Sleep Can Impact Relationship Satisfaction

-Rick Nauert, PhD

New research discovers that when husbands and wives get more sleep than on an average night, they are more satisfied with their marriages — at least the following day.

In the study, Florida State University psychology professor Dr. Jim McNulty and graduate student Heather Maranges hypothesize that sleep is linked to self-regulation or self-control, which influences how married couples feel and think about their partner.

“The universality of our findings is important,” Maranges said. “That is, we know all people need sleep. Regardless of the stage at which a couple is in their relationship or the cultural context in which they’re embedded, each member of the couple can be adversely affected by not getting enough sleep.”

The paper appears in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The researchers believe sleep influences self-control. Self-control requires energy that can be replenished when our bodies are in the resting period known as sleep. In other words, sleep offers self-regulatory benefits to relationships.

“Up to one-third of married or cohabiting adults report that sleep problems burden their relationship,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

Other sleep studies have indicated that even partial sleep deprivation can have harmful effects on processes that require self-regulation, like evaluating how you feel about your partner.

However, results in this study revealed that differences between couples’ sleep durations was not associated with differences in marital satisfaction. Because one couple gets more sleep than another does not mean that the couple that experienced more sleep viewed their marriage more favorably.

Maranges and McNulty conducted their research with 68 newlywed couples. Over a seven-day period, couples recorded the number of hours they slept and then responded to two sets of questions on a scale of one (not satisfied at all) to seven (extremely satisfied).

The first set measured overall relationship satisfaction, asking husbands and wives to respond to questions such as, “How satisfied were you with your marriage today?” The other set focused on relationship experiences in nine areas including chores, the amount of time spent together and conflict resolution.

Researchers discovered husbands especially were less negatively affected by bad experiences in those nine areas when they got more sleep. That is, sleep buffered the effects of specific negative events and evaluations on their broader, more general satisfaction with their marriages.

Although the study appears to have several important messages, a replication of the study among a wider variety of couples is necessary for universal acceptance of the findings.

For instance, the couples examined were primarily white, had been married less than six months and on average were 24 years old. They also said measures of sleep quality would provide more rigorous tests of the association between sleep and martial satisfaction.

Source: Florida State University

The Science Behind a Successful Single Life

-Janice Wood

A new study has found that single people have richer social lives and more psychological growth than married people.

“The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude,” said Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a regular Psych Central blogger.

“It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life — one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful.”

DePaulo, who presented her research at the American Psychological Association’s 2016 Annual Convention, cited longitudinal research that shows single people value meaningful work more than married people, and another study that shows single people are also more connected to parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

“When people marry, they become more insular,” she said.

However, research on single people is lacking, according to DePaulo. She said she searched for studies of people who had never married and, of the 814 studies she found, most did not actually examine single people, but used them as a comparison group to learn about married people and marriage in general.

The studies that did focus on single people revealed some telling findings, she said.

For example, research comparing people who stayed single with those who stayed married showed that single people have a heightened sense of self-determination and they are more likely to experience “a sense of continued growth and development as a person,” DePaulo said.

Another study of lifelong single people showed that self-sufficiency serves them well: The more self-sufficient they were, the less likely they were to experience negative emotions. For married people, the opposite was true, according to DePaulo.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more unmarried people than ever before in the United States. In 2014, there were 124.6 million unmarried Americans over age 16, meaning that just over 50 percent of the nation’s adult population identified as single.

In contrast, only just over 37 percent of the population was unmarried in 1976.

Married people should be doing a lot better than single people in view of the number of laws that benefit them, DePaulo said, but in many ways, they aren’t.

“People who marry get access to more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections, many of them financial,” she said. “Considering all of the financial and cultural advantages people get just because they are married, it becomes even more striking that single people are doing as well as they are.”

Despite the advantages of staying single, DePaulo doesn’t claim one status is better than the other.

“More than ever before, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them,” she said. “There is no one blueprint for the good life. What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces, and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.”

Source: The American Psychological Association

Future Focus Can Help Couples Ease Conflict

-Rick Nauert, PhD

New research finds that thinking about the future helps couples focus on their feelings and reasoning strategies.

