Secret to a happy marriage might be in your DNA, study suggests

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What's in the recipe for a successful, happy marriage? It's not just empathy, mutual celebration or spontaneity. According to new research from the Yale School of Public Health, marital bliss may also be influenced by our own DNA.

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For the new study, published Thursday in the journal PLoS One, lead author Joan Monin and her colleagues studied 178 heterosexual married American couples between 37-90 years of age, all of whom had completed surveys about "marital security and satisfaction" and contributed saliva samples for genotyping.

Compared to couples with different genotypes, "when at least one partner had a genetic variation known as the GG genotype within the oxytocin gene receptor, the couple reported significantly greater marital satisfaction and feelings of security within their marriage," researchers wrote in a university article.

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Additionally, couples in which at least one partner had the GG genotype reported greater attachment security and less anxious attachment. Anxious attachment involves relationship insecurity, lower self-worth, rejection sensitivity and need for approval.

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“In other words,” according to the study, “GG wives were less anxiously attached, and their lower anxious attachment was related to greater marital satisfaction. Likewise, GG husbands were less anxiously attached which benefited their marital satisfaction.”

This makes sense, considering research has shown that low anxious attachment is associated with better relationships, “probably because less anxiously attached individuals are less likely to be jealous and intrusive in their caregiving behaviors than more anxiously attached individuals,” authors wrote.

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Overall, the findings suggest that the oxytocin receptor variant (OXTR rs53576) “marks a socially aware and responsive disposition that makes it more likely to form cognitive representations of others as being available and responsive.”

Previous research has also noted that empathy and stress responsiveness are both influenced by oxytocin—and individuals who are homozygous for the G allele (GG) tend to be "more adept at inferring the mental states of others" and experience "tonically higher levels of empathy." Another study found the gene is also associated with support-seeking behaviors. But the Yale study is believed to be the first to examine the role of the OXTR rs53576 in marital satisfaction.

“This study shows that how we feel in our close relationships is influenced by more than just our shared experiences with our partners over time,” Monin said in a statement. “In marriage, people are also influenced by their own and their partner’s genetic predispositions.”

A possible limitation, authors point out, is that it lacks racial and socioeconomic diversity and can hamper generalizability.

Read the full study at journals.plos.org.

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