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Recently, a bombshell was dropped on 90s sitcom fans about one of their favorite TV couples: Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski. Peter Engel, executive producer of Saved by the Bell, said of the classic couple, “Well, they’d be married — but not to each other.” Fans’ hearts collectively broke after this news hit. I mean, the couple survived Kelly’s romantic tryst with Jeff, her hunky college boyfriend who temporarily managed the Max, the distance put between them during the beginning of college before Kelly transferred to Cal U, and her relationship with their college professor, Jeremiah Lasky. Despite these challenges, Zack was persistent and eventually won Kelly’s heart and hand in marriage. So why would Peter Engel suggest that these two wouldn’t make it? After weathering all of those other storms, why wouldn’t they be able to make their marriage work? The answer may lie in how they got together in the first place.

The issue: People have a need to feel autonomous (i.e., they need to feel like they are doing something because they want to and not because someone forced them to).1 When people are dominant, they try to take control of the situation, which may make others feel less autonomous.2 Feeling controlled can be disheartening and is linked to poor well-being.3 And people who have dominant partners tend to be unhappy in the relationship (i.e., have lower relationship satisfaction).4 Researchers wanted to understand why having a dominant partner is linked to lower relationship satisfaction.2

Physical affection (e.g., hugging and kissing) is an important aspect of romantic relationships. Displays of physical affection are associated with relationship satisfaction,1 and in turn greater relationship satisfaction is associated with greater sexual satisfaction.2 Therefore, physical affection plays a large role in the emotional and sexual benefits derived from a romantic pairing. In addition, research has shown than a person’s satisfaction with the physical affection in their relationship is a strong predictor of love, liking, and overall satisfaction.3 Despite this connection, the ways in which we can express physical affection vary, and as such, more research is needed.

In romantic relationships sex tends to be a source of pleasure and connection. But, even beyond the positive sensations and feelings associated with sex during the deed, research has shown that sexual activity also has numerous benefits not only for overall feelings of relationship satisfaction, but also for the personal well-being.  People who have more frequent sex are generally happier in their lives, and this association is comparable in strength to the association observed between making more money and feeling happier.1

Why does sex have these benefits for people’s happiness? The media often depict the physical or technical aspects of sex,2 such as experiencing physical pleasure or a release during orgasm, as central. This means that many of the suggestions in the popular media for improving couples’ sex lives focuses on incorporating sex toys or lingerie to increase arousal and pleasure. However, as relationship researchers, my colleagues and I suspected that the relational aspects of sex, such as affection, might play an important role in understanding why sex matters so much for your overall happiness.

Romantic relationships are important for everyone, and that may especially be the case for adolescent girls. Compared to boys, adolescent girls indicate that their relationships affect them more and they focus more on their relationships.1 Understanding what contributes to healthy relationships for adolescent girls may help lessen potential negative relationship experiences. In this vein, a recent study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers from Stony Brook University explored adolescent girls’ relational security, or how comfortable girls are with being close to others and how much they worry about being left or abandoned.

Just as every superhero has a hardworking, lesser-known sidekick, behind our biggest successes is often someone who listened to us, encouraged us, and cared about us. In fact, our relationships with others can have a big but sometimes imperceptible impact on our ability to exercise our talents. In fact, “self-actualization” is what psychologists call the process of fulfilling one’s needs and eventually achieving one’s full potential. So for the heroes in all of us seeking to discover their calling and make the world a better place, what qualities are important in a lifelong sidekick to help us become self-actualized?

One study of over 2000 married couples examined what makes a great sidekick by studying features of relationships that predict personal well-being. https://oiam2.com

“…find out if the sex is good right off the bat…”“Sex is the barometer for what’s going on in the relationship…” -- Samantha Jones, Sex and The City

“Practice makes perfect....we can work on it.” -- Charlotte York, Sex and The City 

 

Can we tell right away whether we will have great sex with a partner, or is great sex something we may need to work on? As the above quotes illustrate, people differ in their expectations about whether satisfying sex is something we can achieve by finding a compatible partner (Samantha), or whether it is something that might require effort (Charlotte). How might these different beliefs about sex shape how happy we are with our sex lives and our relationships?

To answer these questions, my colleagues and I first developed a measure of sexual expectations, or “sexpectations” if you will.1 We adapted to the sexual domain the broader relationship concepts of destiny beliefs—the belief in soulmates and natural compatibility, and the concept of growth—the belief that relationships take work.2,3,4,5 People high in sexual destiny beliefs more strongly agree with statements like “Struggles in a sexual relationship are a sure sign that the relationship will fail,” and “A couple is either destined to have a satisfying sex life or they are not.” People higher in sexual growth beliefs tend to agree with statements like “In order to maintain a good sexual relationship, a couple needs to exert time and energy.”

There are a lot of safe-sex behaviors that reduce sexually transmitted infections (e.g., consistent condom use, getting tested for STIs). In addition, open communication with your partner(s) about your respective sexual histories can help you assess the risk of a new (or established) sexual partner. Unfortunately, however, a recent a study of 183 college students published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that the majority of young adults may be dishonest when disclosing their sexual histories to sexual partners. Specifically, over 60% of respondents admitted to previously lying at least once when talking to a current partner about their number of past sexual partners, and 20% reported that they always lie about their number of previous partners. Those students who had previously lied about their sexual history were generally uncomfortable with talking about safe sex. So while open and honest communication is important in sexual relationships, you can’t assume you partner is telling you the truth.

tl;dr: Your new partner probably may not be completely honest, so using a condom is always a good idea.

Horan, S. M. (2016). Further understanding sexual communication: Honesty, deception, safety, and risk. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33, 449-468.

When it comes to building communities of interconnected friends and family, how does marital status influence the links between people? Who interacts more with their neighbors, friends, and family-- married people or their single counterparts?

Singles are often stereotyped as lonely, sitting at home by themselves (or maybe with a few cats). In contrast, marriage is often thought of as the foundation of our communities, functioning as a sort of social glue. However, for married people, husbands or wives may have to balance giving time to their partners at the expense of spending time with other social connections. Singles, on the other hand, have time to socialize with their friends and families, and therefore may be more connected. So, which is it? 

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