“When romantic partners argue over things like finances, jealousy, or other interpersonal issues, they tend to employ their current feelings as fuel for a heated argument. By envisioning their relationship in the future, people can shift the focus away from their current feelings and mitigate conflicts,” said researcher Alex Huynh.

Huynh is a doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author of the study published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Drs. Igor Grossmann from the University of Waterloo, and Daniel Yang from Yale University also contributed to the research.

Previous research has shown that taking a step back, and adopting a distanced fly-on-the-wall-type of perspective can be a positive strategy for reconciliation of interpersonal struggles.

For example, prior research by Grossmann and colleagues suggests that people are able to reason more wisely over issues of infidelity when they are asked to do so from a third-person perspective. Huynh and his collaborators investigated whether similar benefits in reasoning and relationship well-being can be induced by simply stepping back and thinking about the future.

Study participants were instructed to reflect on a recent conflict with a romantic partner or a close friend. One group of participants were then asked to describe how they would feel about the conflict one year in the future, while another group was asked to describe how they feel in the present.

The team examined participants’ written responses through a text-analysis program for their use of pronouns such as I, me, she, he.

These choices of pronouns were used to capture participants’ focus on the feelings and behavior of those involved in the conflict. Written responses were also examined for beneficial reasoning strategies; for example, forgiveness and reinterpreting the conflict more positively.

The researchers found that thinking about the future affected both participants’ focus on their feelings, and their reasoning strategies. As a result, participants reported more positivity about their relationship altogether.

In particular, when study participants extended their thinking about the relationship a year into the future, they were able to show more forgiveness and reinterpret the event in a more reasoned and positive light.

Responding to conflict is a critical skill for relationship maintenance.

“Our study demonstrates that adopting a future-oriented perspective in the context of a relationship conflict — reflecting on how one might feel a year from now — may be a valuable coping tool for one’s psychological happiness and relationship well-being,” said Huynh.

The research also has potential implications for understanding how prospection, or future-thinking, can be a beneficial strategy for a variety of conflicts people experience in their everyday lives.

Source: University of Waterloo

Your Relationship’s Personality

-Mark B. Borg, Jr, Ph.D., Grant H. Brenner, MD, & Daniel Berry, RN, MHA

How does a relationship go about “self-improvement?”

Every relationship has its own personality, that is, a “quality” or “character” distinct from the traits each individual brings to the table. Though this idea may seem strange, it’s a straightforward concept from the field known as complexity science, specifically the model of “self-organizing systems”. The upshot is that living systems require balance between change and stability to maintain their core identity, while simultaneously developing and expanding, and that this process cannot be directed beforehand but must happen with the important element of the spontaneous emergence of new experiences.

Besides the consciously shared work of connection-building, relationships require their members to surrender (to an extent) to the new thing their partnership is becoming—by which we mean, accepting that their joint dynamic is going to pull them in directions that neither party would have planned or predicted. As with raising a child, a point is reached at which couples must allow their relationship autonomy, novelty, and space for risk-taking, all the while maintaining open communication. Problems develop, however, if they’re unable to tolerate the anxiety that comes with uncertainty—what might happen—putting their connection at risk for fading away. For some, this also makes them try control the shape the relationship takes, causing major problems.

An example of this is Judith and Ryan, whose relationship was almost ruined by anxiety. Judith reflected on how she underestimated what can happen when passions meet, or perhaps, collide: “I was sure that Ryan’s little ‘peculiarities’ were what had always caused the trouble between us. Nobody’d ever warned me that the way two people ‘meet’ in relationship becomes this unpredictable ‘third thing’—kind of a wild-card that nobody’s really to blame for. But that ‘thing’ caused some real trouble for us.”

Irrelationship is a defensive construct that forms as the scary wild-card of increasing intimacy develops in a relationship. Psychological defenses are survival mechanisms we create to help us navigate the anxiety of everyday life—usually by ignoring or dissociating from awareness of the anxiety.

“What was really weird was when I realized that my habit of scapegoating Ryan was part of undermining that ‘wild-card-thing’ which helps relationships really come alive. Oddly, I wasn’t doing it on my own: Ryan cooperated by actually accepting the scapegoat role.”

