the pursuit is over. If your goal is to be liked, show signals you’re interested. There’s probably a balance in how upfront you want to be, but research indicates skipping mixed signals will make them like you more. What a novel concept.

At the end of the day, here’s what you should ask yourself: do you really want to date someone who likes the thrill of the chase when there are people who would like you more for being authentic?

Can Movie Night Replace Couples Therapy?

There has been research that found couples who Netflix together stay together. But can the perks of therapy be had without leaving the loveseat? According to a University of Rochester study, yes.

Psychologists tracked 174 couples and assigned them to 4 groups: 2 groups received intensive forms of professional therapy, with one professional-led group focused on learning compassion and empathy-building techniques, and the other professional-led group focused on learning to improve their listening-based communication. The researchers assigned a third group to watch popular movies about relationships and discuss them, and a fourth group received no intervention as the control.

Though the researchers expected the couples who received professional therapy to fare best, it turned out that the movie watchers saw almost the exact same improvement as those in the intensive therapist-led groups. The separation rates of the two groups in therapy, as well as the movie watchers, dropped from 24% to about 11%.

The bottom line: these findings suggest that we might not always need a therapist to help us recognize when we’re behaving badly in relationships; maybe all we need is a non-threatening prompt to talk about it.

Curious to try it at home? Researchers looked for movies that depicted couples not just falling in love (save “When Harry Met Sally” for another time), but also facing problems in their relationships, like “Couples Retreat,” with Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, and “Date Night,” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The couples in the study were assigned to watch 5 movies and have a 45 minute guided discussion afterward. You can find the researchers’ list of movies here and their discussion questions here.

How Can You Optimize Romance?

According to an article in The Economist, dating apps are one way to make the dating market more efficient. Though the idea isn’t very sexy, efficiency in any market, including shopping for partners, is a very good thing. Here are the advantages (and a disadvantage):

Apps expand the dating pool.

By attracting millions of users, apps grow the pond singles can fish in, allowing people to meet who otherwise might not have the chance. This is a very good thing because, at its core, dating really is just a numbers game – the more people you meet, the better your chance of finding a good fit.

But they don’t expand it too much.

At a certain point, dating pools that are too large actually make it less convenient to find a match when it becomes too time- or effort-intensive to sift through the options. App developers know this.

Tinder initially rose to success because the information displayed was so simple, making it quick and easy to browse: just name, age, location, and photos. As it has grown, Tinder has added features to help users cut through the noise, like revealing job and education information, as well as the “super like” feature, which allows a particularly keen user to express extra interest in someone once a day.

Apps reduce the relative cost of rejection.

Many dating sites only reveal a match if both parties express interest; no need to worry about a creepy or vindictive guy following you home from the bar. Getting rejected online also doesn’t feel as personal as getting turned down face to face, partially because expressing interest online only requires the amount of courage it takes to click a button.

However, this comes at a cost (mostly to women): the same way that getting rejected online doesn’t sting as much, online dating also makes it easier to dehumanize or objectify others, which leads some users to behave in ways they might not otherwise.

Apps can help you use the criteria that matter most to you.

Some research has shown that matches are most successful when both sides are ultra-transparent about what they’re looking for, and how dating markets can play a role in that. For people looking to tap into a very narrow pool, dating sites can help you find like-minded prospective partners.

Whole sites can be geared around a single criterion, like JDate for Jewish singles and Bumble for feminists. Even cat lovers, bikers, and people with food allergies have options to connect. Amazing!

How Economics Applies to Dating

No one likes to think of the dating pool as a marketplace because it implies that the dating game is about weighing up the “value” of prospective partners until you find someone who is your equal (or better). It’s a cold way to look at it, but to cast aside butterflies and the magic of starry-eyed lovers’ gazes momentarily, the economics of dating markets clearly matters. Here’s what you need to know.

The dating market is a matching market.
Economist Alvin Roth describes markets like dating as “matching markets.” The difference is simple: in a regular market, I don’t care who you are, as long as you pay me what I ask in return for whatever I’m offering. When I sell lemonade at my lemonade stand, I don’t particularly care who buys it.

But in a matching market, however, I have to really want to make the deal with you in particular, and you have to feel the same way about me. The dating pool is just one example where this is true. 

Other matching markets include job markets, where both companies and prospective hires need to mutually like each other, or the market for joining groups such as fraternities and sororities, and other kinds of social clubs. The desire to make the “transaction” – to date, to let someone join a club, to hire someone – has to be mutual.

To make the most successful match, you need to be honest about your priorities in a partner.
Roth’s work on matching markets, alongside Lloyd Shapley’s, went on to win a Nobel Prize in economics in 2012 by showing that the most effective matching markets are better at revealing people’s true preferences, which makes for more authentic, and therefore happier, matches.

In their work, they were able to optimize matches between doctors and hospitals, students and schools, and organ donors and recipients by using a matching algorithm that had been designed to better reveal the true objectives and priorities of each. 

Being honest with yourself, then, about what your priorities are in a partner, will allow you to make the most successful match. 

Have you asked yourself lately what’s important to you? Relationship expert Ty Tashiro provides a helpful framework for prioritizing what you’re looking for in a partner, if you’d like a starting point that’s rooted in research.

A Zen Master Shares His Secrets to Keeping Love Alive

Finding love is the easy part. But keeping it alive? In the introduction to Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships by Peggy and Larry Ward, preeminent Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explores the metaphor of love as a garden, and explains why mindful relationships are the most fruitful kind.

Relationships Must Be Cared For Like A Garden

Hanh starts by pointing out the obvious, if painful, truth: relationships are tough to maintain and must be cared for: 

“If you’re not skillful, if you don’t practice, if you’re not wise, suffering will be born in you and in the other person. When you see someone else, you might think you’d be happier with them. In Vietnamese we have a saying: ‘Standing on top of one mountain and gazing at the top of another, you think you’d rather be standing on the other mountain.’”

