How Burnout Affects The Brain

People have been experiencing burnout for ages, but the first research papers on the stress-induced state started to appear around the 1970s and 1980s from two pioneering psychologists and researchers, Dr. Herbert Freudenberger and Dr. Christina Maslach. Their articles and books made burnout a household term. 

New research has continued to look at its effects, specifically on the brain. In Sweden, Armita Golkar and a team of psychological scientists studied participants who had been formally diagnosed with burnout. They compared MRIs between this group and a control group of healthy volunteers with no history of chronic stress or other illnesses. Their findings showed that workplace burnout can alter neural circuits and structure, “ultimately causing a vicious cycle of neurological dysfunction.” 

How Burnout Changes Your Brain

People in the burnout group had more difficulty controlling their strong negative emotional responses, which could be explained by a relatively enlarged amygdala in their brains. The amygdala is the older part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions including fear and aggression. This same research also showed that the burnout group had weaker connections between some brain regions. Another study showed that long-term work stress was linked with reduced gray-matter in the brain, which interestingly is the matter that increases with consistent meditation.

Burnout Impairs Cognitive Function

In addition, recent research suggests that being burned out can affect people’s cognitive function. Impaired creativity, problem solving, attention and memory were all noticed. In Greece, a team of psychological scientists reviewed 15 different burnout studies and found that in 13 of the 15, burnout was associated with cognitive deficit. 

Serious Health Effects

Lastly, there is research that shows effects on the neuroendocrine system. Due to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, the cardiovascular system, immune system, and memory can all suffer. 

Can These Effects Be Reversed?

All of this research demonstrates how important it is to take steps to reduce stress as soon as possible. One big silver lining is that these effects seem to be reversible, based on research so far. Our brains have the ability to recover, change, and form new connections due to neuroplasticity. So, if you’re feeling burned out, don’t give up hope. The first step is just recognizing when you’re there.

Is It Burnout Or Something Else?

Are you tired or is it burnout you’re experiencing? How can you know the difference?

Burnout can look different depending on the person, but there are some common themes and symptoms that have been studied in medical research on burnout. Here are 10 of the common signs that you might be experiencing burnout:

  1. You feel exhausted or fatigued
  2. Your sleep patterns are disrupted
  3. You feel cynical about your work
  4. Your productivity has decreased
  5. You’ve lost or gained weight due to appetite changes
  6. You’re taking more risks than you usually do
  7. You’re unable to complete basic tasks
  8. Your memory is foggy
  9. You feel unable to make decisions
  10. You’re under the weather often

Becoming Aware Of Burnout

Some of these symptoms could also be related to other mental health issues (for instance, depression) or illnesses, so it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss any of the symptoms and figure out the next steps from there. The first step of healing from burnout is becoming aware of how you’re feeling and accepting it. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or that you’re not productive enough. Experiencing burnout doesn’t mean you’re falling behind. And it also doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be stressed forever.

You Are Not Alone

Being burned out is simply a result of chronic stress that you haven’t been able to balance. A lot of factors can contribute to this – your work environment, your obligations outside of work, debt, a global pandemic, etc. Know that it’s okay to feel this way. Ther are millions of people around the world in your shoes. In fact, burnout is becoming a more widely discussed issue in the medical community given how widespread it has become – the World Health Organization (WHO) officially named burnout an “occupational phenomena” starting in 2019, and they have committed to developing more research in the area of mental wellbeing at work. Remember that you are not alone, and things can get better with the right support.

Ten Questions To Ask Yourself If You’re Feeling Burned Out

Part of the challenge with identifying that you’re burned out is that burnout is a process, not a one-time event. Burnout is the result of chronic and consistent stress over a longer period of time. Usually, the stress is work-related, but it could be a mix of daily life stresses that sends you over the edge. 

So, how do you differentiate between a stressful period of life and burnout? Isn’t stress a natural part of life?

Stress is definitely part of life, but burnout is the culmination of extreme and overwhelming stress. Burnout is what happens when stress is no longer manageable, and it manifests in physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

One way to differentiate burnout from stress is to look at some of the formal definitions of burnout. These may be helpful in identifying any symptoms that you have. Though there are varying ways to diagnose burnout, there are several clinical definitions that are well agreed upon and there’s also an assessment that has been widely used since the 1970s called the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). A doctor or therapist can help you figure out if what you’re experiencing is burnout or maybe an underlying health issue.

Another step you can take, in addition, is carving out some time for self-inquiry. If you think you’re burned out, you’re probably really strapped for time. But think of self-inquiry as an investment in yourself. Long term, carving out some time for this can save you a lot of time and energy down the line. You know yourself best, but you can only know yourself if you listen to yourself.

If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you’re not feeling that great right now. The only way to improve things is to accept them as they are right now. Self-inquiry begins with acceptance and acknowledgment of how things are in this moment.

Now try to find 15 minutes to sit with yourself, silently, to answer these questions. Put away all the other distractions. Get off your phone or laptop. Ideally, you can write these answers in a journal so that you can look back at your answers and reflect on them for a bit. You may even want to use these journal entries to bring into a therapy session, or to discuss with a loved one who can be supportive. 

Here are the questions to ask yourself:

  1. How long have I been feeling this way?

  2. Do I have any ideas of what might be causing stress?

  3. Am I feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis?

  4. Am I feeling fatigued?

  5. How well am I sleeping and eating?

  6. Have I noticed any changes in my performance at work?

  7. Have I noticed any changes in my attitude at home?

  8. Have I noticed any changes in my attitude towards myself?

  9. Have I picked up any new habits to deal with how I’m feeling?

  10. What do I need right now? What would be helpful?

Self-inquiry is a powerful tool because it empowers you to get still and listen to yourself. Though you may be searching for the answers outside of yourself, know that you have a deep well of wisdom within. You know when you’re not feeling well. You know when something’s not right. That’s why you’ve landed on this post.

And while support is invaluable when you’re dealing with burnout, you can start by supporting yourself. Asking yourself questions and journaling your thoughts is one great way to begin this work. 

Burnout Is Officially Recognized By The World Health Organization

Burnout has been a recognized result of prolonged stress since the term was first used in medical research by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, and then popularized in the media by researcher Christina Maslach. Maslach published an article titled “Burnout” in 1976 and went on to co-create the Maslach Burnout Inventory in 1981, the first attempt at measurement for burnout. However, burnout has been an issue for ages. Though the term burnout was new to medical literature in the 70s, people have been self-diagnosing themselves as burned out for much longer. And surely humans experienced the physical, mental, and emotional effects of burnout before the word was ever used. 

In the latest update on burnout definitions, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially now recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in their International Classification of Disease. In the WHO definition of burnout, there are three main traits that characterize burnout: 

Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 

increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

and reduced professional efficacy.”

Hopefully, this announcement will also lead to more research in the area. Burnout is an issue that is affecting people around the world, and it’s helpful when an international body validates what doctors and therapists have been seeing in increasing numbers. 

Ten Common Signs Of Burnout

If you’re trying to figure out whether you’re burned out or just stressed, knowing some of the common signs can help. The experience of burnout looks different depending on the person, but there are some common signs of burnout that doctors and therapists use to diagnose burnout. If you think you might be burned out, here are 10 signs to look out for:

  1. Exhaustion or fatigue
  2. Disrupted sleep patterns
  3. Feeling cynical about work
  4. Decreased productivity at work
  5. Changes in your appetite
  6. Increased risk-taking
  7. Inability to complete basic tasks
  8. Foggy memory
  9. Overwhelmed by decision-making
  10. Catching a cold often

Some of these signs of burnout point to other health issues (for instance, depression, hormonal imbalances), so it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and figure out the next steps from there. The first step of healing from burnout is to become aware of how you’re feeling and acknowledge your feelings. Secondly, remind yourself that burnout doesn’t mean anything bad about you as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or that you’re not productive enough. It doesn’t mean you’re falling behind. It doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be stressed forever.

Experiencing burnout is simply a result of chronic stress that you haven’t been able to balance. A lot of factors can contribute to this imbalance – your work environment, your obligations outside of work, debt, a global pandemic, your lifestyle, etc. Many people are in your shoes, and burnout has become widespread in this era of workaholism, especially amongst millennials. Know that you’re not alone, and things will get better with the right support.

How You Can Improve Your Sleep Naturally After a Difficult Breakup

Many adults in the US are plagued by difficulty falling or staying asleep, and sleep can be especially difficult when you’re missing your former partner. In fact, Huffington Post says nearly a third of us have issues with getting the rest we need to thrive. Yet sleep often comes down to simple habits. Here’s a look at some ways you can improve your slumber after a tough breakup without the use of sleep aids.

Check Your Mattress

It’s no surprise that a great mattress leads to a great night’s sleep. However, many of us still sleep on substandard mattresses. For starters, any mattress over ten years old probably needs to be replaced. Over time, the materials wear down, and the support you need for restful sleep is lost.

Moreover, a mattress that’s too small will keep you up at night, particularly if you sleep with a partner. If you share a bed with another person, make sure you’re at least in a queen-size mattress. This size is often ideal, as it provides enough room for two without taking up as much floor space as a king.

Take time to find the one that suits you best. For instance, Leesa mattresses are great for those who want as little movement transfer as possible; Allswell mattresses are a great pick for people who want the foam mattress experience at an affordable price point.

Turn Out The Lights

You probably switch off your lamp before bed, but is your room as dark as it could possibly be? Dr. Ben Kim says true darkness is important for getting the quality sleep you need. Light will pull you out of the deeper sleep cycles, even if you don’t wake up all the way. This leads to fitful, unproductive sleep, and can even contribute to health concerns.

Try to reduce as many sources of bedroom light as possible. This can be achieved through the use of blackout curtains, removing electronics, and other steps. If you can sleep with one comfortably, a sleep mask is a budget-friendly solution.

Care for Yourself

What you eat can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Indigestion and acid reflux are a common source of sleep troubles. A simple way to reduce these issues is to pay close attention to what you eat, particularly at night. The closer you get to bedtime, the more you should avoid heavy or spicy foods which might disrupt your rest. If you’re craving something late, Eat This, Not That suggests aiming for some kiwi fruit, almonds, or dark cherries.

Keep an eye on caffeine consumption as well. Having caffeine in the afternoon or later will disrupt your ability to rest well into the night. Depending on your sensitivity, you may need to cut out caffeine earlier in the day.

Look for activities you can participate in that will help you relax. A regular fitness routine can boost your mood and promote sleep as well. Meet up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or get yourself a relaxing massage. These little things can add up and aid the healing process.

Getting a good night’s rest after a difficult breakup allows you to take on the world during the day. Sort through your habits and make adjustments as needed. With simple lifestyle changes, the odds are good you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time!

How Men Are Affected Differently By Breakups

Is there any evidence as to which gender a breakup is actually harder on? I studied exactly this and came out of it with a few reasons as to why breakups may hurt women more initially but are actually harder on men in the long run.

Young men are socialized out of social support.

According to this study, male babies are more emotive than female babies. They are not only more likely to cry and show negative emotions but also more likely to express joy. This means that, naturally, males are actually more social than females, which is true up until they reach school age, about 5 years old. Niobe Way, a researcher on friendships between boys as they mature, found that up until their early teenage years, young boys develop very deep connections with their friends (just like girls!). These friendships are based on secrets and respected vulnerability, up until they begin to believe secrets and vulnerability are “girly” in their mid-teens when their focus shifts to romantic relationships. With romance to worry about, they don’t want to come off as if they are interested romantically in their male friends, and they don’t want to be teased for expressing closeness or vulnerability. These are fears they carry with them, maybe even subconsciously, into adulthood. So, they just sort of stop these deep friendships and drift into loneliness and sometimes, ensuing depression.

Social support carries with it an immense number of benefits!

It enriches your life in so many ways, such as a boost in mental health, confidence, validation, affirmations, reminders that you’re hilarious and fun and amazing. Often times, a man’s partner is his only source of social support, so after a breakup, he doesn’t know who or how to reach out. Women are far more likely to vocalize their feelings to their social network and have their whole squad come to vent, cry, wallow, and gossip with them. When men don’t seek out social support, they bottle in their emotions without truly working through the breakup, sometimes carrying unresolved baggage with them for years. This can happen to women too, of course, when they don’t have friends that support them, but women are much more comfortable being vulnerable because there is less social stigma against it.

So, men, maturity does not mean independence, and strength does not mean emotional apathy. Think of strength as the ability to find resilience in not just yourself, but by letting those around you help you to build it. Think of maturity as the ability to disregard unsupportive, judgmental opinions about your feelings, because everything you feel is valid and important. Needing friends is not a sign of weakness, rather, admitting you need them is a sign of immense strength

Men use different coping strategies.

