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Kimberly Lawson

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The Benefits of Positive Thinking During Pregnancy Are Seriously Surprising

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The power of positive thinking throughout your pregnancy really might play a role in your baby’s development.

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Why We Gain Weight When We’re In Love

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A couple who eats together, gains weight together. According to new studies, most people gain weight when they’re in a serious relationship.

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THIS Is the Best Time of Day to Have Sex

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Aside from “whenever possible,” these are the most opportune times of the day—and month!—for ultimate sexual satisfaction.

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Receiving Fresh Flowers Can Help Relieve Stress

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Everyone wants their wedding to be beautiful, and of course a big part of that has to do with the floral arrangements. But making those gorgeous centerpieces happen is a thing in and of itself. How do you know which florist to work with? Should you DIY your wedding flowers to save money? And do you really want the tulips over the calla lilies?

As stressful as these decisions may be, by the time the ceremony is over, you may not even want to look at another bouquet of fresh flowers, much less have any hanging around your home.

But according to a recent experimental study from the University of North Florida, these little blooming bundles of nature actually make you feel better about life. The research, published on the Society of American Florists-run website About Flowers, found that adding fresh flowers to your home or office space was associated with a significant reduction in stress among women.

Researchers surveyed the stress levels of 170 women between the ages of 18-65 for 12 consecutive days using the Perceived Stress Questionnaire. About midway through the experiment, some of the women received an arrangement of flowers, while others received a really nice candle of approximately the same value. A third group of unfortunate women received absolutely nothing—they were the control group.

Unsurprisingly, the women who received the arrangement and lived with them for a few days “overwhelmingly reported that flowers improved their mood,” a summary of the research states. Certainly, if your honey has ever surprised you at work with roses, you can attest that this is spot-on. The average reduction in stress was -5.5 points on the Perceived Stress Questionnaire.

“There is a growing body of research that illustrates how environmental design positively impacts health,” said lead researcher Erin Largo-Wight, an associate professor of public health at the University of North Florida, in a statement. “Now it is both intuitive and scientifically known that adding elements of nature, like flowers, to interiors promotes well-being.”

The question is, why do flowers elicit positive emotions and lower our stress levels? A 2005 paper offered some theories: One, for example, suggested that humans have evolved to associate flowers with food gathering or the future availability of food, such as fruit or nuts. It’s also possible that we’re simply attracted to sensory stimuli, such as color and visual symmetry. Another idea the authors explore is the notion that humans evolved to want to cultivate and essentially save flowers from utter destruction: “Flowers may be the plant equivalent of companion animals,” they write.

See more: How Relationship Stress Can Affect Your Gut Health—And How To Fix It

As Largo-Wight pointed out in an interview with WTKR, the great thing about these findings is that it requires so little effort to stop by the grocery store on the way home and pick a bouquet of fresh, colorful, sweet-smelling flowers. “That’s something we can all consider doing to create those moments of calm in our day,” she said, “creating that restorative environment to promote our health and reduce our stress.”

If it means more coming from your partner, though, feel free to send him or her this article.

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What Makes Someone Desirable When Dating Online?

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Online dating has revolutionized the often awkward first date. Think about the classic rom-com You’ve Got Mail. There’s no way Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly wouldn’t have known that she was emailing/flirting with her bookstore rival Joe Fox (played by the ever charming Tom Hanks) if she’d been able to access his dating profile. Sure, they may not have even ended up together without that anonymity, but my point stands: Whether you’re an active account holder on Match.com or swiping left on Tinder, nowadays, it doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort to get to know a potential date before meeting them.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who use online dating tripled from 10 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2016. But it’s only been in recent years that researchers have started gathering related scientific evidence. One of those studies, published this past August in the journal Science Advances, offers some really interesting findings regarding what makes someone desirable.

Using data gathered from active users of an unnamed heterosexual online dating site during the month of January 2014 (the study focused on four metropolitan markets: New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle), researchers found that it’s entirely possible to attract a person you might think is out of your league. An analysis of messaging patterns showed that men and women both reach out to partners who were, according to the study’s measures, about 25 percent more desirable than themselves.

As the study’s authors write, “It appears that people are pursuing a hybrid strategy with elements of both [matching and competition]—they are aware of their own position in the hierarchy and adjust their behavior accordingly while, at the same time, competing modestly for more desirable mates.”

The most eyebrow-raising result from the study, however, had to do with age: According to their analysis, women reach peak desirability at the age of 18. For some reason, after women become eligible to vote, their appeal begins to decline. Men, on the other hand, don’t reach peak desirability until they’re 50—yes FIFTY!

“The age gradient for women definitely surprised us—both in terms of the fact that it steadily declined from the time women were 18 to the time they were 65, and also how steep it was,” Elizabeth Bruch, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, told the New York Times.