A True Partner Encourages You To Look Deeply In Yourself

When our partners fall short of our expectations (which is inevitable), he says we must come back to one simple truth: 

“Beauty and goodness are always there in each of us. This is the basic teaching of the Buddha. A true teacher, a true spiritual partner, is one who encourages you to look deeply in yourself for the beauty and love you are seeking.”

Don’t Distract Yourself From Your Pain

If love is like a plant in a garden, then we must be selective not to water weeds or to distract ourselves from our pain, as many of us do:

“Whenever we have fifteen ‘free’ minutes, or an hour or two, we have the habit of using television, newspapers, music, conversation, or the telephone to forget and to run away from the reality of the elements that make up our being. We think, ‘I’m suffering too much, I have too many problems. I don’t want to go back to them anymore.’ We have to come back to our physical selves and put things in order.”

You Have To Go Home To Yourself

To not run away from our problems, but instead acknowledge them without judgment, is to water our love plant with mindfulness. But the work starts with ourselves:

“If you have a difficult relationship, and you want to make peace with the other person, you have to go home to yourself. You have to go home to your garden and cultivate the flowers of peace, compassion, understanding, and joy. Only after that can you come to your partner and be patient and compassionate.”

You can read the rest of his beautiful excerpt here. Also, be sure to check out our podcast Love Is Like A Plant, on iTunes and Soundcloud for more about how to love well.

What to Watch on Netflix When You’re Heartbroken

When you’re going through a breakup, a little escape can be welcome relief. Movies are a great way to pass the time that it takes to heal a broken heart, and they can provide relief from the looping thoughts of your post-breakup mind. While some people prefer to cope by laughing, others prefer to be met right where they are with breakup related dramas. Whatever your style, here are 11 Netflix picks to get you through.

Classic Fave: Legally Blonde

Who can forget the opening breakup scene of this movie where Elle (Reese Witherspoon) mistakes dumping for a proposal? Oof.

90’s Fave: Sliding Doors

Gwyneth Paltrow’s breakup with her cheating boyfriend, and post-breakup transformation, is one that never gets old. (Though not on Netflix, View From The Top is another movie where Gwyneth’s character transforms after a breakup.)

Action Fave: Kill Bill

Breakups progress through many phases, from intense sadness and grieving to eventual acceptance. Somewhere in there lies a good bout of just being pissed off, which makes a solid revenge flick like Kill Bill just the bad medicine I need. A saga in two parts, the film invites us into the life of The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she sets out to avenge her attempted murder, ordered by her ex (David Carradine.) Kill Bill is pretty much just an all-out good opportunity to live vicariously through a scorned assassin as she kicks major ass to a killer soundtrack.

Mental Health Fave: Silver Linings Playbook

A bipolar obsessive divorcee (Bradley Cooper) meets his match (Jennifer Lawrence), and we watch the two learn to recognize value in relationships where it hadn’t quite existed before.

Period Fave: Mona Lisa Smile

A radical Wellesley professor (Julia Roberts) challenges her pupils to reject the 1950s cultural imperative that the university years are for husband-hunting.

Sci-Fi(ish?) Fave: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

This movie is weird, but we’ve all wished we could erase a lost love from our minds. This film explores what happens when a couple tries to do just that. The question is, can their hearts forget each other, or will they always be drawn back?

Drama Fave: Chocolat

OK, so this isn’t technically about a breakup. But, in most post-breakup circumstances, Johnny Depp and copious amounts of chocolate is a winning combination.

Documentary Fave:  Meet the Patels

This doc follows the dating trials and tribulations of comedian and actor Ravi Patel, freshly 30 years old and out of a breakup, tries to meet his Indian parents’ traditional expectations.

TV Fave: Grace and Frankie

An already strained friendship between two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) takes a turn when they find out that their husbands are romantically involved. Proof that you can handle heartbreak at any age.

TV Fave: New Girl

The event that launches the series is a cataclysmic breakup, which sends Jess (Zooey Deschanel) reeling and catapults her into a new and very funny life with male roommates. There are too many breakups and heartbreaks to count in the entirety of this series, which makes it the perfect post-breakup companion.

Comedy Fave: Swingers (1996)

This is just a classic comedy, whether you are going through a breakup or not. But if you are going through a breakup, Jon Favreau plays Mike, the perfect heartbroken character to keep you company. Mike is the personification of someone who can’t let go, waiting for his ex to call, neurotically checking his message machine at home and cornering every person he can to talk about his breakup (even potential dates). You’ll laugh, for sure, but you’ll also be reminded that there is life after heartbreak. In the words of Trent, played by a very young Vince Vaughn: “The best thing you can do is just get back out there.”

Also, check out how Netflix affects your love life.

News Flash: There Is No Ideal Sex Life

In their new book, The Secrets Of Enduring Love: How To Make Relationships Last, therapist Meg John Barker and professor Jacqui Gabb make the case, based on their many years of experience working with and studying couples, that a rich sex life is not necessarily vital to relationship’s wellbeing.

For many of the couples they’ve worked with, people say they are happy having sex as infrequently 3 times a month. This is reflected in the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which has shown over the last two decades that Brits are having less sex, but are not necessarily less satisfied with their sex lives.

They suggest that sex is variable in its importance: some couples see it is the glue of their relationship, while others report it to be almost superfluous; however, most people report that the nature of sex changes over the course of their relationships, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Where the authors say couples ought to take care to get things right, when it comes to sex, is to be open and honest individual needs, because discrepancies in sexual needs can lead to unnecessary tension. They point out that, often, the person who desires sex less will try to force themselves to do it anyway, but that this isn’t a great solution because doing so can numb sex drive even more over time, making the problem worse in the long run.