Another research study found that women are able to recover more fully from a breakup than men. The study found that men feel a more intense desire to jump right back into dating so they can “replace” what they lost in order to prove that they can. This doesn’t mean they are over the breakup, but it may be the only way they know how to recover from it. This might be because their partner was their primary, and possibly only, source of social support, so they feel the need to find social support romantically or sexually to replace that loss of intimacy and closeness. While dating or hooking up may help them to feel better in the short term, eventually residual feelings resurface and they are still left to deal with unresolved reactions to the breakup.

Dating can be great for the mending process, but to make sure it’s not just to use someone as a replacement, rebound, or a distraction, try to make connections with potential friends rather than love interests, first. If you’ve reflected on the breakup and have been allowing yourself to feel all the emotions it brings rather than pushing them aside, and if you feel ready to date in order to find love again, go for it!

Overall, we all feel very similarly.

According to a psychologist, the sense of loss and identity conflict that men and women feel is the same. However, we assume it’s different simply because we handle breakups so differently. Men prefer action, like working out and rebounding, while women prefer connecting-verbally explaining or showing what they feel. I believe a large part of this is because men almost feel like they’re not allowed to show emotions, and don’t have the social support necessary. So, they take to physiological release rather than emotional release. But the feelings are still there, and will only persist the longer they are shoved away, which is why it may seem like men have a delayed reaction to breakups. When the distractions fade away, the realness of it will come pouring in. The coping strategies they use simply delay having to face the pain, while the coping strategies women use have them on the mend from square one.

To the men reading, hopefully this research shines a light on the need for social support and allowing emotions to be felt rather than pushed aside. It all boils down to the fact that women are more familiar with their feelings and able to work through them more quickly and in a healthier way than men who experience heartbreak. A good place to start is by seeing a best bud and actually talking about how you are dealing with the breakup. Tell your friend what you need (advice, a listening ear, affirmations), because he may not know how to respond. Setting aside time for daily journaling, like we do on Mend after you listen to a training, will help to make sense of your feelings.

Four Communication Styles That Predict A Breakup

Relationship researcher John Gottman was able to predict whether a married couple will divorce with 90% accuracy by studying the way they communicate. He found that people are very stable, 80% stable to be exact, in the way that they discuss conflict over the years of long-term relationships. Since people are so consistent in how they communicate, Gottman was able to identify four communication styles that will ultimately lead to a breakup if they’re not eliminated. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

Criticism

Criticism is critiquing your partner’s character. This happens when critiquing something a partner did goes too far. An innocent complaint becomes an unnecessary snide remark about who they are as a person. It’s when “you didn’t call” becomes “you never call because you only care about yourself.” It’s natural to try to rationalize and wonder why someone is doing something that bothers us, but try not to overthink it until you get a chance to discuss. It’s unhealthy to make assumptions about them because this often turns into a very personal attack. Always make sure to give your partner a chance to explain before you throw out accusations or use words that harm their character, such as calling them dishonest, lazy, or unfaithful.

Contempt

Contempt is acting with hatred towards your partner and is the greatest predictor of a breakup due to the lack of basic respect. This happens when instead of talking about issues as they arise, disappointments build up until they turn into anger that you can’t hold in any longer. It can easily bring out the worst of us and reveal everything we hate about our partner that we never got a chance to tell them. So we figure, “why not tell them all at once?” Sarcasm, name calling, and taking a position of superiority fall under this category. It’s when “you didn’t call” becomes “what the hell else were you doing? You don’t do anything all day except sit on your lazy a– and play video games. You’re worthless.” To avoid this, try bringing up your complaints as they come, from the very beginning. In a new relationship, you may not want to rock the boat, but it’s important to set a foundation for communicating problems in a timely manner and in a healthy way.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling is removing yourself from an argument physically or mentally. It’s when eyes glaze over or stay very still, the face tenses up, and the rest of the body does with it. Then, you just detach. You freeze, or stare out the window, or obsessively clean, or leave the room entirely. The physiological response that the body takes to the argument is overwhelming, so in this scenario, it’s critical to give each other some time to cool down before returning to discuss within the hour. If you need more than an hour, that’s cool too, just be sure to communicate those needs to your partner.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness is trying to protect yourself in a way that invalidates your partner’s complaints. This is one of the most common responses during arguments because it is very natural to try to insist upon your innocence when someone has a complaint. This happens not only in relationships but also families, friendships and workplaces. It’s when “you didn’t call” becomes “well I was doing [x] and [y], which I already told you I’d be doing, and don’t you forget to call me too, sometimes? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?” This is when you hear the “it’s not my fault” responses. The desired effect is that your partner realizes that you are not in the wrong and they apologize for blaming you, but the actual effect is an implication that your partner is the one in the wrong, that they should have known your unique situation and acted or forgiven accordingly. An unfortunate downfall of defensiveness is that it is easily paired with criticism. Make sure you let your partner feel heard by owning up to your mistakes and taking the responsibility to repair that. Isn’t that what you would want to be done for you? You can still explain why you messed up while also acknowledging that you messed up.

If you express any of these communication styles, know that they’re often very natural reactions. The silver lining is that you can learn healthy communication styles to better express your emotions and complaints. Read “How to Communicate When Something Bothers You” to gain more insight on how to address concerns in a healthy way, which is an amazing general life skill that goes beyond romantic relationships.

It’s Here: What to Expect This Breakup Season

You may remember this chart we showed you right before the dreaded “Turkey Drop” and the spike in break ups that happens before the holidays. Well, we’re headed for the second seasonal spike in break ups that happens after Valentine’s Day and around Spring Break. It’s possible Valentine’s Day was a wake up call that something was off with the relationship. Or, maybe people in school want to be unattached for Spring Break. Whatever the reason, there’s definitely something in the air.

The good news is that it seems we still prefer to handle break ups in person. Hopefully there won’t be too many heartbreaks delivered over text, though it does provide good fodder for the popular Instagram account @textsfromyourex. According to a study by Yougov , three out of four Americans surveyed would break up in person, while the rest would break up over a phone call. Only 1 in 4 would prefer a text message break up.

The same study also took a look at the various forms of social support Americans seek after a break up, with music being a big source of support. 1 in 3 Americans listen to music for support and it’s even higher (48%!) for Millennials. Throwing ourselves into our work is another important outlet for Americans (42% of Millennials throw themselves into work).

And then, of course, there’s the post-break up call, which we’ve probably all been on the receiving end of at least once in our lives. Who do we call? Women, mostly! According to the study, 27% call a female friend, 17% call mom, 10% call a sibling and 10% call a male friend. At the very bottom of the phone tree, unsurprisingly, is an ex/old flame at 1%. 

I have to say, to me, the in-person and phone data signals to me that as humans we still understand the gravity of break ups and how painful they can be. That’s comforting. And I couldn’t agree more on the music as medicine front. When does Adele’s next album drop again?

Plant Medicine For Post-Breakup Wellness

There are innumerable healing plants on this earth, and we have access to so many of them. The power of plants can offer a boost to your mood, immune system, digestive system – all the systems! 

Here are a few of my favorite ways to incorporate plant medicine into your mending process:

1. Add fresh lemon juice to hot water in the morning – This is a great way to cleanse + hydrate your system. And it’s actually alkalizing! Although we think of lemons as acidic, in the body lemon juice can actually have the opposite effect by balancing out the acid and bringing us closer to homeostasis. Try 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice in 10 ounces of hot water in the morning. If you are feeling brave (or cold!) add some cayenne to kick up your metabolism.

2. To enhance your mood, make sure you are getting you daily dose of beneficial bacteria – Kombucha, a fermented tea tonic, is an excellent probiotic. Because of the wonderful interaction the probiotics have in the gut, kombucha helps soothe the nervous system, fighting anxiety and easing depression. Lavender kombucha is especially soothing. You can find them at your local health store, or make your own! Here’s my recipe.

3. Crush up mint and add it to hot water – Mint is another powerful, easy to use herb that eases your digestive system. Fresh spearmint and peppermint are my favorites. Mint soothes and cools the respiratory system, eases a sore throat, and is a refreshing natural stimulant. You can buy mint tea at the store as well, but be sure to check the ingredients. You can easily buy mint with added black or green tea, so be sure to know if you are getting caffeine or not!

4. Add chopped ginger or turmeric to hot water – They are both known to be great anti-inflammatory roots, and since inflammation is the number one symptom of almost every ailment, these are invaluable! If you want a recipe for a strong healing broth with these roots, here is my recipe for a delicious winter root broth.

5. Kava kava is a wonderfully potent sleep aid! – Brew this tea 5-15 minutes in hot water, add some honey, and feel the tranquil, euphoric effects of this Polynesian root. Kava kava is not to be fooled with – or consumed during pregnancy. If you find yourself drinking kava every day for a 2-3 months, take at least a few weeks off to give your liver a rest. I love this herb so much I have created my own kava dreamtime brew you can try. 

When we use plant medicine regularly we can truly experience the benefits of herbs as part of our daily health ritual. Happy healing!

Why You Should Take Probiotics When You’re Heartbroken

What do probiotics have to do with a broken heart? Actually, a lot! We already know that probiotics support our immune and digestive health, but did you know that they can improve your mental health as well?

Probiotics are live bacteria and active yeast that can be found in our bodies as well as our food. People in developed countries don’t have as diverse gut bacteria, or microbiome, as we should. We have an obsession with cleanliness and often times consume antibiotics in our milk, meat, and even organic vegetables, which can absorb antibiotics if the soil is treated with manure from cows that were given antibiotics. The good bacteria help our immune system to decide what is good and what is bad for us. The more we kill the good bacteria in our bodies, the more susceptible we are to all sorts of health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Thankfully, there are some really awesome probiotic supplements we can take, like Seed Daily Synbiotics, and food we can eat to improve our gut health. Some sources of probiotics include yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, sourdough, and sauerkraut.

Probiotics decrease negative thoughts and feelings.

The gut and the brain communicate with each other. The brain sends hormones and enzymes down to the gut to help with digestion and the probiotics in there thank it by producing neurotransmitters and sending them upwards to aid in mental health. When multistrain probiotics were taken every day for four weeks, researchers found less tendency for rumination, which heartbroken people are prone to. They make the parts of our brain that process negative emotions less active. Probiotics are being used to help people with depression and anxiety, but they are even more beneficial for people without a clinically diagnosed mood disorder.

Probiotics change our behavior!

So now we know that the gut and the brain communicate, and it would naturally make sense that as our mental health improves, our behaviors change. It’s been proven that probiotics change the behavior of mice. When researchers gave fearless mice the microbiome of more anxious mice, they became more timid, and vice versa. Researchers even found that healthy people and depressed people have different strains of bacteria in their guts.

While consuming tiny micro-organisms might not seem super appetizing, just know that if you stick with a daily intake of probiotics for at least a few weeks, your mending heart will thank you for the tiny bit of relief. You will ruminate less, be more active, and see an improvement in mood and behavior. Just make sure you’re getting various strains of bacteria, as the key to a healthy and happy gut is a diverse microbiome.

The Psychological Effects of A Breakup

There’s no sugar-coating the fact that breakups can be incredibly tough to deal with and when a relationship ends, it can have a devastating effect on our mental well-being. These days more and more people are turning to psychotherapy to deal with a range of issues including dealing with the loss felt during a breakup. The physical symptoms after a breakup are not a myth. They include loss of appetite and acne caused by the stress of the breakup. It’s a pain that almost everyone goes through at some stage or another, but what really happens to our psychological state when we’re suffering heartache?

Breakups Are Akin to Physical Pain

MRI brain scans and other neuroscience technology studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same parts of the brain which are activated when addicts go through withdrawal symptoms for drugs like cocaine or opioids. It also sends the same signals your body pays attention to when you’re in physical pain. The MRI scans showed that there were several areas of the brain which showed activity when the study participants looked at pictures of their former partners, including the areas which are part of the brains reward or motivation system. This is what communicates the release and delivery of dopamine – a hormone involved in both drug addiction and the early stages of love.

Dopamine causes us to try and find the love object, hence why we spend days thinking about the other person. It’s for this very reason that it can be so incredibly hard for us to move on to a relationship with someone else. We tend to idealize our exes and distort the memories we have with them. We romanticise the reality and forge an idea in our minds of what life with them is like when often it’s not the truth.

