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According to new research, people in harmonious relationships may begin to think in sync. Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
  • Although research suggests that several factors can contribute to a harmonious relationship, what predicts marital satisfaction is not fully understood.
  • Research also indicates that long-term couples often start thinking and behaving the same way, leaving many unanswered questions about how this might play a role in marital satisfaction.
  • A recent study from Stanford University in collaboration with researchers in China found evidence that shared brain activity can predict marital happiness.
  • Their findings also provide insight into the neurobiological underpinnings of human marital bonds.

Marital satisfaction and love compatibility have been researched for decades. Yet scientists are only beginning to understand why some couples report being happy in a relationship and others do not experience this type of relationship satisfaction.

Research so far has identified several factors that can contribute to an individual’s happiness in their relationship. For example, a systematic review of research 2016 found that religion, gender, and communication impacted marital satisfaction. Interpersonal factors and mental health also played a role, along with occupation, length of marriage, age and number of children a couple had.

Moreover, over time, harmonious couples often begin to think and behave in similar ways. For example, a study 2021 found evidence of personality synchrony over time in older adult couples.

Yet scientists have yet to fully understand whether this synchronicity between romantic partners indicates greater relationship satisfaction.

However, a new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University in collaboration with Chinese scientists has provided new insights into marital satisfaction.

Specifically, they found that heterosexual married partners who reported greater marital satisfaction also had synchronized brain activity when viewing marriage-related images.

Also, unlike other research, scientists found no significant association between marital satisfaction and age, gender, personality traits, or length of marriage.

The search appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study authors hypothesized that it might be possible to measure marital satisfaction by examining the brain’s response to marital and socially relevant cues.

They also proposed that since growing evidence indicates that neural activity in people in relationships becomes increasingly synchronized over time and shared life experiences, these synchronicities may contribute to greater satisfaction. marital.

To further this theory, the scientists recruited 35 heterosexual couples in China who had been married for at least a year. The researchers also included randomly selected male-female pairs who were unmarried.

First, the research team determined whether behavioral or personality factors predicted marital happiness by asking study participants to complete several marital satisfaction and adult attachment questionnaires. Participants also completed the Big Five Personality Inventory.

Next, participants underwent fMRIs of the brain while viewing video clips related to relationships and objects. The scientists hoped to determine whether married couples showed more brain activity synchronization than randomly selected male-female couples.

The scientists analyzed the data by calculating the inter-subject synchronization (ISS) between the married couples. The team also used dimensional and categorical analyzes to determine whether ISS between married couples was associated with marital satisfaction.

In addition, the researchers also looked at the role played by the Default Mode Network (DMN) – a brain network related to thoughts, emotions, or beliefs about self and others – in marital happiness.

Specifically, the team examined whether ISS in the DMN was related to specific factors of marital satisfaction, including personality, communication, and conflict resolution.

The analysis showed that married couples who reported higher marital satisfaction were more likely to show activity in similar parts of the brain when watching relationship-related music videos. However, this synchronized neural activity did not occur when they viewed object-related images, regardless of reported marital satisfaction.

Additionally, happily married couples showed more synchronized brain activity than randomly matched couples.

In a Stanford Medicine article, study author Dr. Vinod Menon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said: “We found that the links between marital happiness and behavioral measures, such as personality tests, were quite weak.”

In the article, Dr. Vinod explained that “married couples overall, compared to random couples, had more similar brain activity, regardless of satisfaction levels. On top of that, you get extra synchronization in those who say they are more satisfied with their marriage.

Individuals come together and bond as a couple due to many complex factors. But when and how a couple develops synchronized thinking is not fully understood.

“We don’t know if there is [are] selection-based behaviors resulting from similar brain activity in a relationship, or whether couples evolve over time to develop similar anticipatory and predictive brain representations,” Dr. Menon explained in the Stanford Medicine interview.

Dr. Jared Heathman, a board-certified psychiatrist with Your Family Psychiatrist in Houston, Texas, said Medical News Today:

“Married couples often think the same thing, which is called synchronized thinking. This type of thinking can be something that brings couples together. People often choose partners who are like them. Synchronized thinking can [also] be a learned response that occurs after a couple has been together for a long time.

Interpreting the results of the study, Dr Heathman added: ‘My thoughts on this are that in a relationship both partners move towards a similar line of thinking regarding needs, wants and hopes. Both partners influence each other.

“Although both partners are in sync on marriage, they may have different views and perspectives on various topics, thus explaining why they did not have similar brain activity when viewing images unrelated to marriage. relationship,” he added.

Dr. Monica Vermani, clinical psychologist and author of Deeper well-being: overcoming stress, mood, anxiety and trauma, Told DTM:

“Couples with similar thinking styles and personalities often meet easily, cohabit well, and live easily in harmony. On the other hand, some people come together because, […] they lack certain traits within themselves and seek partners who possess the traits they lack in order to achieve a sense of balance.

“In successful partnerships where these dynamics are at play, both individuals respect, admire and learn from each other. Over time, they are often challenged and inspired to learn and acquire the traits they admire in their partner.
— Dr. Monica Vermani

Regarding the study results, Dr. Vermani suggests that “brain similarities support shared perceptions, thought patterns, ways of processing emotions, anger, interpersonal and social interactions, and even reasoning. analytical versus emotional reasoning”.

“These commonalities between neurological and brain activity can be powerful predictors of marital satisfaction,” she concludes.

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