Another area of caution: the authors warn against buying into any of the mainstream notions that happier couples have more sex and better relationships for it. It can be dangerous to make arbitrary comparisons, they say, to some ideal sex life, when in reality, we know that there is no best rhythm for everyone.

This might be why they point out, many new parents feel dissatisfied – not necessarily because less sex after having the baby makes them less happy, but because of radical change coupled with unrealistic comparisons to some idea of what a perfect marriage consists of.

What Is the Key to a Better Breakup Recovery?

Why do some people have such a hard time recovering from a breakup, and others seem to cope better? New research says it could be in the difference between a fixed mindset versus growth mindset.

We have a tendency to understand our talents, traits, and abilities as something we’re born with (fixed), or as subject to change if we make an effort to develop and grow them (growth). Carol Dweck is the Stanford researcher whose research has shown the existence of these two mindsets and she recently co-authored a study that examines the way these mindsets impact how people recover from the rejection of a breakup. They did 5 online surveys, with 891 participants answering questions about real and hypothetical breakups, as well as questions designed to figure out each person’s predominant mindset. 

The crux of it? Those with fixed mindsets were more likely to see their breakup as revealing some kind of fatal flaw – something they often feared would repeat in future relationships, leading to understandable anxiety at the prospect of harboring an “unlovable” trait.

On the other hand, people who see their qualities as malleable and subject to growth are better able to recover and flourish in later relationships. While we may be no less heartbroken in the short term, this growth mindset may open us up to the opportunities that come from personal crisis – for growth, for reflection, for character building, and so on.

So if you’re going through a breakup, take a moment to reflect on your mindset and consider how you can harness a growth mindset to make profound changes in your life.

Research Shows Why A Broken Heart Hurts

If you’ve ever experienced rejection (and chances are, if you’re human, you have), you know it can be painful. Rejection happens everywhere – from a childhood memory of not being invited to a birthday party, to someone you really like letting you know they think you’re “a really great friend.” We all know how crushing the pain of rejection can be.

Though we tend to think of the pain of rejection as metaphorical rather than physical, research shows that our physiological response to emotional pain may not be so different, after all. Research published by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the pain we experience in moments like these is actually quite literal: our brains and bodies process the pain of emotional rejection in much the same way they do a sprained ankle or a broken leg.  Research participants viewed a photo of an ex after the unwanted breakup with that person and were told to think about the rejection of that breakup. As they did, the same regions of the brain that underpin the response to physical pain became active.

It’s not just the brain’s reaction to the emotional pain that’s similar, but also the body’s response. In another study at the University of Michigan, research participants were told to sort through a pile of fictitious dating profiles to consider who they might date. Even though the participants knew the dating profiles were not real, when researchers told them to imagine being rejected by the imaginary people they liked, the subjects’ brain scans showed the release of opioids, or natural painkillers, as they processed the news of the fictional rejection.

Rejection hurts, but does it impact people differently? Are some people naturally better at handling rejection? Maybe so. Unsurprisingly, people who scored higher in the personality trait of resilience on personality tests produced more natural painkillers in coping.

Social Media Stalking Your Ex? Blame Your Attachment Style

It’s easy to understand why checking an ex’s social media is so common. Even if your willpower is herculean, there are very low barriers to social media stalking. Because there is little cost in the form of actual interaction, it seems innocuous enough; but as most of us know, other costs such as jealousy and anxiety can be high.

This leads us to that most common of questions: how do I stop keeping tabs on my ex’s new relationship?

An article by Scientific American sheds some light on how our earliest attachments to our caregivers might play into romantic relationships down the line. Though most people’s attachment profiles are quite nuanced, we know that there are four basic types of attachments.

Secure attachments, whether between an infant and a caregiver or to a romantic partner, later on, are based on reciprocal understandings. This is the kind of attachment we form when communication is clear enough for us to feel and know that most of our needs are being met.

Anxious-ambivalent attachment is the kind of bond that results in anxiety without the object of your attachment, but also an inability to be comforted by them. This suggests a lack of trust, perhaps caused by unclear communication. This is the kind of attachment that is most likely to land you on an ex’s Facebook page.

Anxious-avoidant attachment is a result of needs not being met and is associated with emotional unavailability.

Disorganized attachment means that there is no clear pattern in attachment behavior, which essentially points to there is no attachment. It’s not so clear how this form of attachment plays out in adult relationships.

In a digital age, clearing your ex out of your life is no longer as simple as burning a box of photos. If you’re trying to cut back on unproductive social media stalking sessions (no judgment, we’ve been there), knowing how attachment attitudes that you probably formed early on in life may give you the insight you need. Before we can change our behavior, we must know ourselves.

If Your Ex Is Funny, It May Take Longer to Move On

Who doesn’t love someone with a sense of humor? According to research published in Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, when we do stop loving partners with this prized trait, moving on can be no joke.

Researchers surveyed 392 participants on their relationships, their emotions after a breakup, and how they coped. Women reported taking more time to get over a partner with a great sense of humor. After the breakup, the same women were also more likely to make contact with their ex, as opposed to those who reported having less jocular partners. 

Meanwhile, men reported experiencing more sexual frustration than women. That women took longer to move on stands as seemingly odd, given that women are more likely to be the ones to end a relationship, all around the board. Likewise, women reported feeling happier after breakups – even the same ones who took longer to move on.

It makes sense that a sense of humor is a prized trait in a romantic partner: it can be a great proxy for other valuable traits such as friendliness, open mindedness, humility, and even resilience against tough times. So if you’re having a hard time moving on from your funny guy/gal ex, know that you’re not alone.

Why Reuniting with Your Ex Works (or Doesn’t), According to Science

What is it about lost love that’s so romantic?

An article by Quartz tries to answer this question by diving into research at California State University, Sacramento. Researchers surveyed 1001 people in the 1990s who had ever reunited with an ex lover. Of them, 72% were still with the ex flame they had reunited with, 71% said the reunion had been their most intense romance ever, and 61% reported that the second romance had raced forward much more quickly than the first time around. 

