Science Says Your Bad Marriage Isn't Your Fault

Scott Lucas | October 8, 2013 | Story Tech World

It might not be quite as sexy as Masters and Johnson are in Masters of Sex, but new research from UC Berkeley is still pretty saucy.

According to a new study published online today in the journal Emotion by scientists at UC Berkeley and Northwestern University, a gene that helps regulate serotonin—a neurotransmitter associated with feeling of well-being—can predict how your emotional state affects the satisfaction with your marriage. The researchers are calling it the first study of its kind to link genetics with emotions and marital happiness.

The gene, known as 5-HTTLPR, comes in two varieties—long and short. Every human has two copies of the gene, one inherited from each of their parents. Married partners with two short alleles were found to experience more drastic swings in marital satisfaction. They felt worse about their relationships when their marriages were marked by negative emotions—like anger or contempt—and better when positive emotions were present. By contrast, those participants who had one or two long versions of the gene were far less likely to have their transitory emotional states affect the overall happiness of the marriage.

“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,” said Claudia M. Haase in the announcement of the results. She is the lead author of the study, which she conducted as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. “Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate.”

Researchers working with UC Berkeley Professor Robert W. Levenson have tracked a cohort of 156 couples since 1989, checking in with them every five years to gauge their marital satisfaction and to observe them interact with each other. Recently, 125 of the study participants were genotyped, which formed the basis for this study.

Although no plans have yet been announced by Stanford Business School kids to monetize the research, local VCs remain optimistic.

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