“Although,” Ryan jumped in, “it took awhile for me to see that I was going along with Judith’s tirades so she’d feel better. It didn’t really hurt me: I love Judith and felt sorry for her. I had this idea that letting her unload on me was helping her. I realize looking back that I somehow didn’t really believe that she believed what she was saying about me.”

“Yeah,” responded Judith. “And anytime you argued with me, I’d get so angry. I thought you were just being stubborn by not letting me ‘help you,’ and that if you’d just listen to me, everything would be better for you. I kind of knew you weren’t agreeing with what I was saying, but I thought I could force you to take it in.”

“Yeah, I know. And I thought I was helping you by letting you believe that. Funny, what we were really doing was stonewalling so that we couldn’t get closer to each other.”

The authors’ tool for identifying and treating this type of defense against intimacy is called the 40-20-40. It’s a technique that helps couples and others to name the thought patterns and behaviors that prevent closeness from developing, moving them toward relationship sanity. Using couples-specific conflicts and issues, the 40-20-40 sorts out the anxiety and unspoken needs that act as a barrier to intimacy by teaching the couple to articulate their fears both to themselves and each other.

“It wasn’t easy to see how my ‘helping’ Ryan was just a way of keeping my distance. But my insistence that I knew best was ruining everything,” said Judith. I kept telling myself he was ‘the bad guy,’ and even belittled him him in front of our friends. It was gross.”

“Yeah,” agreed Ryan. “And I was making nice by going along with it, which just made the whole thing worse.”

The irrelationship dynamic originates in families where expression of feelings and vulnerability are discouraged. Over time this develops into barriers that protect us from the anxiety and pain brought about by being close to each other. The unintended consequence is that family members are left in seemingly inexplicable isolation from one another.

“I don’t know how it happened, but one day I realized how far away you’d become. And for some reason, Duh! The no-brainer dawned: I’d created this by picking on you all the time—so much so that our friends noticed it and sometimes pointed out what I was doing. But I always brushed it off, telling myself you ‘needed it.’”

“Yeah,” Ryan answered. “And I just let it happen, though it sure made you look pretty bad to our friends.”

Working through irrelationship often starts when the pain of clinging to a defect is greater than the fear and discomfort of letting it go—a relationship character defense like emotional distance is similar to what psychologists call a “character defect” or “flaw” which can be addressed with psychotherapy. Through this process we can accept our past—and the ways in which it materializes defensively and defectively in our relationship—with compassion and step into our present with each other with a new image and experience of our relationship and ourselves. Relationship sanity—a process of giving and receiving, loving and accepting love—opens the door to new possibilities for healing, love, intimacy and growth.

“One day I woke up with a bad stomach ache,” Judith remembered. “You seemed so far away. I thought my life was ending. I’d hit a wall and could see no way around it. I can’t believe I was able to tell you that. But you listened, even though it had been a long time since I deserved to have you listen to me. Somehow, though, it was enough to begin changing everything.”

Facial Characteristics May Influence Perception of Honesty

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Can you look at someone and tell if they are honest? Many of us believe we can and a new Canadian study explains why we have this perception (accurate or not).

Researchers determined that certain facial features, not the expression, influence whether people think someone is trustworthy. That is, some people may “look” honest.

University of British Columbia’s psychology professor Dr. Stephen Porter, and Ph.D. student Alysha Baker, recently completed two studies determining that people often make judgments of trustworthiness based solely on the face.

“Our findings in this and our past studies suggest that your physical appearance can have major implications for your assumed credibility and other character traits, even more powerful than the manner in which you behave and the words you speak,” said Porter.

“The implications in social, workplace, corporate, and criminal justice settings are enormous.”

In their studies, the researchers asked participants to watch a video, listen to audio-only pleas, or examine a photo of people publicly asking for the return of a missing relative. They then asked for their personal perceptions of general trustworthiness and honesty.

“A lot of information that feeds into our impressions about one’s trustworthiness is deduced from the face,” said Baker, who conducted much of the research.