It may also not surprise you to learn that the more education a man has, the more desirable he becomes online. A woman with a bachelor’s degree is also pretty hot—but once she starts pursuing a postgraduate education, her hotness level begins tapering off.

The study’s authors also found that in a vast majority of cases, it was men who first established contact online: In fact, more than 80 percent of the guys in their data set sent the first “You up?” (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) What’s interesting, though, is that both men and women tend to contact fewer potential partners if the people they typically hit up were more desirable than themselves. The study’s authors called this a “quality over quantity” approach.

Despite how grimy all of this feels—particularly if you’re a woman hoping to find Mr. or Ms. Right without leaving the comforts of your couch—we still go for online dating, if only for the slim chance we can get a date with an Idris Elba-lookalike. As the study states, “The chances of receiving a reply from a highly desirable partner may be low, but they remain well above zero, although one will have to work harder, and perhaps also wait longer, to make progress. Compared to the extraordinary effort male rats are willing to go through to mate with a desirable female; however, messaging two or three times as many potential partners to get a date seems quite a modest investment.”

See more: How to Win At Online Dating

Unless you’re the 30-year-old New York City woman cited in the study who received 1,504 messages in one month. That’s equivalent to one message every 30 minutes, day and night. If this is you, maybe deactivate your accounts and hit up a local bar instead.

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Are You Guilty of Singlism?

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According to a recent survey from Tinder, most young millennials are cool with being single for a while. Of a sample of 1,036 single adults, ages 18-25, 72 percent said they had “made a conscious decision” to do life unattached for a period of time, while 81 percent said that being on their own benefits them in other parts of their lives, such as work and personal wellness.

These findings fly in the face of everything society has ever taught us. As Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker, told USA TODAY recently: “Historically, people blindly set out to cross off items on their young-adult-to-do list: Go to school. Work hard. Find a partner. Get married. Have children. Encourage your children to do the same. Rinse and repeat.”

Women no longer need a partner to help them build an enjoyable and sustainable life. We don’t even need them to have children. We can do all that on our own, thank you very much.

Yet for all the progress we’ve made around gender equality, society still pushes the narrative that we need to get married to really have a happily ever after. And you, sorry to say, may be perpetuating those unfair expectations without even realizing it.

Think about it. As a recently engaged or married person, have you suddenly made it your mission to hook up your single cousin with one of your partner’s friends? Have you clucked a sympathetic tongue and attempted to comfort your unattached co-workers by telling them, “Don’t worry—your time will come”?

That’s singlism, my friend.

According to Bella DePaulo, an author and scholar who’s made it her life’s work to practice and study single life, singlism is “the stigmatizing of adults who are single.” That, she writes, can include “negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles.”

In a recent post for Psychology Today, DePaulo talks about how singlism needs to be taken more seriously. For example, she writes, singlism typically leaves people less financially secure. It’s no secret that our country’s laws are set up to bolster married couples—we talk about the tax benefits of getting married all the time. Single people also often pay more for housing, and when it comes to health care, they don’t have the option to be added to another person’s workplace insurance plan like many married employees do.

Also, single people are often asked unfairly to stay late at work while their married colleagues get to go home, and research has shown that they experience sexual harassment in the workplace more.

DePaulo also shares stories of uncoupled people being denied important health care because they’re not married: One single woman told her that she was denied a hysterectomy, even though she suffered from severe menstrual issues, because she “might want to have kids someday.”

Marriage is a beautiful thing; we love love. But singlism is alive and well in America, and we can begin to address it by not being dismissive of our single friends. They don’t necessarily need a lifetime partner to be happy with their lives.

See more: How to Treat the Single Bridesmaid(s) in Your Wedding Party

That’s why that recent Tinder survey is so newsworthy. As DePaulo writes: “After generations of single people feeling bad about being single – or at least thinking they should feel bad, here are new generations of young people who do not seem the least bit shamed about their single lives.”

She adds: “I’m tempted to say: This changes everything.”

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Men and Women Sleep WAY Differently—Here's Why

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If you’re excited at the prospect of falling asleep next to the love of your life every night, we have some news for you: Because of biological differences between men and women’s sleep, it’s likely that you and your partner will actually have slightly different snoozing schedules. In my house, for example, that means I’m usually in bed by 11 p.m. while my boyfriend is up till the wee hours of the morning playing video games.

Personal experience aside, researchers say there are several ways in which men and women differ in the way they sleep. Here are just a few.