They Cause Us to Self-Deprecate

When we reflect on the time of a relationship, it often leads us to question what we did to cause the rejection. It’s all too easy to assume that the reason our partner left us is due to a fault in our personality or physical appearance. It seems that rejection leads us to question or change the view we have of ourselves, perceiving our personality as toxic and negative, which leads us to feel inadequate. But this pessimistic connection between a relationship ending and self-worth can lead to becoming more guarded with new partners and potentially ruining future relationships as a result by putting up emotional walls.

Being Broken Up With Is Harder on Us Than Breaking Up With Someone

A difficult aspect of breakups is the notion of being broken up with by someone and imagining that the person initializing the breakup is living their best life now that you’re out of the picture. The reason why we find it so much more emotionally taxing to be broken up with than to break up with someone ourselves is that while the breakup feels sudden to the person being rejected, their partner has likely not been emotionally invested in the relationship for a long time. This means that by the time the breakup occurs, the individual has already accepted the relationship ending and has had time to process that mentally. The rejected partner is still at the other end of the spectrum, experiencing the early stages of grief, loss, and sadness.

A Healthier Way to End A Relationship

Not all breakups have a negative impact on us psychologically and there are ways to have a healthier outlook on a relationship ending. For those with a lesser connection between being rejected and how they see themselves, the emotional impact of a breakup will be much less. These people often see a breakup as just a fact of life and an experience that is sometimes necessary.

Others may choose to see it as evidence that they were not well-suited for the other person, rather than it being their fault that the match wasn’t successful. Studies have shown that the brains of these types of rejected partners show activity in the prefrontal cortex and the cingulate gyrus, which are connected to regulating emotions and impulsive reactions. What these suggest is that some people are simply wired to cope better with recovery and decision-making, as well as cravings and obsessive behaviors, than others.

To minimize the psychological impact of a breakup, regardless of how your brain reacts, there are ways you can help yourself move through it more easily. Try making a list of the compromises you made in the relationship, so you’ll know what to avoid settling for in the next relationship and increase the things you enjoy doing, even if they don’t seem interesting or enjoyable at the time. Going through the motions with your usual hobbies and interests will help to signal to yourself mentally that your life is moving on. You should also reach out to people you trust and make the most of the support offered to you from friends and family.

Lastly, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your feelings or hopeless, make sure you lean on free help resources or, if you’re able to, talk to someone one-on-one. You don’t need to go through this alone. You can also download the Mend app for science-backed advice and a virtual community.

It’s Officially Breakup Season, According to Facebook

If we refer back to historical  Facebook status data, we are just about to enter the second major peak in breakups of the year.

The first peak, dubbed the “Spring Clean,” occurs in March, but the second largest occurs about two weeks before the winter holidays. Right about now.

Why? It could be a lot of things. Maybe these breakups occur to avoid The Meeting of the Families. Maybe the vacation days are seen as a “good” time to breakup because both people will be surrounded by the comforts of home and family. Or maybe it’s time for a fresh start, with the New Year just around the corner. 

Regardless, if this data is any indication of what will happen this year, we are likely to see more breakups in the coming weeks than usual. It’s so common, in fact, that breakups this week have their own name:  the “turkey drop.”

So if you find yourself in this group, know that you are not alone. You are in good company, and you’re going to make it through the next few months. 

The first thing to acknowledge is that the holiday season may feel different if you’re used to spending it with a partner in crime. You might be thinking: Who will save me from the awkward conversation with Jill at Thanksgiving? Who will help me plan the ugly sweater potluck? Who will keep me company on that long red eye home? Who will I kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve?

It’s normal to ask these questions and feel anxious about the answers, but if you find yourself stuck in a rut for too long, here are some ideas for getting unstuck.

Focus on family and friends.

No family is perfect and many families these days are a melting pot of humans, some related and some not. This is the group that is always there for you, regardless of your relationship status. So take the time this year to focus on giving love and attention to them, especially the ones who are also not in romantic relationships.

Sit down with your older relatives and ask them questions about their lives so that you don’t have to make up 50% of the story when you try to re-tell it to friends. Go through old photo albums with your cousins and relive funny memories. Learn how to make that life changing bread that your uncle makes from scratch so that you can go home and make it for yourself. 

Your attention is the best gift you can give someone this time of year, and you luckily have more attention to dole out at family and friend gatherings this year if you’re single. Enjoy it, because you don’t know how long it will last. 

Focus on those in need

There are a lot of people around you who will have difficulty making it through the holidays too, and it’s not because they’re going through a breakup. Many people, and the organizations that help those people, could use an extra hand during the holiday season.

Whether you donate your time, talent or money, giving to others is a great tradition to start this holiday season and keep going throughout the year. Many companies get involved with non-profit organizations during the holidays, so ask around the office and see how you can contribute or get something started. If you want to volunteer but don’t know where to go, check out the listings at Volunteer Match.

Plan ahead for solo travel

If you usually travel home or go on vacation with your significant other for the holidays, you might find travel plans a bit more daunting this year. Instead of focusing on all of the people who are coupled up around you at the airport or train station, plan ahead and keep yourself occupied.

Make playlists for long rides. Get into a podcast. Write your holiday cards. Read that book you’ve had on your nightstand for a year, or, even more comforting, download the audio book and listen to it. If you’re feeling lonely as you make your way from point A to point B, call a few friends you’ve been meaning to catch up with and wish them happy holidays.

Most important, make sure that you proactively make plans for the big holiday days in November and December if you are staying local. Even if it’s just ordering takeout with a few friends who are also staying in town, it’s important that you don’t isolate yourself, even if you feel like staying in bed till 2020.

Remember, you have the unique opportunity to shift your focus from your ex to people that you may not have prioritized when you were coupled up (your family, your friends, strangers and yourself). Take it!

How Gratitude Helps You in Hard Times

It’s not that difficult to feel grateful when things are going smoothly. But what about when they’re not? What about when a relationship ends? Or you lose your job? Or you receive unfortunate news?

Gratitude can be a difficult quality to feel when you are really sad or unhappy, but as you’ll read today, you can still be grateful even when you’re not feeling particularly grateful. In fact, a consistent gratitude practice, through good times and bad, is one of the most powerful tools to improve your health and increase your happiness, and it’s a practice you can start right now. Here’s some inspiration…

“Basically, just thinking about how you could be grateful sparks brain activity critical to sleep, mood regulation and metabolism. Next time something bad happens and you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, guess what? Just the act of searching for gratitude is beneficial.”

– Carrie Clark on how gratitude changes your brain and gets easier the more you practice it.

“…It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to be feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between those two points. But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes this perspective is hard to achieve–but my research says it is worth the effort.”

-Dr. Robert Emmons on how gratitude can help you through hard times (greatergood.berkeley.edu)

“In fact, an attitude of gratitude can not only help you increase positive emotion, but also sustain it. Heck, ice cream can make us happy in the moment but gratitude leads to long-term happiness.”

-Dr. Emma Seppälä shares 13 science-backed benefits of gratitude and a wonderful guided meditation (emmaseppala.com)

“…the most fundamental practice to quickly transform your life — any time of year — is gratitude.  A deep and genuine sense of appreciation for what you have in your life.”

-Marie Forleo shares one simple and effective gratitude practice in this week’s episode of Marie TV (marieforleo.com)

Marriage And Happiness: Can Getting Married Make Me Happier?

For the most part, we have a consistent sense of well-being. It’s our baseline. The degree to which we are satisfied with our lives is mostly stable, and even major changes like a broken heart or winning the lottery will only change that temporarily. Or at least, that’s what the “hedonic treadmill theory” suggests: we inevitably always return to the same baseline of life satisfaction. We do see peaks and dips, but we eventually stabilize. We adapt. We don’t stay in a peak or a dip forever.

Previous researchers, Headey and Wearing (1989), found that in general people have positive baseline moods. After a major life change, we return to “differing baselines” based on our personalities. Happy people tend to experience more happy events. Unhappy people experience more negative events. The events we experience and our personalities, affect the baseline we create/return to. So Lucas et al. (2003) set out to see if in fact we do create a new baseline or if we return to a pre-existing one.

To study this, they composed a longitudinal study of thousands of random people in Germany in order to measure their levels of life satisfaction before and after marriage. They began to collect this data long before the participants knew they would be getting married, though not all participants actually ended up getting married. Marriage is associated with positive levels of subjective well-being, which is partially measured by life satisfaction. There are a wealth of benefits to getting married, but also an abundance of stress to losing a marriage. When marriage events happen (weddings, divorce, becoming widowed) they can change our overall life satisfaction quite a bit. So do we adapt to these changes and return to the same level of life satisfaction we had before, or does it stay higher or lower?

These researchers found that your long-term baseline after getting married depends on how you initially react to the marriage. Those that react positively create a baseline of a more satisfying life and well-being for years to come. Those that react negatively to a marriage (it is after all quite stressful and can put a lot of pressure on you) create a lower baseline than they did before getting married.

So, no, not everyone adapts to marriage by going back to their baseline before marriage. Some continue to increase in life satisfaction, some increase and then create a baseline somewhere in the middle of where they used to be and where they were immediately after marriage, and others are significantly less satisfied with life. Taking an average line of these will make it seem like adaption does occur, and that marriage is simply a blip on our baseline, but humans are much more complex than merely taking an average. The average person actually doesn’t return to the same baseline after marriage. 

This study disproves that we always fully adapt to important events. The truth is, sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. True, the peaks and dips don’t stay peaks and dips forever, but it wouldn’t be correct to say our baseline cannot change. Getting married absolutely can make you happier, if your initial reaction to marriage is positive.

Is It Better Longterm To Date Someone Who Is Similar To You?

Have you ever been attracted to someone that’s completely different than you? What about someone that’s nearly the exact same as you?

When it comes to attraction, we do like a little mystery. This is where opposites come in. It’s true that extroverts and introverts intrigue each other and compulsive planners and spontaneous risk-takers benefit from each other’s tendencies. Quiet people and sociable people can’t wait to unravel the mystery behind each other. In this sense, opposites attract. We find that our weaknesses are complemented by the strengths of others. Things that don’t come naturally to us are balanced when someone who is the opposite comes in to show us new ways of life.

That’s all true, but there’s more to the story.

While we do like mystery, there’s just something uniquely special about feeling understood without having to explain. When it comes to attraction, mystery can only go so far. We like it, but if we can’t find enough common ground to understand each other, there’s really no basis for a substantial relationship, because what we most long for is to be seen, accepted, and valued as we are. Opposites only really attract when they are complemented by having similarities.

There are a number of factors that attract us to someone. Today we’ll only discuss two. One of them is how close we are to them (literally), and another is how similar we are.

Mere Exposure Effect

How close you literally, geographically, are to someone has a large effect on how often you see them, and how often you see someone has an effect on how familiar you are with their presence. Familiarity breeds liking. This is called the mere exposure effect, where merely being exposed to someone more frequently makes them more attractive to you. It also likely means you have some things in common. If the way that you spend your time leads you to constantly see a specific person, that person, though they may seem to be the opposite of you, must be similar to you in some ways by the sheer fact that you are in the same places at the same times.

Similarity Can Be Practical

Having things in common with someone you are attracted to is, first and foremost, comforting. It makes conversation easier and having reassurance and validation makes us feel accepted and more secure. Secondly, it’s practical. If you have similar values, demographics, and personalities, it will be a lot easier to compromise on plans as small as choosing a show to binge watch, all the way to large career goals that will affect your current or future family.

I did mention that extroverts and introverts pair well together in that they keep each other balanced, but a couple of extroverts can pair just as well together in that both can go out without having to leave an introverted partner behind. Introverts can stay in without feeling guilty for not going to an extroverted partner’s friend’s party. Whether we prefer opposite or similar personality types really depends on a lot of factors. There’s no right or wrong answer, except that there must be some similarity in order to understand each other’s choices and backgrounds.

Finding Balance

One challenge to be aware of is that dating an “opposite” can make decision-making a lot harder. Sure, the mysteriousness of someone that seems totally different than you may attract you at first, but it’s your similarities that even allow you to be in the same place and time as they are, and it’s the similarities that will help you to understand each other and keep the relationship going. So yes, opposites attract, but the attraction is just one element of a larger picture. It doesn’t always mean opposites make good partners long-term.

There’s an important balance to strike though. While it may seem intriguing to date someone who you have a lot in common with, to make things easier, there have to be enough differences to maintain novelty in the relationship. There is such a thing as being too similar. Finding a balance that works for you is the goal.

Why Single Young Adults Aren’t Getting Married

A recent article from Axios titled “The new rite of passage: Young, busy, and still single” shows that young adults throughout the world are delaying marriage and children. According to this research, the percentage of adults who have never married has been steadily increasing since around the year 2000, and people are getting married and becoming parents later in life.