“More specifically, there are certain facial features considered that make an individual look more trustworthy — higher eyebrows, more pronounced cheekbones, rounder face — and other features that are perceived to be untrustworthy-looking — downturned eyebrows, or a thinner face.”

The studies cited two real criminal cases, one with an 81-year-old woman and one with a father of a missing nine-year-old girl. People believed the elderly woman’s public appeal for justice, even though it was later determined she had killed her husband.

Many judged the father to be lying, based on his facial features, even though he later proved to be innocent.

“When encountering a person in any given situation, we automatically and instantaneously form an impression of whether a target is worthy of our trust because, evolutionarily, this kind of assessment has helped our survival. For example, assessing ‘friend or foe’,” said Baker.

“We’re typically not aware of this quick decision and it may be experienced as ‘intuition’, but this can be particularly problematic in the legal system because these first impressions are often unfounded and can lead to biased decision-making.”

Baker cautions that in some legal settings those who are untrustworthy-looking may be judged more harshly and receive different outcomes than those deemed to be trustworthy-looking.

This has occurred in the United States where untrustworthy-looking men are more likely to receive the death penalty than trustworthy-looking men convicted of similar crimes.

This study appears in the journal Psychology, Crime & Law.

Source: University of British Columbia/EurekAlert

While Cognitive Ability Varies, Prejudice Seems Universal

-Janice Wood

A new study finds that when it comes to prejudice, it doesn’t matter if you are smart or conservative or liberal. Each group has its own specific biases.

In fact, the study found that cognitive ability — whether high or low — only predicts prejudice towards specific groups.

“Very few people are immune to expressing prejudice, especially prejudice towards people they disagree with,” said lead author Dr. Mark Brandt of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

For their study, Brandt and Dr.  Jarrett Crawford of the College of New Jersey analyzed data from 5,914 people in the United States that included a measure of verbal ability and prejudice towards 24 different groups.

Analyzing the results, the researchers found that people with both relatively higher and lower levels of cognitive ability show approximately equal levels of intergroup bias, but towards different groups.

For instance, people with low cognitive ability tended to express prejudice towards groups perceived as liberal and unconventional, such as atheists, gays, and lesbians, as well as groups of people perceived as having low choice over group membership, such as ethnic minorities.

People with high cognitive ability showed the reverse pattern, according to the study’s findings. They tended to express prejudice towards groups perceived as conservative and conventional — Christians, the military, big business.

“There are a variety of belief systems and personality traits that people often think protect them from expressing prejudice,” Brandt said. “In our prior work we found that people high and low in the personality trait of openness to experience show very consistent links between seeing a group as ‘different from us’ and expressing prejudice towards that group. The same appears to be true for cognitive ability. ”

While previous work has found that people with low cognitive ability express more prejudice, Brandt said his study found this was limited to only some target groups.

“For other target groups, the relationship was in the opposite direction,” he said. “For these groups, people with high levels of cognitive ability expressed more prejudice. So, cognitive ability also does not seem to make people immune to expressing prejudice.”

The researchers noted they would like to see if their findings will replicate in new samples, with new target groups, and additional measures of cognitive ability.

“We used a measure of verbal ability, which is essentially a vocabulary test,” Brandt said. “Although this measure correlates pretty well with other measures of cognitive ability, it is not a perfect nor a complete measure.”

The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)

The Kids Can’t Stop: Is Internet Addiction Real?

-Matthew J. Edlund, MD

Continually connecting can make you deeply disconnected.

Is This Addiction?

Can you get addicted to internet use? A new Chinese study argues that it certainly happens; that it clearly changes brain and behavior; and that the brain changes seen are in many ways similar to what happens with drug addiction and gambling.

Kids Who Can’t Stop

The adolescents – aged 14 to 21 – studied in Shanghai and Wuhan were a rather special group. Their preoccupation with the Internet was encompassing. They took more and more time on the Net; tried to cut back but could not; felt restless and irritable when they did; stayed on longer than they should. Many also lied to their families about their use of the Net, and jeopardized school or job performance.
They really couldn’t stop.