Women Fall Asleep Earlier and Wake Up Earlier

Thanks to internal clocks—also known as circadian rhythms—that tend to run on the fast side, women are more inclined to hit the hay at an earlier hour than their male partners. In a 2011 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sleep scientists found that when they controlled the sleep patterns of 157 people—which they did by isolating subjects in a windowless lab for eight weeks so they were unaware of the time of day—the biological clocks of women were shorter by about six minutes.

“Even a slight difference can have significant impact on nightly sleep and on energy levels during the day,” clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael J. Breus explained for Psychology Today. “Think about a clock that runs a handful of minutes behind every day. Over time, those minutes really add up!”

When They Do Finally Go To Bed, Men Fall Asleep Faster

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in four American women experience insomnia, compared with fewer than one in five men. While it’s unclear what exactly causes insomnia, experts have a number of guesses that impact women specifically: From fluctuations in hormones due to periods, pregnancy and menopause, to the sheer existence of children, it’s a miracle women are ever able to get any rest.

Women Need More Sleep

Jim Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through The Science Of Sleep, argues that women need about 20 minutes more than their male partners. “The more of your brain you use during the day, the more of it that needs to recover and, consequently, the more sleep you need,” he told The Daily Mail. “Women tend to multi-task—they do lots at once and are flexible—and so they use more of their actual brain than men do. Because of that, their sleep need is greater.”

No wonder we always zonk out before the ending of a movie.

Women Handle Sleep Loss Way Better Than Men

In a 2011 study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 16 men and 18 women were asked to sleep only six hours a night over the course of six consecutive nights. The following two days, participants were given the chance to “catch up” on missed sleep the next two days.

See more: Lack of Sleep Will Destroy Your Libido

Researchers found that women did better on performance tests than men during the period their sleep was restricted; they did even better after they caught up on some missed Z’s. These differences appeared to be connected to more waves of deep sleep. As principal investigator Dr. Alexandros N. Vgontzas noted in a statement, it seemed that deep sleep offered “a protective effect” for women, but not in men.

Or, to put it another way, even sleep-deprived women really can do it all. No wonder we live longer.

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Women With A Keener Sense of Smell Might Have More Orgasms, Study Says

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More than a decade after we broke up, my first love still comes to mind whenever I catch a whiff of Acqua di Giò Pour Homme by Giorgio Armani, his favorite cologne. I haven’t spoken to him in many years, but to this day, if this fresh, unobtrusive fragrance happens to cross my path, I’m 18 years old again and a little weak in the knees.

Of course, this is the same guy who left me to marry another woman a month later. That’s how you know how powerful the sense of smell really is.

In fact, it appears we don’t give our noses enough credit when it comes to the role smells play in sexual attraction. According to a study published recently in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, women with a better sense of smell appear to have more orgasms.

Past research has found that people with health issues that impact their olfactory function—a fancy way of saying things related to smelling—also reported a reduced interest in sex. The German researchers behind the current study, however, wanted to investigate the relationship between smell and aspects of sex among healthy people.

Their sample size was fairly small: 42 women and 28 men. To assess how sensitive their sniffing capabilities were, researchers had participants take a “Sniffin’ Sticks” test—yes, really—where they had to smell three pens and guess which one contained a faint odor. Participants also answered questions that measured aspects of their sexuality, including how fiercely they desired sex, how “pleasant” their bedroom interactions were, and how frequently they’d got it on in the last month and for how long. Additionally, women were asked to share how often they orgasmed during intercourse.

In their analysis of the data, the study’s authors found no significant correlation between odor sensitivity and sexual desire or performance. But they did find that super-sniffers reported better sexual experiences; for women, that also meant more orgasms.

“The experience of sexual interactions appears to be enriched by olfactory input,” the study’s authors write. “The perception of certain body odors may contribute to the concept of sexual pleasure by enhanced recruitment of reward areas.”

In other words, it’s not that a person’s sense of smell really has anything to do whether or not they want to get their groove on; rather, inhaling the sweet smells of fluids and sweat “seems to enrich the sexual experience,” they write.

In an interview with The Sun, psychotherapist Phillip Hodson offered an interesting point. “The findings suggest having a head cold and blocked nose may make arousal more difficult. Clearing the nose may be a useful strategy. I know from my own sex therapy practice that you can improve sexual response among healthy women and men by getting them to consciously smell their partners.”

See more: Study Shows That People in Open Relationships Have Better Sex

With flu season upon us, stocking up on Vitamin C, elderberries, or whatever remedies you use to stay healthy may take on a whole new sense of urgency. While there were some limitations to the study—for example, the authors did not assess the status of female participants’ menstrual cycle, which could affect a number of measures assessed in the research—the findings really suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking down our noses (pun intended!) at the role the sense of smell plays in women’s orgasms.