There are several factors contributing to this trend:

People are marrying for different reasons now (love) than they did in the past (economic)

As we discussed in “What Drives People to Marriage”, people want to fall in love and then get married. The financial support that marriage offers used to be a necessity for women and love was a luxury, but as women have become more educated, joined the workforce and become financially independent, marriage isn’t necessary anymore. This gives people the chance to really fall in love. They don’t want to settle for a marriage of convenience anymore.

Marriage feels like an inconvenience to many people

In fact, it’s almost like the idea of marriage itself has become an inconvenience. You have to sacrifice a lot of things and make a lot of compromises, and the data shows us that people would prefer to not compromise on things like building their career, finding financial stability, finishing their education, or making a life in a new town. People are choosing to do these things independently, even if it delays marriage. Once they have all of this figured out, they’re more ready for marriage. Samantha Fishbein, co-founder of Betches, told Axios “many people are choosing to settle down after they have…their life in check.”

There are more choices, coupled with less pressure to choose

The cultural pressure to get married and have kids isn’t so strong anymore, which likely contributes to us being single longer. Dating sites set out to help our dating lives. Actually, one-third of all new marriages between 2005-2012 began online. Dating apps, which seem more millennial-friendly, have tripled in revenue in the past couple years. However people choose to start dating, whether online or offline, the possibilities seem endless. With so many people to choose from, we expect to fall in love and know everything about a person before getting married. Maybe this is so we don’t make a mistake we’ll later regret, or maybe it’s to minimize the chances of divorce, or maybe it’s just because we want the best kind of love out there for us and are willing to wait until we find it.

With all of these changes, it’s no surprise that the traditional markers of adulthood are changing. The average age that a mother had her first child in 2017 was 26, and in 1980 it was 22. The average age when a woman got married in 2017 was 27, compared to 22 in 1980.

Ultimately, we all want different things and make different choices. And while it’s interesting to see the trends, there’s no reason to subject our lives to society’s timeline. After all, we’re people, not analytical trends!

How Neuroscience Can Help You Fall Out of Love

Dessa is a musician with a self-proclaimed “professional niche in romantic devastation.” What this means is that she’s particularly skilled in writing depressing love songs, which is what she did for nearly a decade. She was ashamed to admit, however, that all of these songs were about that same guy. So what does one do when you can’t figure out how to unlove someone after so many years of heartbreak? Well, you hire a team of neuroscientists of course!

In this amazing TEDTalk, Dessa describes how she set out on a quest, inspired by another TEDTalk led by Helen Fisher, to map the exact coordinates where love lives in her brain and eradicate it. With the help of some neuroscientists and incredible technology, they pinpointed her love for this man to a single mark, which she, like an assassin, was on a mission to annihilate. To do this, they used neural feedback to resurface benevolent feelings, like respect and understanding, and get rid of negative ones, like fixation and jealousy.

Listen to this incredible process that, by the end, had the scientist saying: “Dude A’s dominance of your brain seems to have essentially been eradicated, I think this is the desired result, yes?” Yes! Dessa’s mesmerizing way of storytelling will keep you hooked.

Research Shows Why People Get Married

Pew Research conducted a survey to find out why people get married. The top reasons include love, commitment, and companionship. They provided the statistics, and we’re here to explain them.

The number one reason people cited for getting married is love (88%). While this may seem obvious, this actually hasn’t always been the case! In fact, love has only recently become viewed as an essential prerequisite to marriage. Many couples throughout history have loved each other but that was not the primary reason to get married. Nowadays, we fall in love and then get married. Throughout history though, love was just a bonus, and if it occurred at all, it was typically after getting married. Marriage was always kind of a trade deal. You help me with my finances, I help you raise your kids. You provide a house for me, I provide support for you, etc.. If love happened, wonderful! But that wasn’t the objective.

In recent years though, love is at the forefront. The dating pool has increased, more women are financially independent, and technology has changed the scope of who we can communicate with and how. Since there are so many potential partners out there, a trade deal isn’t going to cut it. There are more requirements than just being a good provider or a good parent. We want to choose the best person for us, the person who makes us feel on top of the world, and we are not willing to settle for anything less. If we are going to spend our entire lives with someone, we expect them to make us feel passion and fulfillment.

Behind love, Pew Research stated that a lifelong commitment is the second most cited reason for marriage and 76% of people want companionship, putting it in third place. These can be hard to differentiate in terms of marriage, but to understand, think about the fear of commitment. Maybe you’ve dated someone who just “wasn’t looking for a relationship right now,” and so begins the millennial’s non-relationship relationship. It’s companionship, without commitment. But lots of people, 81% of people surveyed to be exact, really want a lifelong commitment. They don’t want to have to wonder where they stand with someone. They don’t want to be alone, and they don’t want to keep dating around. And they don’t even need to be in love in order to be committed. They just want to have stability and promises and someone to rely on, someone to grow with forever, someone to challenge them. They want someone to share life with and all the stressors that are less stressful with another person.

Companionship is different. Companionship is more about liking someone and the intimacy that comes from it. In this case, it is because we enjoy their company that we want to be married to them. We don’t necessarily have to love someone to like them. We just want to enjoy their company forever. In a committed marriage, companionship is what keeps two partners together. Romantic, passionate love will fade, but it will turn into companionate love: being best friends with a partner.

Without even intending to, we have just discussed the triangular theory of love! On three sides of a triangle are passionate love, companionship, and commitment. Altogether, they bring consummate love. But marriages always have pitfalls where one or two may exist without the others. Here’s some love math for your life:

Passion + companionship = romantic love

Companionship + commitment = friend love

Commitment + passion = fatuous love (think, love at first sight or moving “too fast”)

Check out the super helpful graphic at the end of this article (and read more about the triangular theory of love by Dr. Robert Sternberg of Yale University. Really interesting stuff!).

Since these are the three components that make up consummate love, it’s no coincidence that they coincide with the three components that drive people to marriage.

How Divorce Affects Adult Children

When grandparents get divorced, it has an effect on the entire family. They are often seen as a fountain of support and wisdom, and the force that binds the family culture together. When they separate, it puts a lot of stress on their adult children, especially those with kids. But our older population is seeking freedom from lifestyles that no longer work for them, or never really did. While overall divorce rates have been decreasing corresponding with changes in marriage trends, “gray divorce,” divorce between couples aged 50 and older, is on the rise.

The Interdependence Theory

There is an algorithm called the Interdependence Theory, which states that someone will stay with their partner if the “outcomes” of their current relationship are higher than their “comparison level of alternatives,” which is the potential of a different lifestyle. Older women are used to having a low comparison level of alternatives due to financial reliance on the husband, limited opportunity in the workforce, and lack of alternative partners. However, recent years have opened up incredible opportunity and growth for women in the workplace, which gives older women an entirely new sense of financial freedom. This boosts their comparison level of alternatives. Online dating has also opened up new doors for both women and men with potential partners on the other side. This boosts their comparison level of alternatives as well. An increase in life expectancy has also contributed to couples wanting to leave a relationship that isn’t working for them.

How “Gray” Divorce Affects Adult Children

So now that their outcomes are falling behind their comparison level of alternatives, they are more willing to divorce. This article on Fatherly focuses on how gray divorce affects adult children. It states that while older women may be working, many are still left in a panic over finances because their husbands typically took care of their money, so the divorce comes with discovering financial problems they weren’t fully aware of. In addition, both parties are paying for the divorce and any attorneys while also working towards their retirement. Some adult children who still expect financial support from parents will now have to cover funding for things like tuition, weddings, and down payments on houses entirely on their own so that their divorced parents may individually take on the financial responsibilities they used to share. This may particularly cause stress with childcare. Grandparents are often a reliable and willing source of free childcare but they may not be able to babysit alone or with new work hours.

Increased Pressure On Adult Children

Financial assistance aside, adult children are also faced with the struggle of feeling they have to keep the family together. They have to go to two different houses for their kids to see their grandparents, which takes twice as much time out of their busy schedules. The pressures of orchestrating family gatherings may now rely on them. The divorcees may lean on their children for temporary housing or support, whether financial or emotional, which is particularly stressful for parents of infant children. This may lead to the adult children making decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have, such as sticking through their own bad marriage just to have a sense of stability, or not having children because their financial responsibilities are elsewhere.

Gray divorce is clearly an extremely stressful time for the whole family. Please read How to Comfort a Friend Who’s Heartbroken to comfort both the divorcees and their adult children. Also, consider breaking up the tension with a divorce party, which sheds light on growth, maturity, next steps, and why this divorce needed to happen. As always, make sure you are practicing self care throughout this incredibly stressful time.

What Happens In Our Brains When We Fantasize About Someone

I was once on an airplane where I spent the entire three hours talking to the professional Greek fútbol player next to me about love, religion, and dreams. We most certainly did exchange social media info and I absolutely did stalk him and fantasize about a life together. Would we live in America? Greece? Ireland (we were both on our way there for work)? Would we have a traditional Greek wedding? What language would our kids speak? What would be our first travel destination as a couple? Does he use Skype? Okay, okay, I got a bit carried away, but he was the first man I could see a future with since the breakup. The truth is, we all do it to some degree.

We fantasize about people we are particularly attracted to. When we meet them or even just see them from afar, we make judgments about what they must be like, wonder about their lives, find their Instagram and Facebook for visual aids, and then we use those visual aids, assumptions, and our own romantic ideals to imagine what life would be like with this person in it. The human mind is the perfect incubator for an ideal partner. Sometimes we forget they are just a figment of our imagination. We project this fantasy onto the person in front of us who looks like our new imaginary friend.

If you think it’s worth it to make the fantasy a reality and you have the courage to actually reach out to this person, well, you won’t exactly have an unbiased first date. Since we’ve already imagined a beautiful life, say, in Greece with a really big family and an endless bucket list, anything they say on the date that contradicts this fantasy is a threat to your potential relationship. Therefore, you try to rationalize, forgive, and stretch the reality so that maybe things will change, the person will change, and your fantasy can come true. This is not healthy.

The Role Of Mental Shortcuts

Our brains use “heuristics” to make sense of the world around us without having to interact with it, and they can be strongly influenced by what we are feeling in the moment. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that cause us to make immediate judgment decisions based on information we have previously learned about people, stereotypes, and the way the world works. These heuristics go haywire when browsing through social media or only taking tidbits from a conversation without fully listening and communicating. You see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear.

Confirmation Bias

Ultimately, these heuristics cause us to make cognitive biases such as the halo effect and confirmation bias. Using the halo effect, we take every unattractive thing someone we are interested in says or does and spin it in a positive way, because this person is attractive and therefore must be an angel, right, especially since you’ve already pictured getting married and having a big family? After fantasizing, we steer the conversation in a way that confirms our preconceived notions and assumptions, and then we only remember the info that validates our fantasy. That’s the confirmation bias.

“What do you mean you want to settle down? I thought we were going to be nomads together. I mean, I guess we can only go backpacking once a year. Compromise, right?”

Basically, your brain is doing all these things for you and it continues to jump to conclusions in order to make your life easier. But you can train it to jump to a better conclusion, one that always says “we’ll know more if we ask,” and a healthier fantasy, one of you two, on a first date, getting to know each other without any preconceived ideas that you expect them to live up to. You can tell your brain that you want to start getting to know people the hard way by not giving it any information to fantasize over.

The Power Of Listening

Don’t stalk their social media. Don’t ask friends for information. Let them tell you their story themselves, that way, when you listen, you will actually listen. You will not only be able to listen to them better, but you can listen to your instincts much better as well because you’re not trying to prove to yourself that this is the one. If you already had a date and still find yourself fantasizing, kind of like me, if you can call that airplane ride a date, it just means that you really do like this person. That’s beautiful! Just make sure to take it one step at a time. I should have thought about a real date first rather than a marriage.

Avoid Assumptions

Don’t assume that just because you know enough to have real feelings for someone that you actually know them. In fact, this is even more unhealthy than making assumptions about someone you don’t know and have no intention of talking to. When you assume things about someone you are actually dating or intending to date, they are affected by your judgments, too. They will be able to feel that you are looking at them through a certain lens and it can make them feel very misunderstood. I’ve been there. I felt like my ex expected me to always be the joyful, happy girl that I appear to be and I could feel his disappointment every time he realized that I’m not actually that girl. It broke my heart each time I couldn’t live up to his fantasy of me.

Save yourselves the drama. Make every effort to not assume anything about a person. The only conclusion you should be jumping to is that the only way to truly get to know someone is by communicating better, in real life, not in your imagination! Ask questions, listen to answers, and if something confuses you or rubs you the wrong way, don’t make excuses for them! It’s not fair to yourself or your partner to pretend they meant something else. So next time you catch yourself assuming things, remember: “I’ll know more if I ask!”