Another study by the same research team from 2004 to 2005 aligned similarly with those rosy findings. Of the few who did marry their lost loves in the second study, those marriages had a virtually 0% divorce rate– just .4%.

Feeling encouraged by the numbers? Not so fast. 

According to Dr. Nancy Kalish, who led the study, there is one crucial thread among the group of successfully reunited former lovers: the relationships that were successful later on had usually ended the first time because of some external factor, rather than the relationship itself (e.g. needing to move for work or family, disapproving parents, etc.).

So while the intensity of rekindling a former love is appealing– no small talk! no awkward in-between stage!– revisiting an ex love may not be wise across the board. But for some, it could be fair to say a fizzled flame stands a fighting chance. Maybe.

5 Ways a Crisis Can Unlock Positive Growth

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”– Chinese Proverb

For the hundreds of proverbs about adversity, and for all the spiritual traditions that emphasize finding meaning in times of difficulty, what do we actually know about this process? Is suffering really beneficial? 

Post-traumatic growth, as the name suggests, is the kind of positive growth we can experience in the face of tough times. Research has shown it to be a very real psychological phenomenon: we see it in sexual assault survivors and after terrorist attacks . Even in the face of the most unforgivable, unjust, vile acts of humanity – acts we should never have to reconcile in the first place – survivors are able to report making positive life changes, and we see increases in kindness, teamwork and faith in those who have suffered.

According to psychology researcher Kasley Killam in an article for Scientific American, research has pinpointed 5 key ways that crises unlock our positive growth.

1. We rise to the crisis, and in doing so, we may surprise ourselves with our resilience and have more trust our own strength. 

2. Stressful times can bring people together, bolstering the bonds of our relationships. 

3. Challenging life events can reveal our complacency in other areas, making us realize just how lucky we are and boosting a sense of gratitude. 

4. Having our beliefs challenged can reveal just how deeply we hold those values. Fighting for what we believe in can be incredibly validating to our sense of self. 

5. All major changes, negative or positive, can make us re-evaluate our assumptions. Where we may not have perceived possibility before, a shift in our reality can expose new ideas, truths, and possibilities. How often do we lament an option being taken off the table, only to later realize something better was coming all along?

While this is all lovely, it’s important to point out that the growth process isn’t necessarily automatic. Only once we’ve accepted our circumstances (easier said than done), then can we go seek out the emotional support we need. It’s clear that the psychological benefits of post-traumatic growth are ours for the taking, but it’s up to us to proactively get there. 

Why Rebound Relationships May Not Be So Bad

Ah, rebound relationships. These oft-maligned dalliances get accused of being shallow, hindering emotional recovery and being a lesser form of relationship. But what if they’re useful? According to research, that might just be the case. Researchers at Queens College and The University of Illinois published a study earlier this year in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on the psychology of what happens when you allow yourself a tryst or two.

The researchers did 2 studies: one to assess the impact on the physiology of people who had rebounded after a relationship ended (controlling for the time since the split), and a second that explored what happened psychologically in the time between the first relationship and the rebound. Of 70 people tracked, 27 went on to have a second relationship, for whom the average amount of time that had passed was about 6 months. Because the participants were recruited from a larger study that had been ongoing, researchers had access to information about what the participants’ earlier relationship had looked like. They then measured psychological traits like distress and satisfaction during and after the breakup, as well as during the course of the rebound relationship.

There are several reasons, the researchers hypothesized, that people might jump back into the pool quickly: as a pleasant form of distraction, as a confidence booster, to fill a metaphorical gap left behind by the ex partner, or as a means of getting back at someone. The results fell in line with their hypotheses: interestingly, those who had been single for the least amount of time reported the highest sense of well being in their rebound relationship. They also tended to report less thoughts and less romantic feelings for former partners, as well as higher self esteem and more respect for the new partner. There were, however, some cautionary pieces of data: that many of those who had rebounded reported doing so for revenge-like reasons, and that those who had rebounded more quickly tended to compare partners.  Even when researchers controlled for low attachment anxiety (the attachment style that best copes with breakups), the early rebound group still appeared to improve the fastest. This suggests that it’s not just a selection bias; rather, regardless of your attachment style, a rebound relationship can spur you along in getting over someone.

In a second follow-up study, researchers looked at a little over 200 participants, which was pretty evenly divided between those who were single and in relationships. The second study replicated the results of the first: those who had gone on to date other people quickly were more confident in their desirability and had less feelings for their exes. The second study also seemed to suggest that those who were partnered had a higher sense of well being, with lower anxiety and avoidance.

The bottom line: jumping back into the dating pool may not be risk free, but if you’re honest with yourself about your motives, then diving in head-first after a breakup seems to have a slough of positive consequences.

For a range of perspectives on the virtues and the vices of rebound relationships, check out this post.

Your Brain In Love

It’s not particularly romantic to think of love as the result of a cocktail of neurotransmitters; however, understanding love is one of the most fascinating neurological questions and may hold valuable insight for our day-to-day love lives. Past research has been pretty clear that love is an important part of human development, that it can totally change how we behave, and yet other research has illuminated what happens in the brain when we look at a loved one. But can love change us on a more fundamental level?

Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, Southwest University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, took to this question. They recruited 100 research participants and grouped them into three emotional buckets: those who were currently in love, single or had recently experienced the end of a relationship. They scanned the brains of those participants and surveyed them on how they felt about their love (or lack thereof).

The brain scans of those currently in love revealed dominance of the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with reward, motivation, and social functioning. The caudate nucleus, the part of our brain responsible for more primal impulses towards pleasure and reward, also showed heightened activity. This suggests that on the opposite end of the scale, those who had recently ended a relationship saw much less traffic between those parts of the brain and the rest of the brain. This makes sense: the brain’s compulsion toward love makes it feel non-optional, which is great for the prospect of furthering our own genetic material.

