What do Genes Have to do with Marriage?

CoupleMy marriage still works after many decades. Scientists say it’s because of me. UC Berkeley researchers found out wives, not husbands, calm marital conflicts, increasing the chances of staying together. Bob Levenson, the professor who spearheaded the research, studied middle aged and older couples for 25 years. He found the divorce rate plummets after 15 years of marriage because, among other things, successful couples no longer try to change one another.

Stacy Flax in the SF Chronicle of 2-14-14 (“All you need is love—and some genetic luck”) writes on professor Levenson’s research. He “began to assemble two groups—78 pairs of fortysomethings married for 15-plus years and 78 pairs of sixtysomethings married for more than 30 years. Every five years, the couples filled out lengthy questionnaires about their marriages, including information about their relationship highs and lows, and then were evaluated in a laboratory. There, they would be hooked up to machines that measured their physiological responses, including sweat, pulse and heart rates, while they tried to resolve problems together.” They would be asked first to resolve a simple problem and then to discuss a larger conflict.

“When it came to heated arguments, if the wife could calm down shortly after the conflict, the marriage had a better chance of succeeding. Whether the husband was able to regulate his emotions had little to no role in long-term marital satisfaction.”

Researchers also found a connection between relationship satisfaction and the gene variant, or allele, 5-HTTLPR, which is inherited from one’s parents. This gene regulates serotonin, a hormone that contributes to feelings of well-being. “People in the study with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were found to be more unhappy in their marriages when there was a lot of bad emotion, like anger and contempt, than those who didn’t have the short variants. And they were more happy when there was good emotion, including humor and affection. Participants with one or two long alleles were far less attuned to the moods of their marriages.”

CoupleIII wonder how this information relates to personality types. In general, are Thinking types, who are usually less attuned to the moods of the marriage, more likely to have long 5-HTTLPR alleles? Are Feeling types, who feel responsible for harmony, more likely to have short 5-HTTLPR alleles?

I’m a Feeling type. So is my husband. And we’re both 5-Observers in the Enneagram. Most 5s hate conflict. Both of us eventually started working on not holding onto our anger. We learned how to recover our equilibrium fast after disagreements. Do we tend to have short alleles? Enneagram types most known for their ability to harmonize are 2-Helpers and 9-Peace Seekers. Do they, along with happy 7-Adventurers, tend to have short alleles?

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