What Tinder’s ‘Year in Swipe’ Reveals About Dating

Tinder has become one of the millennials’ go-to dating apps for so many reasons. It’s fun, functional, mindless, and it works! We all know someone who is dating someone they met on the app. My former roommate even got married to a guy she met on Tinder! The reason why it works is that it’s a screening device, not a dating site. On the app, pictures are the main attraction. You can only add so much information which keeps it surface level and light-hearted. On dating sites, you could argue that too much information gets lost in translation (literally!). Information overload causes idealization, unmet expectations, miscommunication, and misinterpretation on many levels. The thing about Tinder that we all love is that it’s more or less an “I’m attracted to you or not” list that you can swipe through in your sleep. It’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s fun.

Tinder recently released their “Year in Swipe” where they reported worldwide trends on the app. Some are very random, some are very interesting, but mostly it’s just a fun analysis of how Tinder users like to communicate with each other. For example, the most used GIF in the US, UK, and Australia was the “Friends” How You Doin? GIF. The most used emoji was the laughing-crying one, which is honestly no surprise. That emoji is the new “lol” which is the new period.

You can check out the “Year in Swipe” here.

Tinder’s “Year in Swipe” reveals three key things about dating nowadays.

We’re all very similar, which opens up our dating pool.

“Adventurous, fun, The Office, *dog emoji*, pizza, Drake on repeat, hmu *wink emoji*”

Wait, did I just read your own Tinder bio back to you? Yes, but don’t feel too violated. “Fun” and “travel” are the top two most popular terms used in Tinder bios. The laughing-crying, wink, and dog emojis are the top three. Drake’s “In My Feelings” was the #1 anthem for every country in the world. Everyone also loves pizza, beer, The Office, Friends, and Game of Thrones.

Statistics show that you’re probably guilty of describing yourself the same way most other people on Tinder do. This information is quite fascinating, actually. It tells us just how like-minded millennials are on a surface level. Your personality and characteristics can be totally different from the guy next door, but odds are, you both like to travel, you both like dogs, and you both think those things are important enough to add to your Tinder bio.

Familiarity breeds reciprocity which is just a researcher’s way of saying having things in common causes us to like each other more. If you have pizza and Netflix written on your bio, you’ll want to talk to someone who also has it on theirs. This sort of info doesn’t reveal anything special about the person, but it does make them more likable to you. Even though they’re pretty universally adored things, you’ll end up connecting with people you wouldn’t have thought to swipe right on otherwise, just because they jot it down. More likely than not, you will find lots of people who have those interests, but rather than getting bored of repetition, it opens up your dating pool because keep in mind you will not find every person that likes Netflix and pizza to be physically attractive. So you can pass on this one, you’re bound to find an Office loving cutie soon.

We speak the same language, which isn’t English.

Not only do we describe ourselves the same way, but proper English is a thing of the past. Emojis, memes, gifs, acronyms, and slang words have become commonly accepted as a new form of communication. You don’t actually have to type any words in order to communicate because not only do emojis save us the typing energy, they allow us to express ourselves in ways that would be awkward to type. “You can’t see me right now, but I’m giving you a suggestive smirk,” said no one ever.

In addition to emoji use, Tinder users date other Tinder users that can understand their lingo. I guarantee you that Tinder USA’s Top Slang Terms make absolutely no sense to your parents. In fact, “deadass” is so important, Tinder decided to make it a Top 11 list rather than a Top 10. These are the “words” that made the cut:

HMU
Extra
Foodie
Lit
Low-key
Bae
Woke
Goat
Salty
Savage
Deadass

Men stan* a hard-working queen. (*Stan: a slang word meaning “to admire or idolize.” Tinder users know that.)

Potentially my favorite fact to come out of this compilation of information is that women with “engineer” in their bio get the most swipe rights. ”Scholar” and “doctor” also made the Top 5 list. Isn’t that awesome? Men seem to really admire intelligence and girls who work hard. This info tells us that men don’t find high-achieving girls intimidating at all. It’s something they are looking for in a date!

So there you have it. Who’s feeling ready to swipe?

Why Am I Less Hungry When I’m In Love?

Falling in love affects our daily routines beyond filling our schedules with date nights and exchanging sweet text messages. In the earlier stages of a relationship, you might find that your appetite has shrunk. How does love have this effect?

Oxytocin Suppresses Your Appetite

When you’re falling in love your body releases hormones that suppress your appetite. Researchers at Harvard Medical School conducted a study that looked at the eating patterns of 25 young men, ranging in weight. One half of the group was given oxytocin nasal spray, and the other half were given a placebo prior to eating. The oxytocin spray is meant to mirror what happens when we’re falling in love. Oxytocin, referred to as the “love hormone,” is a hormone that’s released in our brain during pleasurable activities.

When participants were given large meals after receiving their nasal spray, researchers found that the ones who received oxytocin ate less. Their metabolic levels were boosted as well. While the study could use further research (the participants were only men), it gives us some insight on why we lose weight when we’re in love. The feel-good rush of emotions and excitement take over and trigger hormones, such as oxytocin, that suppress our appetites.

Forgetting To Eat

Another reason you might be eating less is that you simply forget to eat. You’re fueled by the happiness this person is adding to your life and you forget that you need actual food to keep you going. If you find that you’re losing weight when you’re in a new relationship, without even trying, now you know why that could be. It’s all rooted in the oxytocin released in your brain thanks to pleasurable moments with your new significant other.

How On-Off Relationships Affect Our Mental Health

It’s easy to gush over Ross and Rachel’s love story on “Friends” because they’re characters on a TV show and because it gives us hope that the ex we’re pining over will return to us someday. But recent research shows that those kinds of on-off relationships are toxic for mental health.

Why We Go Back

There are several reasons we go back to old relationships. Sometimes we get back with an ex out of comfort, while other times it’s for financial reasons, like splitting the rent. While it’s important to pinpoint why you’re in this on-again-off-again cycle, it’s more crucial to understand the effect it can have on your mental health.

The Psychological Impact

When examining data from over 500 individuals who are currently in relationships, research published in the journal “Family Relations” showed that “an increase in breaking up and reuniting was associated with more psychological distress symptoms such as depression and anxiety.” The authors also noted that these findings did not differ much between same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Anyone who has been in an on-off relationship knows that more times than not you are regretful that you gave it another go. The only healthy way to try again in a relationship is to discuss the issues you both had in an open and honest way, then find ways to remedy those problems.

The Price Of Trying Again

However, if you tried this initially in your relationship and nothing changed, chances are it won’t get better, no matter how many times you try again. What will happen is that each time you give the relationship another go, it’ll get a little bit worse than the previous time.

Now more than ever, with research showing that on-off relationships affect our mental health, you want to think twice before jumping back into a relationship that could prove toxic to your well-being. 

This Study Explains Why People Stay In Bad Relationships

Ever find yourself thinking, why do I always see the good in people? You’re not the only one. According to a recent study conducted by Yale University, Oxford University, and University College London, and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, as humans, our brains are programmed to forgive transgressions.

Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt

When conducting the study, strangers had to decide whether they would send an electrical shock to another person in exchange for money. You would think that the participants on the receiving end of the electrical shocks would have a negative impression about those that went forward with the shocks in exchange for money, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. While they had a positive view of the people that didn’t shock them, they “were less confident in condemning the person making the immoral decisions.”

Going even further, when the “bad” strangers switched up their bad choice for a generous one, the participants’ impressions of them quickly changed to be more positive. Professor Molly Crocket, from Yale University, told Telegraph of the study’s findings, “We think our findings reveal a basic predisposition towards giving others, even strangers, the benefit of the doubt.”

Wanting To See The Good In Relationships

Essentially, we want to see the good in people. And when we see the bad, we don’t want to characterize someone off those negative moments. This may play into why you’re willing to give your ex chance after chance to prove they’ve changed. Your ex does something that hurts you, and later goes out of their way to be good to you, so you opt to see the good and forgive the bad.

Our tendency to forgive could be the very thing keeping us in unhealthy relationships. We can accept that having a forgiving nature is human, but should recognize that forgiveness does not require us to stay in a toxic situation.

How Creating Art Can Help You Overcome A Difficult Breakup

Art is something we all appreciate and enjoy. But beyond its aesthetics, art can be a powerful outlet to support your mental health, especially when you have recently experienced emotional trauma. Nowadays, art therapy is considered an alternative treatment in the psychology world. By using various artistic mediums such as painting or sculpture, you can express and explore your feelings while at the same time becoming more self-aware of your behaviors, emotional intelligence, social skills, and even addictions.

In order to use art to heal yourself and overcome emotional trauma, you don’t have to practice art therapy with a licensed therapist. You only have to be honest with yourself, and ready to face your emotions. While art can help relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more, it can also help you overcome a painful breakup. Here we’ll discuss how creative expression can serve you as an agent for emotional healing when going through a rough breakup.

Symbolic Expression

Talking about your relationship and breakup is often hard and painful. But keeping your feelings inside will only make things worse. If you don’t feel ready to talk about your breakup, consider opening the door to non-verbal communication. It allows you to express yourself without words and tell your story visually.

Apart from relieving yourself from pent-up emotions, you will also have a deeper insight into your own world and feelings. By depicting a metaphor, you provide yourself an emotional safety net that allows you to share thoughts and feelings you weren’t even aware of. An image has the power to express what words never could. So, if you are having difficulties facing your feelings, painting a few brushstrokes or shaping a piece of clay may be all you need to experience realization and self-awareness.

Healthy Outlet To Relieve Emotions

When we are going through a breakup, we often try to escape our reality or relieve overwhelming emotions by drinking, overeating, or just doing something crazy we will definitely regret later. Instead of doing something that is unhealthy for you, consider creating art. Art provides you with a healthy outlet to relieve your overwhelming emotions. Externalizing or channeling your feelings through art will help you cope with your problems in a healthy way. Art will never leave you with a hangover or something you will regret the next day. On the contrary, you will have a beautiful piece of art that will remind of your fight and delivers a sense of accomplishment.

Freedom To Express Regardless Of Skill

It is very important to know that art therapy is meant for everyone who struggles with their emotions, not only for talented individuals. The art you create will not judge you, and it doesn’t have to look like a masterpiece. Art is here to help you express in a safe and non-threatening manner. You don’t have to have any artistic skills to benefit from art therapy. Expressive works of art, no matter whether they are abstract or as simple as a stick figure, can communicate equally powerful as a painting that took five hours to complete.

Expands Self-Awareness And Healing

Through artistic expression, you will bring to the surface emotions and thoughts that were buried in the subconscious. Creative expression can help you unblock things that were stuck. By exploring your newly discovered feelings, you will have a deeper understanding of yourself, which will ultimately help you heal. By experiencing, expressing, and facing your emotions through art, you will also be empowered, and become more confident in your ability to solve problems.

Have Concrete Representation Of Your Healing Process

The final product of art therapy is never as important as the entire process that comes before it. However, art therapy leaves you with a beautiful reminder of the healing journey you went through. Having a tangible reminder will have a meaningful impact long after the therapy has ended and will always help you remember how strong you were and how you managed to fight when you believed you were the weakest.

The Way You Deliver Your Concerns Matters To Your Partner

My mother dubbed me “difficult” at a very young age. In retrospect, I suppose she wasn’t entirely misguided in her sweeping generalization of her middle daughter. I was never one to make the statement “I feel sad,” but rather tended toward more dramatic proclamations like “I am sad.” I tended less toward crying quietly in my room when things didn’t go my way and favored bringing the whole family to its knees with explosive, regularly occurring tantrums.

This intense emotionality, coupled with my assigned identity as “difficult,” led me to the belief that I am whatever emotion or behavior I am experiencing, rather than a sum of many complex and ever-changing parts.

“Difficult” is a tough identity to shake. Any one-word label you are given by a close family member, partner, or loved one, can be extremely challenging to free yourself from, and ultimately really painful to grapple with. Twenty-five years after the fact, I can still hear my mother muttering words like “handful” or “exhausting” to pediatricians, friends, family members…anyone who would listen; anything to validate the identity she had assigned to me.

As it turns out, history does have a way of repeating itself. About seven years ago, my then-boyfriend and I had just moved to Boulder, Colo. to start our dreamy post-collegiate lives together. Things had been a little rocky toward the end of our undergraduate years, but we were still trying in earnest to make it work.