The bottom line: love is more than a nice feeling. To your brain, it can look a lot like addiction, and losing your person (or drug) of choice can bring on withdrawals.

I Suddenly Understood the Work I Must Do, I Must Do Alone

It had been over 2 years since it happened – 2 years, 6 months and 20 days, to be exact. In all those trips around the Sun, we’d both moved continents, been with other partners and presumably sunk our teeth back into the meat of loving and living. I didn’t get teary when I thought of you, and I wasn’t obsessing over what you were doing. I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at a photo of us together. I took all this to mean I was over it.

But then, nearly 1,000 days later, I found myself sobbing in the office of a benevolent, bespectacled therapist. I introduced myself and sat in his chair for exactly 30 seconds before I found myself squeaking through the snot and saltwater suddenly leaking from my face that I was unhappy and didn’t know why. I offered some possible reasons: being a little bit miserable at the university I’d transferred to, the heartbreak of watching my parents’ marriage fall apart, the anxiety that grips me by the throat every day because I don’t know what I want to do with my life. 

And then you came up, surprising me as your name fell out of my mouth. I had thought you were the furthest thing from my mind, and yet there you were, showing up less than 3 minutes into my first-ever session with a therapist, years later.  Not thinking about you was apparently not the same as being over you. I stared blankly as your name hung in the room, shocked that this was still a problem on my emotional radar.

With you, I had been a broken compass, lacking the inner conviction to keep me pointing north. At 18, I didn’t have the courage to break both of our hearts when I knew I needed to. So I forced an exit, and I made you have the courage for both of us. Cheating on you reduced me to the smallest version of myself I’ve ever been. I let myself stay withered, feeling unworthy of my own forgiveness or yours, until another more powerful love knocked me out of that pathetic little orbit and into another galaxy of blissful distraction. It was there that I learned a constellation of lessons about beautiful partnership and the crazy ways love makes us shine brighter as more generous, more interesting humans.

Thanks to those lessons, I’ve been able to allow the gravitational pull of courage to make its way back into my life. Recently, when I felt myself waver and question in that other relationship, I knew I needed to leave. I suddenly understood that the work I must do on myself, I must do alone. So I gathered every thread of courage in my being and left that love the right way: honestly and compassionately. I finally understood that compassion does not mean delaying the other person’s pain.

Not thinking about you wasn’t the same as being over you. It may have taken me 2 years, 6 months and 20 days to figure that out, but I’m so happy I did.

Single Parents Share Their Survival Strategies Post-Split

Finding your way through single life after a breakup or divorce is hard, and being a parent adds even more dimensions, both challenging and rewarding. Today we’ve rounded up some of our favorite bits of wisdom from parents who have been there and found ways to thrive. 

“Once I left my marriage, I decided to pursue my own dreams. These dreams had been pushed somewhere in the dark corners of my brain. I always wanted to write books and inspire people through my words. These little dreams started to pop up and annoy the hell out of me once I was on my own. But how was I supposed to do that, while working two jobs, getting a Master’s degree and raising three teenagers? I just decided to sit down and write, I wrote anything that came to my mind. And I ended up writing and publishing two books four years after I became a single parent. But the most interesting thing happened — when my children saw me pursing my dream, something changed in them. My oldest started to pursue his dream of doing research in gravitational Physics and the younger ones started to talk about their dreams and aspirations.”

-Tami Shaikh on why she loves being a single parent (Huffington Post) 

“And accepting help when offered is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it a badge to wear. Accepting help when offered is a sign of strength, of the ability to balance the giving and receiving of energy. Allow the energy of receiving to be part of your day, each and every day. It can present itself in many forms; a stranger holding a door, someone allowing you to go first at a light, or a simply a smile.” “As a single mom, it may be challenging to ask for help, as you want to assert your strength and independence. Well, at least this was true for me. But I know that I’m a work in progress and I’m getting better at owning when I need support. Acceptance is a muscle that needs to be recognized, stretched and toned. Sometimes we actually need to be taught that it’s even there in the first place.”

-Kristen Darcy shares her tips for to make every day life easier as a single mom (Mind Body Green)

“Me coming here, lifting weights, I had never done that before. Now I have so much energy. I am a happier parent…My boys and I do all kinds of active things together now. I take zero medicines for my health. I really believe we have to put ourselves first because our kids need us.” 

-Kathie Patterson on finding motivation in Crossfit after her divorce (MyFox8 Interview)

“There are indeed pros to choosing to divorce rather than to stay married when there are kids or no kids involved, but it is hard as a parent to not feel as if you have done something to hurt your kids by choosing to dissolve your marriage. But that guilt — divorce guilt — can really kill you and hurt your kids. It’s just one emotion, sure, but guilt will fuel so many of your choices as a parent and as a person when you are burdened with intense personal responsibility for deciding to divorce and are unable to let that guilt go.”

-Laura Lifshitz on how to recognize and let go of divorce guilt (PopSugar)

The Reason You Should Distract Yourself after a Breakup

We didn’t need research to tell us that, in the wake of a breakup, most people spend a lot of time thinking about their ex-relationship, and that the tendency to mull it over again and again can cause distress. How much does our thinking impact us, exactly? Is all the talk of positive thinking just a glass half empty?

To find out, researchers at the University of Iowa recruited over 400 students to participate in 3 studies where they measured participants’ emotional and psychological states on a series of customized scales. The emotional states the researchers were interested in understanding included how often the students struggled to stop thinking of an ex-partner, how lonely or depressed they felt, whether they were experiencing a loss of self identity (or a rediscovery of it), and whether or not the students felt okay with the way their former relationships ended.