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On-Again, Off-Again Relationships Can Be Terrible For Your Mental Health

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If there’s one thing we’ve learned from R&B songstress Mariah Carey, it’s that it’s OK to be full-throttle, heart-wide-open, let’s get matching tattoos fiercely in love. No wonder her name pops up so much on wedding reception song lists.

Throughout her robust catalog of soulful love songs, Carey’s also taught us that it’s totally fine to mourn when a relationship ends. (See “Butterfly” and “Always Be My Baby.”) Because—according to the worldview reflected in her ’90s and aughts work at least—that person will eventually come back anyway, and that’s how you know you were meant to be.

In 2018, we’re not sure that take is all that healthy. According to a new study published in the journal Family Relations, this kind of on-again, off-again relationship—think Carrie and Mr. Big in Sex and the City—is actually pretty harmful for your mental health.

Relationship transitions are tough for everyone. Anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of young people have cycled in their current relationship, and a quarter of married young adults have reported getting back together after a brief separation, according to research cited by the study’s authors. When compared to those without a history of breaking and and reconciling and breaking up again, “on–off relationships are associated with higher rates of violence and verbal abuse, poorer communication, as well as lower levels of satisfaction and commitment.”

To get a better understanding of these on-again, off-again cycles and how they impact different people, researchers examined data collected from 545 individuals in same-sex and different-sex relationships. Participants were asked to track how frequently they experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety over a two-week period. They also shared if they had a history of cycling through a relationship, and how often they had broken up and gotten back together with that person. LGBTQ participants also reported about additional stressors, including whether they’d experienced rejection or victimization because of their sexual orientation.

According to the study’s findings, about a third of people admitted to having a history of relationship cycling—some as many as eight times! That was consistent among both straight and gay people. Not surprisingly, those people also reported more psychological distress.

As the authors explain, “Not only can transitions out of a relationship affect psychological adjustment, but transitioning into relationships without deliberation and dedication to seeing the relationship continue can also be distressing. Similarly, transitions may create uncertainty about the future of the relationship, which is associated with depressive symptoms and may be an important mechanism in the link between relationship quality and mental health.”

Ultimately, these findings read like an important wake-up call. If you and your partner are engaged to be married and still waffling, the study suggests it’s less likely you’re going to actually make it down the aisle because of such instability. And, the authors write, while “married couples can experience separation or divorce and renewal, often in the form of a ‘trial separation,’ the reconciliations tend to be short-lived, with many who reconcile separating again within the first few years after reuniting.”

Kale Monk is an assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri-Columbia and lead author on the study. “The findings suggest that people who find themselves regularly breaking up and getting back together with their partners need to ‘look under the hood’ of their relationships to determine what’s going on,” he said in a statement. “If partners are honest about the pattern, they can take the necessary steps to maintain their relationships or safely end them. This is vital for preserving their well-being.”

Or, as he told Time: “It is okay to end a toxic relationship.”

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Can Climate Change Affect Fertility?

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Fall may be creeping at our door, but it’s going to take us a while to get over the sweltering heat that’s plagued us the last few months. It was so hot this summer, we hallucinated that fanny packs were back in style. (Oh, wait.)

As these steamy days become more frequent—thanks, climate change—one surprising effect might alter your five-year plan to start a family. According to a new study published in the journal Demography, global warming is making it more difficult for couples to conceive.

For their analysis, the study’s authors looked at birth counts at the state-by-month level and weather data from 1931 through 2010. They discovered a number of interesting things. For example, August and September are two of the busiest months for births in the U.S., thus suggesting that people are most likely to conceive between December and January—aka, cuffing season. Additionally, they found that birth rates are lowest in northeastern states and highest in southern states, but that may be due to other factors outside of rising temperatures, including poverty rates.

Researchers also discovered that make-you-sweat temperatures—that is, 80 degrees and up—were related to a large decline in birth rates 8 to 10 months later. “The effect size,” they wrote in an explainer for The Conversation, “is largest at nine months: on average, each hot day reduces birth rates nine months later by 0.4 percent or about 1,100 births.”

It’s not just that people are turned off at the idea of getting all hot and bothered when it’s, well, hot and bothersome outside. “We find that temperature at the time of conception has no discernible effect on conceptions,” the study states. “However, we find that hot weather does indeed reduce conceptions when exposure occurs two weeks before the estimated time of conception.”

It’s possible, the study’s authors suggest, that fewer people are able to conceive because of the way heat impacts men’s reproductive health. Experimental studies on animals have found that high temperatures can slow sperm production.

Of course, an obvious solution for these fertility issues is to crank up the AC. The study’s authors recognize this, but add: “The costs of increased AC usage include greenhouse gas emissions, underscoring the fundamental dilemma in using energy-intensive technologies to adapt to climate change.” (Not to mention the fact that not all Americans can afford air conditioning.)