I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of our unfinished apartment one sunny afternoon in May. I was covered in paint and sweat and was suddenly struck by the most poignant feeling of aloneness I had ever experienced, even though my partner was right beside me. I began to cry. I had just moved across the country, left my friends and family, and moved to a town with nothing but two haphazardly packed suitcases and a failing relationship for comfort.

My boyfriend looked at me and said, “You’re so sensitive.” It wasn’t unkind. He wasn’t wrong. And yet I remember thinking, “Yes, I am. But I am so much more than that.”

We are all so much more than our behaviors, real or imagined, by us or our partners. If you have a highly emotional partner or any close relationship in your life for that matter, know that it is never your duty to assign an identity to someone that you love—yourself included.

All of this is no excuse for bad behavior. I am simply suggesting that rather than targeting the person who is causing us discomfort or grief, we target the specific behavior when approaching ourselves or our loved ones. By adopting this approach, your partner will subsequently feel more seen for who they are, rather than for the tendency or behavior that is being highlighted.

When you approach your partner with the aim of interrupting a behavior or tendency that upsets you, avoid starting your sentence with “You are ____.” Statements that start with “you are” can lead your loved one to feel deeply misunderstood, judged, and alienated. Rather, target the behavior that is bothersome to you. “When you do ___, I feel ____.” Same intended message, very different delivery and ensuing results.

I invite you to begin to view yourself and your loved ones as the sum of many parts. When you feel a certain way, don’t go all in. Recognize that you feel that way—without taking that emotion or behavior on as an identity. You feel angry, you are not angry. Words are powerful. Self-talk is powerful. Communication between loved ones is powerful.

What Is the Key Ingredient To A Happy Relationship?

Cultivating a sense of self-love is very important for your overall well-being. This School of Love video highlights why the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one we build, and why it also determines the quality of our relationships with others. 

Unconditional love for ourselves is often missing.

Even though it may not seem intentional, we sometimes fall in love or have feelings towards other people as a way of escaping from ourselves. When it comes to finding a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship, what’s crucial to understand is that the key ingredient is unconditional loving-kindness we offer ourselves. If a lack of self-love and negative experiences in relationships is what you’re used to, it might feel more comfortable to be disliked, ignored, or treated poorly. Receiving affection can feel like a prize we don’t believe we deserve.

Loving yourself improves your relationships.

The key is to amp up our self-love and ward off self-hatred within our selves. When self-love is abundant, it’s easier to accept that someone else loves us. We don’t question that they love us and we respect and love them more for it. Loving ourselves can be the kindest and most romantic things we can do for our partners.

Self-love is the most important aspect of having an incredible relationship. Enjoy the journey to self-love and know that it’s a daily practice. It’s an ever-evolving aspect of our life that we will continue to discover and grow in.

Why We (Try To) Get Back Together With Our Exes

Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you’ve found yourself breaking up and getting back together with an ex. Perhaps you know someone who has fallen into that cycle and you’re frustrated about why they can’t break the pattern.

When it comes to getting back together with exes, it goes far beyond what your logical brain might be thinking, which Bustle does a great job of explaining in this video.

The urge to get back together is hardwired.

First of all, it’s not about willpower. Our feelings and urges towards an ex stem from unconscious activity in our brains. It’s more complex than just nostalgia. It’s rooted in the reward and pleasure system that’s hardwired into our brain.

When you think about your ex, there are two primary chemicals released into the body. The first one is dopamine. The release of this is the brain’s way of telling you what’s really important and is triggered when you see something (or someone!) you like or love. Kind of like that feeling you get when you eat your favorite cookie. It makes you feel good and is even comparable to a high. Dopamine essentially controls feelings of desire.

So, even if you know on an intellectual level that your ex isn’t right for you, you can still experience a huge surge of dopamine.

The next chemical that’s released is oxytocin – this hormone associated with trust, intimacy, and bonding. When you break up with someone, your oxytocin drops and it reminds you of the chemical bond between you and your ex.

Your brain also looks at getting back together through the “investment model.”

It doesn’t stop there though. There’s also the ‘investment model’ that plays an important part in breaking up and getting back together. This is where you start weighing the ratio of good things in comparison to the bad. Practical factors like money can play into this as well as then thinking about the quality of your alternatives. In other words, who out there in the dating arena might be better.

Interestingly though, people in on/off relationships have been found to experience higher levels of satisfaction. The uncertainty creates a sense of mystery, novelty, and excitement. The entire renewal of the relationship keeps you on your toes and that in itself can be addictive, despite not always being healthy.

There are two main triggers that create breakups.

The two main triggers that create breakups are communication difficulties and undesirable behaviors. Ultimately, if you want the cycle to end, the only way a successful reunion can really happen is if you and your ex are willing to listen to each other, work on issues together, and align your goals.

If you don’t understand why you’ve gotten back together with an ex, or if you’re stuck in that place now, we hope this video sheds some light.

Can You Really Train Your Brain To Fall In Love?

If you’re a little burned out by dating, it can be tempting to want to fast track your way to love. But can you really train your brain to fall in love? This is the question Bustle put to the test.

36 questions designed to create intimacy.

So what was the test, exactly? Psychologist Arthur Aron gave a series of 36 questions designed to create interpersonal closeness to heterosexual couples who hadn’t met before and asked them to ask each the questions of each other in a lab for 45 minutes. You may have read the viral Modern Love column about this same series of questions.

The questions get more intimate toward the end. For the final part of the experiment, they have to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes.

As for whether the test worked, one of the couples who did the test got married six months later. So, it’s possible!

We’re more likely to connect when we mutually share something personal.

The experiment was reliant on what psychologists call ‘reciprocal escalating self-disclosure’. The simple meaning of this is that we’re more likely to create a deeper connection when there is mutual sharing of something personal.

That escalates over time, and once we reveal those vulnerabilities and get more comfortable doing so, we feel safe to open up about more. It also makes your partner feel special and more inclined to offer support.

In relationships and when building a connection with someone new, feeling understood is something we really like!

Hormones are at play, too.

There are also biochemical reactions happening when you open up to a partner. Firstly, you get a rush of oxytocin, otherwise known as ‘the love hormone’. This is released when you start to establish an empathetic relationship with someone. This isn’t unique to romantic relationships either. It’s the case with all human bonds.

Another chemical that plays a role in the process of falling in love is dopamine. This is the body’s way of feeling ‘reward’ and helps us identify what feels good. It’s where the staring into each other’s eyes at the end of the experiment came in. Dopamine can be released during this because there’s a deep, unspoken connection that can take place. You form a special attachment.

So, although the question experiment can seem a little random, it was really designed to try and speed up what can happen naturally over time in relationships.

So can you really train your brain to fall in love? This test shows that it may be possible. Once you’ve done it, though, the 36 questions shouldn’t be repeated, as the experiment is a lot less likely to be effective. They were designed for couples to use once so that the answers were honest and unexpected.

What Is The Secret To Keeping Desire Alive In A Relationship?

How can you keep long-term desire alive in a relationship? In this TED Talk, relationship expert Esther Perel shares what she knows about desire and how we can apply her research to our own love lives.

We have two conflicting sets of fundamental needs, which are difficult to balance in a relationship.

Esther explains that it’s about coming to an agreement on true fundamental human needs. The first set being security, safety, reliability, and permanence. These are anchoring and grounding feelings that we call home. The second being adventure, risk, and the unexpected. Uniting these two very contrasting and often conflicting sets of human needs in one marriage can be tricky!

A big challenge in modern relationships is that we expect our partner to be everything: our best friend, our confidante, our lover, and so on. Esther remarks, “We ask what once, an entire village used to provide. Belonging, identity, transcendence and mystery all in one. Give me predictability, yet give me surprise.”

In her research, Esther asked people when they found themselves most drawn to their partner. Across most cultures, genders, and religions, some of the most common answers were when they’re apart and when they reunite.

The next set of common answers were when they saw their partner doing something they’re passionate about, completely enveloped in, and when they’re radiant and confident. These answers show that people are interested in experiencing a sense of mystery and elusiveness about their partner, yet also keeping them within reach.

For the third set of answers, a majority of people said they were most drawn to their partner when they experienced laughter, surprise, and novelty.

There’s no neediness in desire.

So what does desire mean? According to Esther, “What is most interesting is that there’s no neediness in desire. There is no care-taking. Care-taking is an anti-aphrodisiac. Needing someone is a shutdown. Anything that brings up parenthood decreases erotic charge.”

She explains that, “In the paradox between love and desire, the most puzzling thing is, that the very ingredients that nurture love – reciprocity, protection, are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire.”

To sustain desire, there needs to be a balance of needs.

Esther concludes the talk by sharing that if we want to sustain desire, there needs to be a balance and a reconciliation of needs. This includes space for sexual privacy, foreplay, creating an erotic space, and an awareness that passion is intermittent. Couples who understand long-term desire know how to bring it back with the element of surprise and spontaneity.

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.

A Research Study Asks “Who Am I Without You?”

Partners develop shared friends, activities, and values, which all contribute to self-identity and self-concept. So when the relationship ends, the part of our self-concept related to our partners seem suddenly ripped away, leaving a void. We might look in the mirror and ask: who am I? Who am I without you?

In their research “Who Am I without You? The Influence of Romantic Breakup on the Self-Concept,” Slotter, Gardner, and Finkel found that due to a partner’s influence, your self concept clarity often decreases, while emotional distress increases. 

In fact, the study found that a “significant amount of the distress experienced by individuals whose relationship ended was predicted by the self-concept confusion they experienced after the breakup – beyond the distress caused by other aspects of the breakup, such as self-rejection.” 

And we see it in everyday life. In order to get rid of the “shared’ self-concept, many people often change their hair, clothing style, or find new activities or hobbies. However, sudden changes in behavior and parting with a previously established self-identity can easily lead us to a feeling of emptiness and confusion—is this really me? Who am I without you? 

So how can we preserve our self-concept clarity without being overly reminded of our ex?

One idea from the study is to participate in activities you shared with an ex with other friends, to reassure yourself that your interests are of your own even without your partner. You can then keep the hobbies you enjoyed doing with your ex, without being too uncomfortably reminded of him/her. 

As for changing fashion or hair, it’s a normal sign of beginning again. But maybe try doing these things with your friends, which will make the experience not a loss of your previous self, but a novel experience with a friend that can affirm your sense of self!

How Our Culture Impacts Relationships

When I first came to the U.S. from China, I was surprised but also delighted by the American enthusiasm I saw all around me: the big hugs and “perfects” and “I love yous” were so different from the much quieter and indirect culture in China.

In fact, research has found that in Western cultures, failure to directly express appreciation can have negative outcomes. Not being expressive can make someone upset (“You never even said ‘thanks’”) or make them question what it might mean (“Don’t you love me anymore?”).

However, in high-context cultures like China, appreciation is often expressed in indirect ways. Culturally, the social environment is much more focused on harmony, which requires each individual to contribute and participate as part of the social fabric. Standing out isn’t the most desirable thing, which means that directly and verbally expressing appreciation to someone might be similar to singling the person out. Even if it is for a good cause, that singling out might result in embarrassment. 

In stark contrast, Bellow found that “low-context cultures are much more likely to engage in overt and verbal expressions of thanks.” Take American hero movies (Marvel movies for instance!): there is often one hero who saves the world and receives appreciation. In this case, direct verbal and enthusiastic appreciation is highly desired.

And knowing these differences might help us in relationships, especially intercultural ones. Just remember that appreciation is just one part of a relationship. Bear in mind the general trend of cultural differences, but also keep your mind open and remember that each individual has their own way of showing love and appreciation.

Can An Intercultural Relationship Make You More Creative?

Have you ever felt like your world view has expanded after living abroad or in a new environment? Studying or living abroad exposes you to a new language, a new style of living, new ways of thinking. And new research shows that this also happens when you date someone from a different culture.

In fact, JG Lu’s research shows us that cross cultural relations result in increased creative thinking and innovation.

The study included three experiments that demonstrated how intercultural relationships enhances creative thinking. The first study is a longitudinal study that followed MBA students in a cross-cultural relationship for 10 months. Their creativity levels were measured through diverse perspectives and compared before and after the program. The results demonstrated “an increase in both divergent and convergent forms of creativity over time.” And there is growing  consensus in the academic circles that “the depth of multicultural experiences is the key predictor of creativity.” 

But although there is evidence to support that intercultural relationships can make you more creative, don’t feel restricted or intentional in finding an intercultural partner. After all, how do we characterize foreign culture anyways? Every relationship could be viewed as intercultural in a sense that romantic partners often grew up in different backgrounds and had different life experiences.

