Study Shows Couples' Genes Could Affect Marital Bliss

A couple's chances for marital bliss may go beyond their ability to have and to hold.

A new study released this week by scientists from Chicago's Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley shows DNA determines, in part, how happy you'll be in your marriage.

“An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage, and another so oblivious?” UC Berkeley psychologist Robert W. Levenson said. “With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people.”

Researchers who looked at the genotypes of more than 100 spouses and observed their interaction with their partners, found that a gene variant known as 5-HTTLPR can predict how much emotions affect relationships.

Every human inherits the 5-HTTLPR gene, involved in the regulation of serotonin, from their parents. Married study participants with two short 5-HTTLPR genes were most unhappy in their relationships when negative emotions of anger and contempt were introduced and happiest when surrounded by positive emotions like humor and affection.

Those with two long 5-HTTLPR genes weren't overly bothered with what researchers call the emotional tenor of marriage.

“We are always trying to understand the recipe for a good relationship," Levenson said, "and emotion keeps coming up as an important ingredient."

Levenson said the research suggests people with two short 5-HTTLPR genes are more likely to thrive in a good relationship and suffer in a bad one. It doesn't mean, though, that couples with different variations of the gene are incompatible.

“Neither of these genetic variants is inherently good or bad,” Haase added. “Each has its advantages and disadvantages.”

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