Most of the results fell in line with what previous research has shown: that as time goes on, we think less and less about our past relationships, and all the accompanying feelings – positive or negative – diminish. However, there was one surprising finding that held up consistently across the 3 smaller studies. While other studies tend to find that recalling positive memories from a past or present relationship makes us feel good, in this case, researchers found that recalling happy memories actually seemed to make people feel more miserable.

The bottom line: sometimes distraction is the way to go: check out our top picks on Netflix or our favorite breakup books.

The Best Way To Support Your Partner

It goes without saying that finding support during a breakup is important. A study done in Malaysia tells us more about which kinds of support have the most impact on our relationships.

“Goal instrumentality” is the term used in the literature to describe how we can make other people partially responsible for our own success. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve asked your partner to smack your hand if it reaches for the chocolate stash. But there are many different ways your partner or friend can support you in reaching your goals, besides swatting at sugar-seeking hands. Some people give us support in a very unassuming way, leaving the reigns up to you (autonomous support); others tell us what we should do (directive support); others tell us what we are doing is wrong and then proceed to tell us what to do (controlling support).

The researchers recruited 149 students, and asked some students to think about a person who has helped them reach their goals, and others to think of someone who wasn’t so helpful. The researchers then surveyed the students about their chosen person on scales designed to measure the different types of support: autonomous, directive, and controlling.

The students felt closer to someone when they reported receiving more directive support. Similarly, students felt less close to those who offered controlling support. However, students only preferred being told what to do when a goal was at stake; otherwise, they preferred being around someone who offered autonomous support, which revolves more around empathy and listening than offering advice.

So timing is key to understanding what kind of support our partners need. But does it make a difference? To find out, the researchers then tracked the goal progress of 73 couples. After surveying the couples to determine each partner’s support style, the researchers followed up about their goal progress over the course of 3 months. The more autonomous support was offered, the more closeness and commitment to the relationship was measured. When instrumental support was useful, it brought partners closer. When advice was offered without actually being helpful to the progress toward the goal, it pulled partners apart.

The bottom line: thinking carefully about a partner’s needs and where they are relative to their goals can help you figure out what kind of support will help them the most. If your partner feels that you bring out the best in them in regards to meeting their goal, it’s going to bring you closer together.

The Interesting Benefit of Interracial Relationships

Have you ever dated someone of another ethnicity? If you have, you’re a part of a growing minority. Interracial dating is on the rise: according to the Pew Research Center, 12% of new marriages were between partners of different races in 2013 compared to less than 1% of marriages in 1960. Researchers at UC Irvine looked deeper into what might be underpinning the trend. The researchers surveyed 245 undergraduates who were in a relationship, about a quarter of whom were in interracial relationships. The surveys were designed to measure the extent to which respondents saw positive attributes like intelligence, kindness, and attractiveness in themselves and in their significant other.

The results? Those who dated interracially scored their partners higher for possessing desirable qualities like intelligence, compassion and attractiveness than did those who dated someone of their own race. As an interesting side note, traits that respondents did not score as important in a partner included spirituality, wealth, and power.

The researchers hypothesize that this could result from the need to compensate for biases that still exist toward interracial dating. Other research has shown that many interracial daters face exclusion from friends and family, and minorities in interracial relationships may face criticism for having turned their backs on their culture.

The bottom line: There seems to be a social penalty for dating interracially, and while that certainly isn’t an acceptable status quo, there is an upshot. When we do date interracially, there may be a kind of compensation at play, because it’s usually with someone that we consider really phenomenal.

Why You Feel Confused After Your Breakup

When singer of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson famously wrote “God only knows what I’d be without you,” he wasn’t really looking for answers. But researchers at Northwestern University have one: probably left confused. The researchers sought to understand how breakups alter the way we understand ourselves and how that change affects us after a breakup. Researchers were specifically interested in understanding what happens to the “self concept,” which they define as all the things that we use to define ourselves. This could be anything from how we look, to what we believe, to what we have – if it helps shape how we think about ourselves, then it’s part of our self concept.

The science has been clear for a long time that relationships have a huge impact on who we are and that breakups can bring major emotional distress (as if we needed research to confirm that).  Other research has shown that couples with greater commitment between them become interdependent in how they think, blurring the lines of self as they remain together.

So what happens to those couples who become codependent in their thinking if the relationship ends? The researchers performed 3 studies (survey-based, observational, and longitudinal) to gauge the relationship between our breakups and how we see ourselves. Researchers surveyed participants about their relationships, collected real-time diary updates from people who had just gone through heartbreak and analyzed what participants wrote in response to very specific questions about themselves, their partners and their relationships.

Those who had gone through a breakup recently wrote less information about themselves and they wrote it less clearly. Those who hadn’t recently gone through a breakup were asked to imagine a split from their current partners. When they did, those with the most commitment to their partners predicted the most confusion and change to their selves. Though the research collection didn’t last long enough to track the whole restructuring process, analysis of the content and structure of self-descriptions over time did show that those who went through breakups started to change the framework within which they viewed themselves, and the clarity of their self concepts began to increase again.

The bottom line: we essentially re-define ourselves in the wake of loss, and that period of time is necessarily confusing. If you’re suffering, take comfort in the normality of it all. Having to redefine yourself (and the gut-wrenching confusion that comes along for the ride) is a necessary part of losing a relationship and gaining a new, stronger self.

How to Stay Motivated Even When You’re Devastated after a Breakup

One of the hard things after a breakup is staying motivated to finish the goals you had when you were in the relationship. Yeah, you had plans to run that half marathon, but what’s the point now that they won’t meet you at the finish line? We know…it sucks.

But, here’s the good news: staying focused on your goals and making progress towards them is one of the best ways to escape that intense pain you feel. So as difficult as it is, you have to keep going. You have to keep polishing your Spanish for that trip. You have to keep writing your novel. You have to run that race. You owe it to yourself. To help you on your way, here’s the trap to avoid when it comes to reaching goals after a breakup.

