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Science at odds with pop culture concerning couples love life

(WWTI) – Valentine’s Day is over, and you may be asking yourself what makes a healthy relationship work?

There are new age ideas like the Five Love Languages to old wives tales like “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” popular culture is riddled with ideas of how sex and relationships are supposed to work. However, does the science back these ideas up, according to Faculty of Health Assistant Professor and Research Chair in Relationships and Sexuality Amy Muise, the answer is no.

“The Five Love Languages” is the invention of Gary Chapman, a former Baptist minister who provided marital counseling to couples in his church and wrote a book based on his experiences. The theory goes that every person has a primary love language and problems can arise in relationships when partners are speaking different languages. The concept has deeply ingrained itself in the popular imagination with online dating sites encouraging people to share their love language, 50 million people have taken the online test and videos with the hashtag have half a billion views on TikTok.

With that being said the theory doesn’t hold up, according to Muise’s latest review paper in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

His measure pits the love languages against each other, but in research studies when they’ve asked people to rate each of these expressions of love independently, people tend to rate them all highly,” says Muise. Still, she sees why the concept has taken off. “It’s something people can really grab onto in straightforward way and communicate something about themselves to their partner. But we would suggest that love is not a language that you need to learn how to speak but it’s more akin to a nutritionally balanced diet, where partners need multiple expressions of love simultaneously, and that these needs can change over time as life and relationships evolve.”

Muise and a group of international collaborators also investigated the idea of ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life,‘ which says a women’s perceptions are the barometer for the relationships, carrying more weight than men’s. In two studies looking at mixed gender couples, one examining daily diaries and the other looking at annual reports over five years, they found instead it’s less ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life,’ and more ‘Happy Spouse, Happy House.’”

In research done last year with a York graduate student, Muise found that while many people like the ideal of spontaneous sex, the researchers did not find evidence that people’s actual experience of sex was more enjoyable when unplanned.

She also did research on if too much closeness is bad for sexual relationships, and according to her “In the research, we find couples who grow closer have more desire for each other, but we argue that what’s also needed for desire is otherness or distinctiveness,”.

Muise says that bringing new things into a relationship is important and that novel experiences can increase desire in long-term relationships.

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