Meanwhile, maybe the idea of fewer babies being born into the world sounds great to you. This might particularly hit the spot if you’ve ever had to squeeze into a crowded subway during a particularly humid July morning—yuck. Fewer people, you reason, means fewer bodies doing what they do to make the earth warmer and contribute to climate change, right?

See more: How Being Over 35 Can Affect Fertility

Alan Barreca, an environmental economist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author, disagrees. “There are much more effective ways to reduce the birth rate on the planet,” he said in a statement. “Providing women with economic opportunities and access to birth control have a much bigger effect on the birth rate.”

We like the way he thinks.

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A Woman’s Orgasm is the Key to Better Sex

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In author Emily Koenig’s newest book, Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm, one of the contributors makes a familiar confession: “I haven’t been completely honest with, say…70 percent of you,” the unnamed woman writes in a passage published by Broadly. “You were led to believe that you made me orgasm and I’m so sorry to say…you did not…ahem…cross the finish line.”

She’s certainly not alone. According to a recent survey, anywhere between 20 to 31 percent of women say they’ve faked an orgasm during sex at some point in their life.

Koenig’s book, which came out in May, isn’t a guide about how to make a woman come, even though the work was inspired by a similarly named Tumblr the author created. “It’s more like, hey, pay attention to female pleasure,” Koenig writes. “Pay attention to women.”

Helping women better understand sex is always important, but maybe even more so after the findings of a new study were published recently in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It appears that many men, sadly, have no clue how often their wives orgasm.

Researchers out of Brigham Young University were interested in better understanding how an orgasmic experience is connected to sexual and relationship satisfaction, and chose to focus on heterosexual newlyweds for their investigation. They asked 1,683 couples to rate individually how frequently they orgasmed and how frequently they thought their partner orgasmed. They also analyzed how well the couples communicated with one another about their sexual needs and desires, and factored in satisfaction.

The study confirmed that self-reported orgasm and the perception of a partner’s orgasm were positively associated with both sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction. According to the study’s results, 87 percent of husbands said they consistently climaxed during sex. Women, however, had a different story to tell: Only 49 percent of wives said they regularly reached the Big O.

Researchers also found that almost half (43 percent) of husbands “misperceived” how often their partners experienced orgasm. Yikes.

In an interview with IFLScience!, study lead author Nathan Leonhardt offered a few thoughts on why this orgasm perception gap exists: “When a husband overperceives how often she’s orgasmic, she might be faking orgasm in hopes of him feeling more satisfied with the experience,” he said. “When a husband underperceives how often she’s orgasmic, she might not have been open about whether she orgasmed or not, leaving the husband with nothing but his best guess.”

But one of the biggest takeaways from the study, the authors write, is that women’s orgasm is uniquely associated with sexual satisfaction, “as wives’ self-reported orgasm was linked with their own sexual satisfaction, and husbands’ perceiving their wives to be orgasmic reported higher sexual satisfaction.”

They add: “This study is not suggesting that husbands’ orgasms are not important, rather they are ubiquitous. Considering the variability in wives’ orgasms … this study provides evidence that attentiveness to the wife’s orgasm experience may promote greater sexual satisfaction for both husbands and wives.

See more: Why Good Sex Requires Empathy

And there we have it: Like all great things in life, communication is key. “If both partners are comfortable with their own sexuality and able to accurately communicate how they feel about their experiences,” Leonhardt told IFLScience!, “wives will more likely achieve orgasm, and both partners will likely experience higher sexual fulfillment.”

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Study Shows That People In Open Relationships Have Better Sex

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Open marriages aren’t for everyone. But if you’re intrigued at the idea of abandoning the notion that only one person can fulfill you romantically, sexually, and emotionally, you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent poll from the Kinsey Institute, about one in five Americans have engaged in consensual non-monogamy (CNM)—that is, relationships in which partners agree to be romantically and/or sexually involved with people outside of what might be considered their primary relationship.

In fact, as interest in CNM has increased in recent years, researchers have also worked to better understand these types of relationships. For example, what are some of the benefits of practicing non-monogamy? According to one recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, one has to do with sexual satisfaction.

The study, led by Amy Muise, an assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, is the first of its kind to investigate the link between sexual need fulfillment and relationship satisfaction among people in CNM relationships. It’s an important topic; after all, as Muise and her coauthors point out—and perpetually single people everywhere can confirm—getting everything you need from a romantic partner can be “a tall order.”

For their analysis, researchers conducted two different surveys of a total of 1,054 participants who reported being CNM. They asked the subjects to rate how satisfied they were in their relationships, how sexually fulfilled they felt, and how far they thought their partners would go to rock their world, among other things.