Ultimately, the effort and investment we make during a relationship predicts how much we influence (hopefully in a positive way) each other and learn from each other. Trying to understand and adopt the positive life attitudes of a partner can often bring about better relationships, as well as positive self growth.

Why Men Seem To Move On Faster After A Breakup

There are many stereotypes about how heterosexual men and women deal with breakups, and one of the most common stereotypes is that men move on faster than women. But do they actually move on faster?

According to relationship and body language expert Katia Loisel, men and women are wired differently when it comes to dealing with breakups.  Men commonly use distraction and denial as a way to cope with their emotions when going through a breakup. Women, on the other hand, tend to talk about their feelings and emotions more – they really feel them as opposed to suppressing them. There is also research that shows women may remain celibate for a period of time after a breakup, whereas men are more likely to sleep with someone sooner.

And then there’s a 2015 study by Birmingham University, which suggests that women feel pain on a different level after a breakup. The study of over 5000 participants suggests men still experience emotional pain but as a bit of time goes on, they feel they must ‘start competing’ all over again to replace what they lost.

Hookups and casual relationships can also release feel good hormones including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which give the emotional illusion of dulling the pain of heartache. This is a short-term ‘fix’ though, and because of how men are wired, they tend to opt for this instead of facing their emotions head on and working through them.

So if your male ex has started to date someone else, don’t take it as a sign they aren’t in pain or they don’t care. It doesn’t mean they’ve moved on from the relationship faster. As science has shown, it may just be a coping mechanism that men are more prone to than women. 

At the end of the day, no one can really know the true extent of someone’s pain, and the best way forward is to turn inward and focus on your own mending process. If you find yourself stuck in the comparison game with your ex, just remind yourself of this quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

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.

Three Ways to Shift Your Mood in Two Minutes

The mind-body connection has been well documented for decades. Medical research has consistently shown that our emotional experience (stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc) can have a negative impact on our health. The good news is that, when harnessed correctly, we can use our mind to help heal the ailments of the body. The reverse is also true. When we are in emotional distress, we can use the body to shift our feelings.

Take Back the Reigns – Harness the Power of The Mind-Body Connection

When we are stressed, scared, or sad, common feelings after a breakup, the brain sends cues to the body that danger is present and the body assumes it’s natural fight or flight response. This can result in muscle tension, increased heart rate, increased body temperature, indigestion, shortness of breath, etc. This fight or flight response is very helpful when there is actual physical danger present (i.e. help us run from a potential predator), but rest of the time it just sounds a fire alarm in the body even though there is no smoke. However, we can send a message back to the brain that things are actually safe by making subtle, yet powerful shifts in the body. Through adopting different postures, changing our facial expressions, or even placing a hand on our heart we can slow the body’s stress response and start to sooth the emotional pain we may be experiencing.

Smile – Especially When You Don’t Feel Like It

When Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy” he was really on to something. Turns out that there is evidence to validate his assertion. Research by Tara Kraft and Sara Pressman at the University of Kansas demonstrated that smiling can alter our stress response in difficult situations. Their study indicated that smiling, even if one is not feeling happy, can slow heart rate and decrease perceived levels of stress. Smiling sends a signal to the rest of our body that things are okay, it’s safe to let down our guard. So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, try smiling, even if you don’t feel like it. It might just make a difference. (Tip: If you really can’t get yourself to smile, practice holding a pen or a chopstick in between your teeth. It mimics the same expression as a smile and can produce the same effects.)

Posture – Sit up Straight and Take up Space

Shifting our posture can also shift how we feel. A study by Brion, Petty, & Wagner in 2009 reported that sitting up straight positively influenced peoples feelings of self-confidence, while slumping over had the opposite effect. Additionally, research by Amy Cuddy and Dana Carney at Harvard University has shown that holding “power postures” for 120 seconds can create a 20 percent increase in testosterone (helping to boost confidence) and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol (reducing stress). In order to reap these benefits try assuming an open and expansive posture. Take up space, put your hands on your hips and spread your feet (think wonder woman) or lean back in a chair and spread your arms. Hold the posture for at least 2 minutes. For more info on Cuddy’s research you can watch her Ted Talk “Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”

A Hand on Your Heart Is Not Just for the Pledge of Allegiance

Touch is also a very powerful healing tool. When we are sad we often turn to others for a hug or to be held. We can actually provide ourselves with some of the same benefits. During a particularly distressing moment try placing a hand on your heart, rubbing your own arms, or massaging your own head. May sound cheesy, but it actually can be very helpful in slowing the body’s stress response. Pairing this with the self-compassionate thoughts such as “This is really painful right now, but this too shall pass” can help sooth the discomfort of the present moment both physiologically and mentally.

So next time you are feeling overwhelmed by whatever is arising for you emotionally try standing up straight, smiling, or putting a hand on your heart. For a super boost, try all three.

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.

5 Reasons Why You Must Meditate After a Breakup

The need to manage the “crazy” that likes to hang out in our minds is never more crucial than when you’re going through a break up. In a moment, this hugely significant role that we play of spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is suddenly stripped away. 

So often we define who we are and measure our worth by those roles we play in our relationships. It’s so easy after a break up to feel lost. It’s so easy to fall into the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Perhaps this experience also triggers our favorite limiting beliefs; the conditioned stories that we’ve been telling ourselves suddenly rear their ugly heads and become the narrator of our life.

Sounds pretty grim, huh? Luckily that’s not the end of this article! I’m here to introduce you to your ultimate breakup buddy: meditation.  

Here are 5 reasons that meditation will save your sanity and your heart:

1. Meditation gives you an expanded awareness around your thoughts. 

You will slowly become more and more aware that you are not your thoughts. You are the thinker of your thoughts. Instead of operating on auto-pilot, thinking the same 60-80,000 thoughts per day, you will begin to become aware of what you are thinking. 

More importantly, you will begin to develop the ability to choose which thoughts you want to give your attention to. The thoughts that you focus on are the thoughts that shape your experience of life, that shape your reality. Meditation offers you the ability to witness your thoughts and decide which ones you want to feed. 

Spoiler alert: You do not need to feed the thoughts that don’t serve you. You have the power to control the thoughts you choose to believe.

2. Meditation helps shift your set point. 

Your set point is the way you look at the world. When you’re moving through a break up it’s easy to slip into a “glass half empty” kind of mentality. It’s easy to start looking at “what’s wrong with this moment”, rather than “what’s right”. 

Meditation helps you see that glass as half full. It will help you move to a place of gratitude for everything in your life.

3. Meditation will help you understand what the lesson of this situation is. 

It’s not uncommon to continue playing out the same story over and over again, especially in our romantic relationships. There are lessons to be learned in every moment. There are opportunities for growth in every moment.  

Is there a story that you’ve been playing out that you’re ready to let go of?

4. Meditation will nourish your physical body and slow everything down.

The state of restful awareness that your body goes into during meditation is the exact opposite physiological response than that of our stress response. This will allow you to be less reactive and more responsive. 

5. Studies have shown that practicing meditation shrinks the more primal part of the brain responsible for our fear and stress responses, and thickens the part of the brain responsible for higher order functions.

More thoughtfulness and emotional stability is certainly something I  could’ve used more of during some of my breakups. 

How about you?

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

How Rituals Can Help When You Don’t Get Closure

After a breakup, sometimes all we crave is closure. My last breakup was so difficult because I never had any closure afterward. We didn’t speak at all; in fact, we still haven’t since that last day I saw him. I was left with so many unanswered questions and I remember thinking, if only we could talk and get everything out on the table, at least I would know why our relationship went south. 

That didn’t happen, so I took things into my own hands and adopted rituals to help move on with my life. I took myself out on walks, practiced yoga daily, and started working from coffee shops rather than at home alone. Questions remained unanswered, but now, the unknown details of our relationship don’t matter to me anymore. What I do know, and what I learned on my walks, and during yoga and at coffee shops is that I don’t want to be with someone I can’t communicate with and who doesn’t respect me enough to give me that time. I did so much growing through my rituals and those activities will always have a special place in my heart.

Here are five great reads on how rituals may be able to help you too.

“When it comes to grief and our experience of loss, even a short ritual can diffuse our feelings of upset, anger, and grief by providing a greater sense of control…If you feel like there are losses that you are hanging on to or not able to properly mourn, create a ritual.”

-Research on why simple rituals can help you feel better. (psychologytoday.com)

“I looked for all the pictures we took together during the time we dated. I then destroyed them into small pieces (even the ones I really liked!), and then burnt them in the park where we first kissed.”

-People perform mourning rituals in an effort to alleviate their grief and they are proving to be effective. (scientificamerican.com)

“Relationships are complicated, and there are usually legitimate reasons you cared about the commitment that’s now over. It’s important to give ourselves permission to acknowledge that we are sad about what happened and it’s going to be hard for a while and it’s okay. Relationship bereavement leave from work should be a thing: it is incredibly hard to focus when you are managing any kind of grief.”

-Julie explains the importance of giving a broken relationship a funeral. (elephantjournal.com)

“You can also combine your post-breakup detritus with that of others: The performance artist Nate Hill created a character called Death Bear who would show up at your doors (at your request) in a freaky black PVC bear costume to “take things from you that trigger painful memories and stow them away in his cave, where they [would] remain forever, allowing you to move on with your life.” I was inspired by Death Bear’s story, and since 2004 I’ve hosted my own and my friends’ painful romantic memories on my bookshelf in this improvised ‘No No! Bad Thoughts! Box.'”

– Tips on what to do with an ex’s old belongings. (rookiemag.com)

Last but not least: make yourself a cup of tea and watch this conversation with Harvard behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and Slate’s Human Nature correspondent William Saletan about the role of ritual in human life. (npr.org)

Four Things To Know About Being A Single Young Adult In America

What does it mean to live as a single person in America?

According to the Washington Post, a  study done by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that there are now 109 million Americans, 18 and older, who are divorced, widowed, or have always been single. That’s 45 percent of the adult population!

Here are 3 more interesting things to know about single young adults in America:

They’re Delaying Marriage

Americans are delaying marriage for a variety of reasons such as a challenging job market, falling wages and growing debt.

They’re Older When They Get Married

The average age of Americans getting married for the first time increased from 25.5 to 27.1 for women and 27.1 to 29.2 for men since 2006.

Many Of Them Will Stay Single

The Pew Research Center reported that by the time today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a remarkable 25 percent will have been single all their lives. 

So if you’ve been feeling like you were the only single person on the planet, know you’re not alone. You’re in good company, and there’s no reason to stress or settle.

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 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.

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.

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!

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.

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 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.

Ajay Relan’s Advice on Heartbreak and Vulnerability

Ajay is a co-founder of #HashtagLunchbag, an organization that distributes meals and love letters to those in need. Its rapid growth led to the formation of the Living Through Giving Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating charitable initiatives. He also runs Hilltop Coffee and Kitchen in Los Angeles and invests through On Purpose VC, an intentional capital firm. You can follow him on Instagram @ajayfresh.

HIS FIRST HEARTBREAK
“I think the first time I got my heart broken was junior or senior year of high school. The girl was a year older than me, and before she went off to college, we had this whole summer of just hanging out everyday and it was really fun. I was super attracted to her. When she asked me out I got really really excited, even though I was actually dating someone else at the time. I just sort of kicked the other person to the curb to pursue it and I didn’t even think twice. But when she went away to school it just abruptly ended. It fucked me up pretty badly. I haven’t really talked about it or thought about it until now but it probably has affected my relationships since then. I can count on two fingers how many real relationships I’ve had since. I have not been broken up with since that time in high school.”

GLASS CEILINGS
“I feel like a lot of my relationships had glass ceilings in place, whether I put them there or not. I know for a fact that I broke some hearts because of it. As I got to know myself a little bit more, I would give little disclaimers upfront about my track record. It was the same cycle over and over and I started to become more aware. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m an only child, so background plays into it. I was raised by a single mom, with no dad around, so I never had that example of what it means to be in a committed relationship where you have someone else’s back, and only that person’s back.”

THE INEVITABLE QUESTION
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet and date some really amazing women. The majority of them – all of them, actually – are still friends to a certain extent because we had a friendship first. It was like, ‘lets go out, let’s go to dinner, let’s get some wine and enjoy getting to know each other.’ That would go on as long as they would let it without me having to commit. But eventually it’s the case of ‘hey dude, what are we doing? We’ve been doing this for months now,’ and in some cases that goes on for years, until eventually someone leaves or moves away or gets married or something.”