But they were not depressed. Previous researchers had argued that kids addicted to the internet were simply depressed, drug addicted or psychotic, or suffering severe anxiety disorders – their compulsive Net use was just an outlet for other problems. The Shanghai adolescents were clinically excluded from having such problems. They were then matched with a control group age and sex matched kids – and sent off to be tested in the MRI machine.

Were the compulsive internet users truly comparable to the controls? No. On at least one questionnaire the unstoppable internet users were more anxious than the control group. Yet anxiety was certainly implied in their inability to stop using the Net – and in its deleterious social results.

Different Brains

The compulsive internet users certainly looked different from the control group. Previous work had shown decreased grey matter in the cingulated cortex, insula and lingual gyrus – areas involved with emotion and executive decision making. Other studies argued poor information processing and lower impulse control. The Shanghai-Wuhan researchers were interested in white matter – the connections between different brain areas.

And they were different.

Major changes were seen in the corpus callosum – which connects hemispheres – and areas like the internal capsule and precentral gyrus. The authors argued that white matter was disrupted in a host of areas involving emotion, decision making, and repetitive behaviors. The results were fairly similar to what was seen in people who frequently used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.

1. There are kids using the Net who truly can’t stop. Though clinicians argue about whether they’re behavior is “compulsive” as opposed to addictive, it really messes up their lives.
2. Though the adolescents looked at in this study were truly extreme – and overall may be few in number – their brains were distinctly different in unhealthy ways.
3. Internet use is probably like most behaviorally defined actions – a continuous variable – not a dichotomous, yes or no one. Lots of adolescents may not be as compulsive as these Chinese kids, but fear being disconnected from the Net and deeply dislike having to focus their attention elsewhere. Many kids may be able to get away from the Net much of the time – but not all the time.
4. As noted by Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones in an interview with BBC News, behavioral “addictions” lead to the same brain changes as pharmacological ones.
5. China is advancing rapidly in biological and medical research, as it has in other arenas. Problems with plagiarism and overzealous publishing should not obscure excellent scientific work.

Bottom Line:
What you do changes your brain function and anatomy – rather quickly. Compulsive internet use can appear as functionally destructive as compulsive drug use or gambling.

And compulsive internet use may become a preferred outlet for much of the society suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.

In this case, continuous connection may ultimately create disruptive disconnection – social, psychological, and emotional.

What we do is what we become. The Net continues to change human brains, as Nicholas Carr pointed out in his book “The Shallows.” The changes will most probably become more profound as virtual reality technologically improves.

Will kids appearance on their Facebook page become more important to them than their real appearance?

We may soon find out.

Why You Can’t Eat (or Can’t Stop Eating) After a Breakup

-Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH

Investigating the gut-brain response

We often find what we need when we’re not looking for it. That’s how it was for me today, spending a lazy Sunday searching the scientific literature for research related to “communication about feelings” (isn’t that what everyone does on Sundays?).

Instead of finding research related to how people talk or avoid talking about their feelings, I found myself taken in by the first result: a 2011 article published in Nature titled “Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication.”

I was intrigued for two reasons: (1) one of my good friends, a neuroscientist, often talks about gut decisions (they are not always the “right” decisions to make but they deserve attention for various reasons); and (2) I had recently talked with another friend about some of my own gut-brain responses and it left me with a nagging question.

What happened is this: I had shared a story about how, when I was 19, I lost my appetite for a week. I was healthy and happy with life except that I had ended a relationship with someone who I liked, but didn’t want to be with anymore, and I felt badly about it. The pain of hurting another person was, for me, so painful that my stomach hurt and I couldn’t eat, a result of my overly sensitive and overly empathic nature in which I took in his perceived pain and made it my own (in reality, I’m sure he was just fine).

So there I was, relatively unable to eat normally except for the lucky fact that my body was adaptive enough to crave a specific food each day. For the first few days, the only food I could bare to eat was watermelon. Then, some specific muffins from a specific bakery. After about a week, time healed, my appetite returned, and I mostly forgot about this odd gut-brain reaction.

That is, until the next time I found myself ending a relationship and once again losing my appetite. This came to be a cycle that repeated itself during times when I was ready to break up with someone, had already broken up with someone, or was experiencing sufficient relationship distress. I didn’t lose my appetite for days at a time due to any other type of stress, I told my friend; just relationship distress. And it was annoying.