According to the study’s findings, participants who said they felt more sexually fulfilled in their primary relationship (which was determined by who they spent the most time with, not necessarily who they considered to be their main squeeze) and thought their primary partner was particularly intent on meeting their needs also reported feeling more satisfied in their secondary relationship. In other words, there was a “spillover effect” from a person’s primary relationship into their secondary relationship: Their cups runneth over.

“One explanation for these additive or ‘spillover’ effects,” the authors write, “is that having multiple partners is a way for people to achieve greater sexual need fulfillment, and this, in turn, enhances each relationship.” They also suggest that it’s possible having a primary partner who is gungho about meeting one’s sexual needs, even if they cannot fulfill all of those desires themselves, allows people to seek out other relationships for specific purposes. For example, if a woman’s primary partner is unwilling or unable to take on a specific sex act, she may seek to engage in that elsewhere.

More broadly, the findings suggest monogamous couples could learn a lot from CNM couples. Not only does it take a “strong foundation” to maintain a primary partnership when the relationship is open to outside partners, “open communication and managing jealousy and attraction are insights that CNM relationships could afford monogamous relationships,” the study states.

See more: What is Ethical Non-Monogamy and Could It Work For Your Marriage?

Kate Kincaid, an Arizona-based psychologist who works with polyamorous couples, agrees. In a recent interview with TIME, she said: “The biggest thing that I appreciate about poly people is that they focus on knowing what their needs are and get their needs met in creative ways—relying more on friends or multiple partners instead of putting it all on one person.”

She added: “Once [monogamists] get into a relationship, they tend to value their romantic partner above everyone else.”

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Why Women Prefer A Man With A Strong Grip

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Shaking another person’s hand is one of the most common greetings in Western culture. These simple gestures really speak volumes. It’s why women who work in the corporate world often offer a confident and strong grip when they meet a new client, and it’s why fathers tell their sons to look the other person squarely in the eye before shaking their hand firmly, why it’s been so funny to watch President Trump take part in a lot of awkward handshakes since he took office (remember that one time he shook Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand for a full 19 seconds? Yikes.). First impressions are everything.

In fact, a new study published in the journal SSM-Population Health suggests the grip of a man’s handshake may even play a role in his marriage prospects.

As we get older, our grip ability—that is, how firmly we grip something with our hand—starts to decline. It’s a signal of our health and our ability to cope independently, which is why researchers at Columbia University focused on grip strength and its association with marriage. Although some researchers are skeptical that the health benefits to marriage still exist, generally speaking, people who study this stuff believe individuals who have taken the big plunge tend to be healthier and live longer. Also informing their investigation was past research that suggests men tend to marry for looks and personality while women often seek a partner who’s strong and has the ability to provide.

The study’s authors looked at two groups of subjects (totaling more than 5,000 people) between the ages of 59 and 71 living in Norway. In both groups, about three-quarters were married. When researchers calculated their grip strength (using a rubber balloon), they found that the men who never married had significantly lower strength compared with married men, and those numbers were greater for the younger cohort. For women, however, marriage did not appear to be associated with how strong their grip was.

According to the study’s authors, their results “hint that women may be favoring partners who signal strength and vigor when they marry.”

They also point out that while women have grown less dependent on men for economic stability, men still appear to need women to help them in their old age. “Men’s ‘health dependence’ may require a different sort of education and experience as well as new housing alternatives that provide more collective in lieu of spousal support,” the authors write.

As Vegard Skirbekk, professor of population and family health in the Columbia Aging Center and lead author on the study noted in a statement: “If longer-lived women marry healthier men, then both may avoid or defer the role of caregiver, while less healthy men remain unmarried and must look elsewhere for assistance.”

See more: THIS Is the Household Chore That Will Destroy Your Relationship

Researchers were not, however, able to answer whether a weaker grip led to a person being less likely to marry or if being married may have improved a man’s physical strength. If you consider how many pickle jars a husband may have to open for his wife over a lifetime, it seems pretty plausible (to me, at least) that marriage offers unique opportunities to build muscle.

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What We Know About People Who Live Together Before Marriage

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For many people, just moving in together is a huge relationship milestone. Who says the ultimate goal for two people who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together has to be marriage? I would be happy if my longtime boyfriend, whom I’ve shared a home with for more than three years, could remember to close the cabinets in the kitchen when he’s packing his lunch in the morning. By the time he leaves for work, our kitchen often looks like we’ve been robbed.

More and more Americans are choosing to live with their boos before getting married. Between 1987 and 2010, the number of women between the ages of 19-44 who lived with a partner before their first marriage increased by 82 percent. What researchers don’t know, however, is just how these people, dubbed cohabiters by academics, compare to people who are married or living on their own. That’s what a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this summer aimed to investigate.