The Trap to Avoid

The challenge you may face is what a recent study in Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science  confirmed: when some people break up and lose their cheerleader, the loss has an impact on reaching goals. 

Over the course of 2-3 months, researchers tracked 372 students who were in some kind of romantic relationship. Of those 372 students, 45 would go on to experience a breakup during the study. Researchers surveyed the students about what their goals were, about the progress they had made (or not made) toward those goals, and how important their goals were to them. They found that when your partner supports and encourages you to attain a goal, performance without them suffers. But it doesn’t have to!

How to Stay Motivated

You can still reach your goals if you replace the support you’re missing from your ex with support from somewhere else.  Find a friend or a family member who can help you stay accountable and let them know you need some extra encouragement. Let them know it will mean a lot to you, and ask them if they have any goals you can help them with. 

You can also join a goal tracking app like Habitica or Coach.me that will plug you in to a supportive community.  There are so many specialized apps now to help you with goals, and most of them are probably better at doing their job (motivating!) than your ex – for example, if you have a fitness goal, Fitbit or Jawbone UP will keep you on track with notifications, specific suggestions and graphs of your own data.

You’ll be amazed at how the world opens up when you ask for support.  Thankfully, there’s support all around us, if we just know where to look .

How To Focus At Work While You’re Heartbroken

The average American spends about 1,800 hours in the office each year. Unless you’re an apathetic robot, during some of those hours you may find your heart taking over the reins from your head. Surviving the emotional turmoil of heartbreak while trying to balance our work agendas can be taxing, if it doesn’t sometimes feel downright impossible. While there isn’t any one-size-fits-all method for putting yourself together enough to work, here are some strategies we’ve found can help you do your best when things aren’t going so swimmingly:

Remember your support system.
Having a support system can mean the difference between survival and a breakdown. Can you share what happened with a trusted co-worker? Doing this might help you feel less isolated in the workplace. Similarly, if you have a moment of surging pain blocking your focus (we’ve all been there), it may be helpful to reach out to a friend or family outside the office. Being able to text them updates or having a quick call at lunch may help you remember how much support you have, which may help make office time more bearable. Asking for help can be a sign of strength.

Focus on the big picture. 

Regardless of how and why the heartbreak happened, this moment is all part of a larger process: a process of letting go, of growing, of building a future that you want. Taking a few minutes before your day starts to imagine vividly your goals for this healing process may help give you the courage to stick with it while it’s tough.

Take it one day at a time.
Breathe. Seriously. It’s age-old advice that has saved us in many an SOS moment. Steal a moment to yourself in a quiet space. Fill your lungs deeply, and make sure to feel your chest expanding. Let your thoughts come and go, and then gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for as many minutes as you like.

Keep tabs on yourself.
Journal about your progress. Come home, make a note in your phone or a notepad about how today was. It’s easy to be discouraged at first, but we’ve found that when we’ve stuck with it, releasing feelings is cathartic, and watching our progress over time can be very encouraging.

Get organized.
Another tool to make it easier: whip out the calendar and the highlighter. Setting an agenda not only feels empowering, but it’s also a great way to force yourself to plan fun outings, even if you’re only up to them every now and then. Having a date with yourself in the calendar can actually be very romantic.

Find solace in rituals.
Rituals and routines can be a source of comfort. Some women burn photos, others might head home for family time. For a more office appropriate strategy, find something you can do to briefly take your mind off things. Personally, I used to light a candle whenever my mental chatter was unbearable. I can’t say why it was comforting to me, but it was. Similarly, exercise and listening to that perfectly-curated playlist immediately before or after work can help incentivize you and provide a release.

Celebrate small victories.
It may seem silly, but positive affirmation can be a helpful nudge when you need it most. Even things that seemed like routine tasks before an emotional trauma can sap the life out of you. When you successfully do the little things, take a moment to notice you did it, and actually congratulate yourself. Celebrate your tiny victories, even when they feel trivial or inconsequential.

Fighting with Your Partner? Blame Hormones, According to Research

Hormones are the masters of our lives. Research has shown that when we bond with another person, changes to our physiology and our behavior start to take place. Researchers based in Israel designed an experiment  to better understand how hormones impact romantic relationships, and more specifically, what happens to your hormones during a fight. They compared levels of several key hormones in 50 people in relationships and 40 singles. Hormone levels were compared before and after the couples were asked to talk about something they’d had disagreements about before.

The key hormonal players here are oxytocin, testosterone, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). What the researchers found was that when one partner had high oxytocin, the other partner tended to be empathetic during conflict. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone, so that makes sense. It worked negatively with DHEAS (an important precursor to all the sex hormones): the more it was present, the more friction the fight took on. Testosterone, the male sex hormone, was a little different: the fight only became more hostile if both partners had elevated levels of it, and the fight de-escalated only if partners both had low testosterone. This kind of relationship was also true for cortisol, the so-called stress hormone: the fight would only intensify when both partners were high in cortisol and cool off only when both partners were low.

The bottom line: there’s a feedback loop that starts to happen when you’re with your partner as your biologies and behaviors adapt to one another, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Whether it’s an upward or downward spiral– well, that’s up to you. Here are some suggestions on how to dial down your stress hormones, which may help you fight less often (mindbodygreen.com).

Research Shows Why Some People Are Better At Breaking Up

We recently shared an article with you that explained the way most people subconsciously (or consciously) look at relationships like investments. The research showed that the greater the investment we make in someone, the more likely we are to stay in a relationship with them, even when that’s not necessarily the most rational thing to do.

As it turns out, that’s not the only reason we make irrational decisions to stay in relationships. Researchers at Northwestern University sought to clarify why some people stay committed to partners who don’t give them what they need. In their study on attachment styles, researchers wondered if individuals with a lot of attachment anxiety would have a tougher time leaving a partner, even when that partner didn’t meet their needs. Attachment anxiety can be temporarily brought on by a certain context, where you experience negative feelings based on what’s happening around you. It can also be a fixed element of someone’s personality, probably caused by underlying beliefs or characteristics in someone’s personality that makes them feel this way.

