Marital Satisfaction May Be Controlled By Gene, Says Study

Why Your Marriage May Have Been Doomed From The Start

The reason your marriage is plagued by extreme highs and lows may lie in your DNA, a study released Monday claims.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Northwestern University found that some people are genetically inclined to have their marital satisfaction be affected by emotions in the relationship, for better or for worse.

The study found that variations in the serotonin-regulating gene 5-HTTLPR correlated with study participants’ relationship fulfillment. Each of our parents pass us a copy of the gene, which can either be short or long. Participants with two short 5-HTTLPR were most unhappy in their marriages in the face of negative emotion, like contempt, but also happiest when positive emotions like humor were present. On the other end of the spectrum, participants with two long copies were satisfied with their marriages regardless of the emotional atmosphere.

“Individuals with two short alleles of the gene variant may be like hothouse flowers, blossoming in a marriage when the emotional climate is good and withering when it is bad,” lead study author Claudia M. Haase said. “Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate.”

This study may be the first linking genetics, emotions and marital satisfaction.

Researchers began tracking 156 now middle-aged and older couples in 1989, having them come to UC Berkeley every five years to report on their marriage happiness. Couples interacted together in a lab setting so that researchers could code conversations, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and discussion topics.

Interestingly, the study found that 5-HTTLPR’s correlation with marital satisfaction was especially notable amongst older adults.

“One explanation for this … is that in late life -- just as in early childhood -- we are maximally susceptible to the influences of our genes,” senior author Robert W. Levenson said.

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