“Cohabitation,” the study’s authors write in a paper published in National Health Statistics Reports, “is currently the most common first co-residential union among young adults.” To get a better understanding of their demographics and attitudes about sexual behavior, living together, marriage and more, they analyzed data taken from interviews with 8,292 women and 6,674 men aged 18–44 who were sexually experienced; this information was gathered between 2011 and 2015.

Overall, they found that about 17 percent of women and 16 percent of men were currently cohabiting at the time. Nearly half of them were younger than 35. Compared to married couples and those who did not live together, cohabiters were generally less educated and made less money: A quarter had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to four in 10 women who were married or living without their partner.

People who lived together were also more likely to be black or Hispanic, have lost their virginity before 18, have gotten unintentionally pregnant, and cite divorce as “usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.”

Taken out of context, these results appear pretty grim. But it’s important to remember that oftentimes living together is a stepping stone—offering the opportunity for a person to save money and/or seek out better career options—in the path of life toward marriage. Also, in addition to shedding more light on the demographics and opinions of people who decide to share a mailing address before sharing a last name—hello, it’s me!—this CDC study really reveals just how much the definition of family has changed in the last few decades.

See more: What Living Together Before Marriage Really Means For Your Relationship

Unmarried people who live together can thrive in the same way that married people often do, said Jessy Warner-Cohen, a health psychologist in New York. She told HealthDay: “If people who cohabit are on the same page and have shared values and goals, they probably have the same benefits that married people do.”

Besides, if Oprah and Stedman, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Bert and Ernie have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t necessarily have to get married to live happily ever after.

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Wedding

Can Sex Help You Find The Meaning of Life?

Wedding in the Maldives islands, Its celebration of happiness in the middle of ocean with World class Accomodation and Food on your Holiday package, Photo by Asad

We all have some kind of existential crisis at some point. You may be going through one right now. Do you find yourself so preoccupied with wedding planning that you’re going through the motions with everything else that matters in your life? Does work no longer fulfill you? Did an epic night of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On The Run II tour leave you questioning why you never pursued your big dream of performing on stage?

If you do find yourself questioning whether your life has meaning and purpose, you may want to consider a romp in the sack. According to a new study published earlier this summer in the journal Emotion, a good sexual encounter today could lead to a better mood and a greater sense of purpose tomorrow.

Researchers from George Mason University were interested in getting a better understanding of the intersection between well-being and sexuality. After all, as the study’s authors write, “[p]eople think about sex, fantasize about sex, and are hard-wired to have sex.”

The study’s authors recruited 152 mostly heterosexual college students and asked them to complete a daily online diary for three consecutive weeks. In it, they tracked any negative or positive moods, what sexual activity they engaged in (though the researchers did not explicitly define what was considered sex), and how intimate and pleasurable those experiences were. Participants were also asked to rate “how meaningful” they felt their life was that day.

The study confirmed that when a person gets laid, they generally reported feeling pretty good the following day. This was found to be true for both men and women. (That’s not surprising, considering sexual activity triggers the release of oxytocin and dopamine, which are chemicals directly linked with positive mood.) But, unfortunately, the researchers did not find the opposite to be true: A good mood did not predict more sex the next day.

Another interesting point in the study’s results is that it didn’t appear to make much difference how committed partners were to each other. In other words, sometimes just getting that important itch scratched can brighten your overall mood. But quality does matter. People who had greater pleasure during a particular sexcapade also reported greater positive emotions and fewer negative emotions the next day.

Sex was also associated with a greater sense of meaning in life, the study continues. “Meaning in life often arises when an individual feels their basic need for belonging is met with someone,” the authors write. “Sex requires a level of vulnerability and trust that readily facilitates opportunities for deep, meaningful social connection.” These findings, they add, support other research that show “meaning in life is not limited to profound events and in fact, often derives from living in a world that appears to be reliable and comprehensible.”

Todd Kashdan is a psychologist and lead author on the study. In an article he penned for Psychology Today, Kashdan delved deeper into this notion idea of finding meaning through the mundane. “You can derive a sense of meaning in life on the drive to a job interview, noticing that traffic lights turn green — interpreted as the world being on your side,” he explains. “And when there is an opportunity to present one’s true vulnerable self (complete with quirks, shortcomings, and magnificent obsessions), without the worries of showcasing a smarter, stronger, emotionally stable version of ourselves in social encounters, we feel as if life is a bit more meaningful.”

See more: Why Maintenance Sex Is So Important in Happy Marriages

“If such a wide array of events can bring us meaning,” he continues, “perhaps ordinary sexual experiences can do the same.”