Most psychologists believe that attachment anxiety is brought on by fear of being unworthy of love. At the same time, people with a lot of attachment anxiety tend to have a need for that love and fulfillment from their significant other, more so than those with low attachment anxiety. Older studies have found that those with high attachment anxiety tend to stay in their relationships at all costs, even when the relationship is not meeting their emotional needs.

Researchers measured for attachment anxiety as a personality feature, and also as a temporary emotional state, by survey twice a week. The experiment lasted about 6 months and involved 69 participants who were in relationships. They then tracked the relationships of the participants. The findings confirmed their hypotheses; those with more attachment anxiety (regardless of whether it was a personality feature or just a temporary mood) had a harder time leaving their partners, even when their partners didn’t meet their emotional and psychological needs. This was also true in the other direction: those who didn’t show as much attachment anxiety were better able to leave their partners successfully when the partnership wasn’t working.

The bottom line: our decisions to stay with a partner aren’t always rational, and research seems to suggest that healthier attachment styles enable people to leave dead-end relationships. The next time you find yourself stuck, you might consider getting to know your attachment style a little better.

How To Feel Better Immediately, According to Research

It’s well known that our social lives have a major impact on our emotional lives, and that touch is a really crucial part of feeling supported for most people. R esearchers from 3 Canadian universities wanted to know more about what makes us feel supported. In their study, they recruited 53 couples and randomly assigned individuals to roles as givers or receivers of support. Without disclosing who had received which role, the researchers told one member in the couple that they would be given a stressful task to perform. The researchers then analyzed video recordings of the interactions, and they surveyed the study participants afterwards.

What the researchers observed was fascinating: that it’s not necessarily important to express that you’re seeking support in order for you to receive and feel it. Merely by reaching out to touch their partners, research participants felt more supported in their time of stress, even when their partners hadn’t understood a request for support. Our natural tendency to return touches subconsciously creates a mirroring effect, which translates into feeling supported, and therefore feeling better. This isn’t to say it’s not important to communicate your needs verbally; rather, that verbal communication isn’t the only way to support someone.

The bottom line: the next time you’re feeling a little low reach out. Literally.

Have Hope! Research Says Hard Relationship Work Pays Off

It’s the sixth time you and your partner are having this discussion. It feels like it’s going nowhere, and you want to lob the closest object at arm’s length toward their face. Should you have hope? According to a research study out of Auburn and East Carolina Universities, you probably should.

Researchers looked at 106 romantically-involved young people and tracked how often they spoke of relationship troubles to their friends and family, and how much relationship work they did with their romantic partners. As it turns out, there was no appreciable benefit from hashing out relationship problems with friends and family. Meanwhile, those who did the most work with their partners reaped the most rewards. 

Naturally, the research finds that both females and males who invest in doing significant relationship work also report stronger feelings of love toward their partner. One interesting piece of data debunks the stereotypes: though we might expect to see that women are more expressive about their relationships to friends and family, both men and women in this study were found to be equally likely to talk about their relationships. 

However, the sample of men in this study was smaller than the sample of women, so we’ll take that result with a grain of salt. Also,  it’s worth bearing in mind that there is older research out there that suggests that talking with friends and family isn’t a lost cause.

The bottom line: If you’re working on your relationship with your partner, it’s likely paying off. Have the discussion for a seventh time, and we might suggest putting down the shoe you were about to throw at them.

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex? Research Says Absolutely

research study published this year in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships answered a burning question of ours: can exes be friends? (Note: If you want to see this question answered by a variety of fascinating people, check out our #howimend interview series.)

Researchers looked at a racially representative sample of over 100 people between the ages of 18 and 30 who had gone through a breakup. They hypothesized that the greater the level of commitment between two people in a relationship, the greater the chance that they would have some sort of relationship after the breakup. 

The researchers assumed for the sake of analysis that commitment is a result of three things: satisfaction in the relationship, feeling that the alternatives to being in that relationship are less attractive than being in it, and having already invested in it. These three factors form what’s known in the literature as the “Investment Model” of relationships. The researchers found that the more of these three factors participants claimed to feel before the split, the more likely those participants were to be close to their partner after a breakup.  It’s worth mentioning that the average amount of time that had passed between the breakup and the research collection was about four months. 

Other older research has found that the more time couples spend together, the longer it takes them to move on, and the more likely they are to try to get back together. 

The bottom line: it looks like there’s a sunk cost effect at play; the more commitment that went in to a relationship, the more likely we are to hang on to it in some way, even after it ends. Whether or not that’s a rational thing to do – well, that’s an article for another day.

Why Facebook Can Make Your Long Distance Relationship Complicated

In the less than ideal circumstance of having to manage a long distance relationship, it seems natural to turn to social media to help fill the daily quota of your significant other. A small study out of Pepperdine University, however, suggests that there are social media hazards to watch out for when it comes to keeping a long distance relationship in balance in the digital era.

Researchers surveyed a cross-section of 74 college students who were active on social media and were also in long distance relationships. They found that when there was asymmetry between how much time each partner spent on Facebook, e.g. one person spent more time on social media than the other, the result was a sense of uncertainty that brought out negative feelings. As defined in the context of the article, uncertainty in a relationship might mean uncertainty about the future or the current status of a relationship.  Researchers also found that, in general, more activity on Facebook correlated with more feelings of jealousy.

Of course, it could simply be the case that people who experience more feelings of jealousy or doubt are driven to Facebook to try to relieve those feelings, and not the other way around. But it is important to note that while social media is a brilliant tool for staying connected, it comes with trade-offs and costs to manage. 

The bottom line: while we can’t say for sure that spending time on Facebook will make you less happy in a long distance relationship, it doesn’t seem to help.