Long‑Term Relationship Happiness Might Be Hard Coded in Our DNA
Couples in whom at least one member has a specific genetic variation governing levels of oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone,’ report more marital satisfaction and security than couples in whom neither party had the genetic quirk, according to Yale University researchers.
It’s a finding that digs one level deeper into the scientific secrets of a happy marriage, helping to explain why the one, and/or the other one, the seven, or the 13 scientific characteristics of a long and happy marriage work for some couples but not others.
“This study shows that how we feel in our close relationships is influenced by more than just our shared experiences with our partners over time,” said the study’s lead author Joan Monin, and associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “In marriage, people are also influenced by their own and their partner’s genetic predispositions.”
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The genetic predisposition in question is the GG genotype, a quirk within the gene dubbed OXTR. In case you’ve forgotten your secondary school biology, a gene is a segment of DNA that encodes a specific function; OXTR is a collection of DNA that determines how the body functions in response to oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for social bonding. For instance, it’s the hormone responsible for parent-to-child post-birth bonding.
The researchers, who studied 178 married couples spanning the ages of 37 to 90, found that people with the GG genotype also had less-anxious attachment styles in their relationship. Anxious attachment styles are characterized by low self-worth, approval-seeking behavior, sensitivity to rejection, and insecurity regarding partners’ level of attention and engagement. Attachment styles are thought to be established in early life, the culmination of experiences with caregivers. It’s unclear whether the study’s findings suggest that attachment style might be genetically predisposed, or that those early life experiences might influence how genes, such as OXTR, express themselves, thus influencing attachment style.
Monin and team calculate that the GG genotype is responsible for only about 4 percent of variation in marital satisfaction, but any couple can tell you it’s usually the small things that make or break a relationship. As science gets better and better at parsing the minute biological drivers of behavior, and humans get more and more intent on mastering them, the day is looming when we see space for OXTR genotype next to kundlis when screening prospective spouses.