“What about drinking?” he asked, as I sipped from a tasty lavendar drink at a favorite bar. “Did you ever lose your appetite for certain drinks?”

And it occurred to me that I hadn’t. Yet the scientist in me couldn’t figure out why I would so routinely and consistently lose my appetite for food in the face of relationship issues but never any type of alcohol.

Reading the Nature piece today has provided me with some sense of my own gut-brain connection, and perhaps—if you’ve experienced appetite issues in response to relationship distress, it may for you too. It seems that there’s a growing and (for me) fascinating area of research related to interactions between our gut (e.g., appetite, GI function, etc) and our brain (e.g., thoughts, memories, decision making, and emotions).

The article reviewed scientific findings related to the gut/brain that lead me to believe that the following—at least for me—may have happened:

1. When I was 19 and had my first significant breakup, I had a fairly typical stress response of changes to eating patterns.

2. Relationship-related distress is rare enough for me—and I am a highly sensitive/empathic person—and thus “memories of body states associated with previous feeling states” (this, from the article) perhaps became linked. That is, relationship distress is, for me, connected with loss of appetite going back to my first significant breakup.

3. Because I wasn’t really drinking alcohol very often at age 18 or 19, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to want a drink, let alone to lose my appetite for a drink. Thus, I had no alcohol-related appetite loss in relation to relationship distress at the time, and it’s consequently never become part of how I deal with this now. It never became imprinted.

I mention this because, in a recent class discussion about love, breakups, and communication, my students talked a bit about their own changes to eating patterns when faced with heartbreak. Some students talked about drinking more alcohol, or taking various drugs or pain medications, after a breakup. Other students talked about eating more than usual or less than usual when going through difficult relationship issues.

It’s common to experience changes related to eating (and to sleep) in response to relationship issues, including breakups. However, we have idiosyncratic patterns and the Nature article helped me to understand the numerous pathways that may be possible in creating these connections and establishing individuals’ patterns related to appetite, eating behaviors and their memories and emotions. I liked this part of the article:

“…body loops, or their meta-representations in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), may play a part not only in how somebody feels at a given moment but may also influence future planning and intuitive decision making. For example, according to Damasio, somatic markers may covertly result in ‘undeliberated inhibition of a response learned previously … [or] the introduction of a bias in the selection of an aversive or appetitive mode of behavior.’”

My pattern of appetite loss is specific to me—and because it’s so predictable, when it happens at all I experience it as an annoyance since I like to eat and just want to get the whole “appetite loss” thing over with. I know that I’m fine; I just want to eat again. I’ve also found that, for me, the appetite loss is linked specifically with feeling bad about hurting another person. I can manage relationship distress. I can manage breakups. But, going back to childhood, I’ve always found it painful to do things that break another person’s heart—and it’s that pain that seems to be linked with finding it too painful to eat. [Fortunately these days, I am eating 100 percent normally and happily.]

There’s nothing to “do” here; meaning, this isn’t a “5 Tips” or “10 Steps” piece. But if you find yourself interested in the topic, and have a science-y background, you may find the article to be an interesting read. And if you experience gut-related symptoms in response to relationship or sexuality issues, you might look for patterns in your own past, and memories, to see how a gut-brain reaction may have developed for you. It may even give you some insights in terms of how you might be able to care for yourself going forward.

Grief Isn’t Something to Get Over

-Mary C Lamia, PhD

The notion that one gets over it is a myth.

Grief Isn’t Something to Get Over

The emotion of grief may be triggered by the loss of a loved one or the result of a life circumstance. Many people believe that if you have effectively mourned a loss you will then achieve closure. The notion that one mourns a loss and then gets over it, to the extent that emotions about the loss are not triggered in the future, is a myth.