HITTING A WALL
“The way I learned how to be a man was by watching television shows like Full House and Family Matters. I was constantly looking for what it really meant to be a man. My mom worked a million hours a day and no one was really watching me and I overcompensated in a lot of ways. I kind of shaped myself to be like who I was around or whoever they wanted me to be. So I hit this wall and realized that I couldn’t keep going like that, for myself or for anyone else. It wasn’t just in my romantic life but my professional life as well. I was constantly starting things and they would achieve a certain level of success, enough to pass it on, but I’d get bored. I just wanted more and more and more. It was never enough.”

Ajay 3

FEELING UNDESERVING
“I eventually came to this conclusion that I wasn’t enough. It had nothing to do with other people, it just had to do with how I felt about myself. Anytime I would get into anything a little more than casual I would find myself reflecting on who I was, and the more I looked at myself, the more I didn’t like myself, for no particular reason. I had been going through life becoming close with people and creating all these memories and then just stopping it and cutting it off. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want a deeper connection, I just didn’t feel like I deserved it. If you ask my friends, they think I’m a good guy, which I genuinely believe. But what people say about you and how you feel about yourself are two completely different things. I saw a TED Talk by Brene Brown about vulnerability, which made me read her book and led me down a path to seeing a therapist. I started doing a lot of work on myself. I started reading a lot of different books and blogs. This was in 2012, when I was 28.”

ON MEETING HIS FATHER
“Then one day I was hanging out with some people that I honestly didn’t know very well, and somehow families came up and they started asking me about my mom, and it was like, “Oh, my mom’s awesome,” and “Oh, I’ve never met my dad.” They started asking me all these questions about it and it didn’t irk me, but something clicked that I needed to meet this guy, so I went searching. That was heartbreaking in itself. It’s rejection from birth. You have this constant rejection and then you finally meet the guy and he doesn’t give a shit. I got to put a face to a name, got to see what he looked like and got to know that I don’t have any brothers or sisters. And then I just continued on. I don’t think I really all the way dealt with it. I did as much as any of us deal with anything. You internalize some of it, talk to a few people about it, but life goes on.”

A RELATIONSHIP IS LIKE A STARTUP
“When I met my father for the first time, I was in a relationship – a few months into it at that point. She was great and super supportive, but then it got to a point where all the fun stuff was over and things started to get dark again for me. I was learning a lot about myself. I was doing erratic things. I left a startup that I had built because my partners weren’t getting along and I was sick of it. I got into the restaurant business because I thought it made sense. I thought, I like sports, I like to drink. I’ll open a sports bar. There were highs but then there were lows and they were very low. It’s easy to start something. It’s easy to meet someone. It’s easy to get to know somebody. It’s easy to be intimate with somebody physically, but maintaining it and sustaining it is difficult. It’s just like a startup. It’s just like a business, where you think, Oh I have this great idea, let me put together a business plan. And then let me do this everyday and let me wake up everyday and be excited about it. She was great and she just loved the shit out of me every single day. I just didn’t grow up with that kind of love, so when someone is giving it to me, it’s hard for me to accept it because I don’t feel like I deserve it. And eventually it got to a point where that had to end. Not because anything was wrong but because it was killing me psychologically that I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I had this beautiful, smart, driven, incredible woman who just wanted to love me and I was saying, ‘Get away, I don’t deserve this!’ It was almost weighing me down. I was asking myself, what’s wrong with me? This isn’t normal, this isn’t right, I shouldn’t feel this way.

A PRESCRIPTION TO VOLUNTEER
“So I go to a therapist and they tell me that I’m depressed, that it’s chemical, and they send me to a psychiatrist. He looks at me for two seconds, doesn’t even make eye contact and writes me a prescription. And I’m thinking, no, that is not how I want to mend my situation. I know a lot of people that are depressed and who cope that way, and they are still in a pretty shitty place. So I’d rather feel the way I feel now than feel that way. The only other thing she prescribed to me was to go volunteer and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. It went from this pharmaceutical solution, to, ‘go spend some time cleaning the beach.’ But I put it on my to do list.”

Ajay 1

STARTING #HASHTAGLUNCHBAG

“I looked for a way to volunteer, but everything was really disconnected. I remembered a friend of mine used to make bag lunches, walk around the pier and pass them out and share. So I woke up one morning pretty early and set the goal of making 100 meals – the kind of lunch that you’d be really happy your mom packed. My roommates wake up and we start really inefficiently making these meals. Our friends ask us what we are doing and we tell them we are making some meals and are going to drive around and hand them out – nothing crazy, nothing revolutionary. We made it fun because we are fun guys. We listened to music and we added some libations. We jokingly decided to share it on social media and we spelled out the word hashtag, because we kind of hate hashtags, and went about our day.”

“When we looked back at our phones we had an abnormally large number of likes, calls, texts, and emails from friends saying, ‘I’ve been looking for something to do and I can’t find anything. Let me know the next time you do this.’ We had had no intention at the time of doing it again, it was just a spontaneous act. But we decided to do it again in January of 2013, and this time there were 10 of us, and it was much more streamlined. Same deal: made the meals, passed them out, felt awesome, put it up on social media and a week later my friend uploaded the video he’d made on a GoPro. I used to work at a talent agency and one of the actresses that was represented there retweeted the video saying ‘This is awesome.’ So we decided to build a website. None of us had ever built a website but we wanted to share our story: that we wanted to give back and didn’t know how, that we couldn’t find anything that spoke to us, so this was what we did, and here are some easy tips so you can do the same.”

“The following month was my birthday and usually I have a big party, but that year I decided I wanted to do this instead. We had 100 people show up! We got a huge age range and diversity, and everyone was having fun dancing and connecting. A lot of people had never done anything like this before, just like me and my friends the first time. So we all went down to Skid Row and did the sharing experience, and then everyone shared it on their social media. Ever since then it’s just continued to grow, now to over 100 cities all over the world. We’ve been around for 2 and a half years now and we have some amazing corporate partners. We eventually asked ourselves, why are we doing this? The food is really just the vessel, so we started incorporating love notes to recognize the humanity of those we’re serving. That’s what these individuals are taking with them for inspiration. It’s really about being open, vulnerable and watching the world around you become a better place. We are making it fun and cool for people to give back, and then let them reap the psychological benefits on their own.”

Ajay 4

HIS PHILOSOPHY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
“You know it’s over when they unfollow you on social media. That’s the definitive end of a relationship these days. I will say that I don’t go out of my way to unfollow anyone but if they unfollow me, I’ll unfollow back.”

THE LESSON HE’S LEARNED ABOUT LOVE
“The lesson that I’ve learned on this journey, which I’m still on, is that you have to see yourself in a certain way, hold yourself in a certain regard and esteem, and really own and like who you are, where you’ve come from, and how far you’ve come to be able to even entertain the idea of giving that [love] to someone else. This is a lesson that I’ve learned fairly recently on my path of self discovery. Now more than ever, people have this responsibility to themselves. I think it is really beautiful that many more people now are more self aware, but the vast majority of people just go about their lives, rather than trying to explore a little bit more of what makes them lovable.”

HOW HE MENDS NOW
“What I used to do was not a sustainable solution. I used to go out of my way to get everyone to like me. I would blow them away with what I thought they wanted to hear. It wasn’t that I was lying, I would just play to a different crowd every time. Now I’m very selective about who I spend my time with, where I go, what I watch, what I listen to, and what I read. I’ve been exercising a lot and trying new things. Getting out of my comfort zone, physically and emotionally. Being a lot more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. Vulnerability without any intention is kind of a slippery slope because it is something that is meant to bring people together, so if it’s not matched on both sides then it can kind of be disastrous. Meditation is something that I started recently and I find it very helpful. I would say I’m in my optimal place right now. I’ve realized when I’m writing, sharing or creating, that is when I’m at my best.”

HIS GUILTY PLEASURE SONG ABOUT HEARTBREAK
“When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars. That song would get stuck in my head all the time. I think it just got stuck now!”

HIS MANTRA: CREATE
“The last few years I have embraced being creative. Being creative is something that has always been within me, but I’ve never wanted to own it because it puts you in a very vulnerable space with potential to be rejected. But at the end of the day that’s why we’re all here. We are all gods in our own right and we all have the ability to create and inspire and keep the momentum going.”

Photographed by Ellen Huerta in Los Angeles.

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.

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).

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.

The Best Way to Recover from Heartbreak, According to Science

Grace Larson and David Sbarra had been studying how people recover from divorce and breakups for years when they became worried that asking these people about their breakups repeatedly may actually be causing harm. So, they decided to run an experiment to see if that was the case, and they found just the opposite to be true – it was actually helping. 

Larson and Sbarra just published the results of this 9-week study on two groups of young adults (age range 17-29, mostly female) who had experienced a non-marital breakup in the last six months. One group was asked to come in four times over the course of 9 weeks for assessments and one group was only asked to come in twice. The group that came in for four assessments spent 3.5 hours in each session, which required them to speak into a tape recorder about their thoughts and feelings and answer written questionnaires, among other tasks. The other group only answered written questionnaires during their two 45-minute assessments, and they did the tape recorder exercise once.

When the researchers evaluated the two groups for changes in emotional intrusion, loneliness and break-up related self-concept disturbance, they found that the group who did four regular assessments over the course of 9 weeks showed better recovery. They were able to re-define their self-concepts, which led to decreased emotional intrusion and loneliness. They also used fewer first person plural words (what psychologists call “we talk”) when describing their breakups, which points to them being more adjusted to single life vs. couple life.

So, what about the rest of us who can’t participate in this kind of research study when we’re going through a breakup? Larson recommended a weekly journal check-in to track how you’re adjusting to life as an independent person.

The key, according to Larson, is to turn your focus inward: “The recovery of a clear and independent self-concept seems to be a big force driving the positive effects of this study, so I would encourage a person who recently experienced a breakup to consider who he or she is, apart from the relationship. If that person can reflect on the aspects of him- or herself that he or she may have neglected during the relationship but can now nurture once again, this might be particularly helpful.” 

Too Invested: Why We Stay in Unhealthy Relationships

You may know a friend or a family member who is in an unhealthy relationship. You’ve spent countless hours listening to the drama of their love life. You constantly question them and ask why they are with that person, and they usually reply with, “I love them. I don’t want to lose them.” And sometimes they are willing to admit another truth: “I don’t want to be alone.”

These are all very understandable points. When you’ve invested time and energy into a relationship, starting over is such an overwhelming feeling.

I like to compare these tumultuous relationships to the television series “Lost”. I remember watching the pilot of the series. I was immediately hooked, almost infatuated. I couldn’t wait to see the next episode. I couldn’t wait a whole week. I couldn’t stop talking about it. This world they had created was so brand new and exciting. I was getting attached to the characters. How could this show go wrong? I was invested.

Then the excitement turned into “hmm’s” and questions. Why did Jack try so hard? What was John Locke’s deal? Was he evil? Oh. There were supernatural occurrences now? The show wasn’t really going in a direction I thought it would, but I was already into season 3. I thought, maybe it would get better…I was invested. I wanted to see how it played out.

And then came season 5, which was so disappointing. They were trying anything and everything to keep me on my toes and keep me watching. And then, the 6th and final season. I thought, this better end well because I’ve been stuck watching for so long. And then the series ended, and they were all dead. Lame.

I had this very interesting but unfulfilling relationship with “Lost.” In the same way, I believe many people stay in unhealthy or unhappy relationships to see if anything will change. After my own experience with one of these relationships, I’m much wiser with the investments I make, starting with investments in myself.

I’ve been taking the “me first” approach, doing productive things to help me become a better human. Instead of sitting on social media for an hour, I go for a run. I’ve trimmed down my drinking with bar friend acquaintances. I’m singing more. I’m playing guitar more. I’m creating and writing more. I’ve been spending time with people that actually give a shit about me.

So if your reason for staying is that you feel too invested, remind yourself that it’s okay to walk away from the table sometimes. You don’t have to keep watching the show just because you’ve seen all the other seasons. Maybe it’s time to change the channel. Maybe it’s time to start investing in yourself again.

What Makes a Partnership Last?

Today, we’re sharing some thought-provoking ideas on partnerships.

“The Romantic view of marriage stresses that the ‘right’ person means someone who shares our tastes, interests and general attitudes to life. This might be true in the short term. But, over an extended period of time, the relevance of this fades dramatically; because differences inevitably emerge. The person who is truly best suited to us is not the person who shares our tastes, but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently and wisely.

Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate difference that is the true marker of the ‘right’ person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition.”

-The School of Life answers the question “When is one ready to get married?” (thephilosophersmail.com)

“There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

-Emily Esfahani Smith takes a look at the latest research on lasting partnerships (theatlantic.com)

“The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?

Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting.”

-Tara Parker-Pope on the counterintuitive “me” marriage (nyt.com)