Similarly, children have such expectations about getting over loss. They seem to believe that one needs to do something in particular in order to achieve that goal. Several years ago, as host of a radio talk show for kids, I asked listeners about the issue of loss. An 8-year old boy told me that his grandfather had died two weeks before and he wanted to know how to get over it-he thinks about him all the time and can’t concentrate on anything else. A 12-year old boy explained that his dog had died and he wanted to know what to do since he couldn’t say good-bye to her and didn’t think that he could ever “fill [his] heart with anything else.” I didn’t ask what he meant by his choice of words, however, I felt its meaning. A 13-year old girl said that she asks her brother about what clothes look good on her because she doesn’t have a mom. Ever since her mother died several years before, her dad, she claimed, tries to be both a mom and dad. But it always feels like something is missing. She asked, “How do I get over my mom dying?”

The misguided notion that grief is a process that allows a final working through of a loss is likely the fault of my own profession–mental health professionals who have promoted this notion in their work with grieving individuals. Clinical data makes it clear that any significant loss, later and repeatedly, brings up longing and sadness. Is it because these people have not achieved closure by traversing prescribed stages of mourning or because they have not “worked through the loss” as some therapists boldly claim? No. It’s because you never get over loss. As time passes, the intensity of feelings about the loss will lessen, you might also find ways to sooth or distract yourself, or you can partially bury grief-related feelings by creating new memories. But you’re not going to get over it because that’s impossible: you cannot erase emotional memory. Besides, it’s not about achieving closure. Instead you have to figure out what you are going to do when your emotional memories are later triggered.

Emotions that have to do with loss are triggered throughout our lives and you will live with them. Usually they are in the form of anniversary reactions, such as the birthday or death day of the lost loved one or any significant holiday in which you might want to be with the person who is gone. Reminders, such as visiting a place you’ve been with the person you lost, will trigger a similar response. In episodes of depression and high anxiety in patients, I always look for anniversary reactions and situation-matching reactions, such as when emotions are triggered and people just can’t understand why they would be anxious or depressed.

Grief can also be triggered by an age-matching anniversary reaction, which is when a person’s age matches the age of a parent when they died. The remarkable power of age-matching anniversary reactions arising from the loss of a parent in childhood was demonstrated to me when I began training as a psychologist over 30 years ago. I had been treating a severely depressed man who, for many months, was not responsive to intensive psychotherapy or medication. Upon discovering with the patient that his depression began at a time in which his age matched his father’s age of death, the depression miraculously lifted. Beneath his depression lay a myriad of fears that he would be like his father, which included dying at the same age of his father as well as guilt that he was not like his father and could live a full life. Although he had been unaware of the age factor, his painful feelings seemed to recreate the trauma of his father’s death, which was too overwhelming for him to feel when he was ten years old.

One of the reasons that grief happens to be triggered by external reminders, such as in anniversary reactions, is because grief is an emotion that sends a vague alert to help you to remember, rather than to forget. Even so, what most people do with grief is attempt to forget–to get over it-which is quite contrary to the purpose of the emotion. Rather than try to forget, one must attempt to remember and cooperate with what your emotion is trying to convey. There are many ways to remember. You can remember what you learned from the person you lost, remember what you enjoyed, and you can cry if you feel like crying. Even if your grief is about a relationship gone bad, there is always something that you can learn by remembering it.

There are related themes of loss that people express, and later grief responses related to those losses, such as the many women and men who have given up a child for adoption. The child’s birth date does not pass by without an emotional reaction, whether or not they recognize it at the time. Similarly, the date a child would have been born for a childless woman who has had a miscarriage can trigger grief. The experience of loss when a relationship ends can be triggered on the former partner’s birthday, on the anniversary of when you met, or on any holiday.

Whenever I am bothered by the thought of just how misguided the notion of stages of grieving can be, I remember one patient in particular who wanted help with the depression she had every summer, which at the time she told me was when her 12-year old child had died 25 years before. She sought therapy because she was convinced that something was wrong with her. Every June, for 25 years, she had experienced a grief response. Simply knowing that she wasn’t crazy because of the intense affect that came up for her made it a bit easier the next time June arrived. And, rather than try to get rid of her painful feelings at the time, instead she learned to think about exactly what she would do to remember her son.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sums up the lifelong experience of grief in the first 3 lines of his poem, Secret Anniversaries Of The Heart:
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart.

Why Many Men Have Difficulty Compromising

-Janice Wood

New research from Boston College finds that compromise always occurs among two decision-makers when a woman is involved, but hardly ever when the pair of decision-makers are men.

“When men are in the presence of other men, they feel the need to prove their masculinity,” said co-researcher Dr. Hristina Nikolova, the Coughlin Sesquicentennial Assistant Professor of Marketing with the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

“Both tend to push away from the compromise option because the compromise option is consistent with feminine norms. On the other hand, extremism is a more masculine trait, so that’s why both male partners tend to prefer an extreme option when making decisions together.”

While previous research has examined the compromise effect — the tendency to choose the middle, compromise option in a set of choices — using individuals, the new study examines joint decision-making.

“The decisions we make in pairs may be very different than those we make alone, depending on who we make them with,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “Classic compromise effects, AKA the ‘goldilocks effect’ or ‘extremeness aversion,’ may not emerge in all joint consumption decisions.”

Nikolova and co-author Dr. Cati Lamberton, an associate professor of marketing with the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, conducted four experiments with 1,204 students at two U.S universities, and a fifth experiment using 673 online participants.

The studies involved different pairs of a man and woman, two women, and two men making decisions on such things as buying printers, toothpaste, flashlights, tires, hotels, headphones, different sizes and shapes of grills, what prizes to seek in a lottery, and whether to buy risky or safe stocks with corresponding high and low returns.

“No matter what the product is, we see the same effects,” Nikolova said. “The compromise effect basically emerges in any pair when there is a woman. However, surprisingly, when you have men choosing together, they actually tend to push away from the compromise option and select one of the extreme options.”

“Say two men are choosing a car and the cars they are considering differ on safety and fuel efficiency — they will either go for the safest car or the one that offers them the most fuel efficiency, but they won’t choose an option that offers a little of both,” she explained.

In contrast, individuals and mixed-gender and female-female pairs will likely go for the middle option since it seems reasonable and is easily justified.

“In contrast to men, women act the same together as they would alone because they don’t need to prove anything in front of other women,” she said. “Womanhood is not precarious and does not need the same level of public defense as manhood. That’s why we observe the compromise effect in the joint decisions of two female partners.”

Interestingly, the research found that compromise is criticized among other men, but embraced by women.

“Only men judge other men very harshly when they suggest the compromise option to a male partner,” Nikolova said. “It doesn’t happen when a man suggests the compromise option to a female partner or when women suggest the compromise option, so it’s really specific to men dealing with other men.”

Nikolova says the findings are something corporate American will want to pay attention to and gear campaigns around since the compromise effect is a phenomenon often used to position products and drive sales. The study’s findings suggest that retailers and marketers should be aware of the gender composition of the joint decision-making pairs they might be targeting.

“For instance, marketers should be aware of the fact that when two men make decisions together, they are more likely to choose one of the extreme options,” she said. “So if a company wants to push sales toward a particular option, and they expect their target customers to primarily be men making decisions together, then it’s better to make the particular option an extreme option rather than a middle alternative.”

The findings can easily be applied by car sales people, she noted. When offering different cars, sales people need to pay attention to the gender composition of the decision-making pairs.

If a father and a son are purchasing the first car for the son together, it would be better for the sales person to make the particular car which he or she wants to sell (usually the most profitable one) an extreme option in the offered choices — the one with the most fuel efficiency, the best interior design, or the highest horsepower.

In contrast, if a male/female couple or a mother and a daughter are shopping together, it would be best to make that option a middle alternative by adding other alternatives that offer less or more of the particular attribute.

Nikolova added if an organization wants more middle ground decisions made, it’s critical to include a woman in the decision-making pair. In contrast, if a manager wants to “nudge” more all-or-nothing decisions, it is better to entrust them to two men.

As for consumers, it’s important for men to know that what they might buy themselves is different from what they would choose with another man.

“What we’re finding is when men have to choose alone, most select the compromise option,” she said. “But when they have to make the decision with another man, they tend to choose one of the extreme options, which is not something they would prefer if they were alone.

“It’s important for male consumers to be aware of this when making decisions with other people since the drive to prove their masculinity might lead them to make decisions that they might not enjoy later.”

Source: Boston College