Considering the fact that 75 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 33 will experience a quarter-life crisis, I’m sure there are plenty willing to continue testing this theory.

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Wedding

Why Gossip Is Ruining Your Female Friendships

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Most of us love to spill the tea with our friends. As one evolutionary psychologist puts it: “Gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible.”

But to what degree is gossip used as a weapon by women? It’s a question Florida State University researchers were interested in answering—particularly because social psychologists know a lot about the ways in which men compete with one another but not as much about the ways in which women do. (I suppose the movie Mean Girls doesn’t qualify as empirical evidence.) Their results were published recently in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Historically, the study’s authors point out, women competed with one another to attract romantic partners and secure resources to help raise their children. Since women aren’t typically known for dealing with their issues in physical fights—emphasis on “typically”—researchers predicted they handle threats to their romantic interests by selectively sharing information about their rivals. They conducted five separate studies to test this theory.

In one experiment, for example, female participants were shown a photo of an attractive woman and asked to imagine that she had recently joined their group of friends; half, however, were also told that the woman had been flirting with their boyfriends. (Uh oh.) Participants were told juicy details about the woman: some were damaging to her reputation (for example, that she has an STD and cheated on her last boyfriend) and some were actually uplifting (such as the amazing fact that homegirl spoke four languages). The participants were then asked to rate how likely they were to pass along the things they’d heard to other people.

If you’ve ever watched any teen drama, you may not be surprised to learn that the participants in the study who thought the fictional woman had flirted with their romantic partners were more likely to spread the negative info they knew about her than the positive info. Furthermore, they were also more likely to share that damaging information if they were characterized as highly competitive.

Researchers also confirmed that being physically attractive and dressing sexily come across as a threat to other women. In another experiment, participants were shown photos of conservatively dressed “Francesca” and provocatively dressed “Francesca.” Guess which subject they were more likely to spread unflattering gossip about? Yep: Sexy Franny.

See more: Say What?! What to Do When Someone’s Been Talking Badly About Your Wedding

The study’s authors conclude that, “the current findings aid our understanding of the nature of women’s competition and suggest that antiquated stereotypes of women as passive, docile, and non-competitive are likely overstated. Rather, the data presented here suggest women are actively competitive and use social information as their weapon to undermine rivals.”

Tania Reynolds, the lead author on the study and now a postdoctoral researcher at the Kinsey Institute, said in a statement that she hoped her findings can help facilitate conversations about women’s value.

“I hope we can create a new form of success for women that has nothing to do with whether they have romantic partners or whether they’re physically attractive,” Reynolds said. “If we reduce the emphasis on competition for romance and better appreciate that a woman does not need a man to be successful, if we change our view of what it means to be a successful female and stop focusing on questions like, ‘Am I attractive to men,’ maybe that would reduce gossiping, make women feel more secure in themselves, and place more value on other qualities, such as intelligence or kindness.”

After all, ladies, we can accomplish amazing things when we support each other.

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Marriage Only Gets Better With Time—20 Years, To Be Exact

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Like technology, wine, and your 401K, marriage only gets better with time—if you manage to stay married, of course. That’s according to a study published recently in Social Networks and the Life Course.

Researchers out of Penn State and Brigham Young were interested in better understanding how relationships change over the course of a marriage. The question is a pretty interesting one, considering the idea of staying with one person for the next 30, 40, or 50 years may be a lot to deal with for some people. Past studies have consistently found that married people report their relationships with their spouses become less positive over time, and wives are generally not as happy as their partners. So, that’s something to look forward to.

The study’s authors used data from research gathered over the span of 20 years (between 1980 and 2000) that included responses from 1,617 individuals. Their goal was to measure how happiness, shared activities, and discord changed over time for couples who stayed married for a long time and for those who divorced.

Ultimately, the study found that happiness and shared activities (such as eating dinner and working on projects around the house together) declined gradually over the first 20 years of marriage, then stabilized. After 25 years of marriage, however, couples reported spending more time together, and by year 40, they were spending about as much time together as they had that first wonderful year they tied the knot. Researchers also found that reports of marital problems declined continuously over the study period.

Unsurprisingly, couples who ultimately divorced reported more conflict in their first year of marriage and a sharp decline in happiness and shared activities in later years when compared to couples who remained married.

Marriages do deteriorate if you let them, people. As the study’s authors write, “Spouses become disillusioned as they learn more about one another, conflict inevitably emerges and takes its toll on relationships, spouses become increasingly different from one another over time and drift apart, and stressful events and social demands accumulate over the life course.”

Dr. Paul Amato, a sociologist at Penn State and lead author on the study, told the Institute for Family Studies in an interview that in some cases, divorce is the best outcome. “We know from previous work, however, that many divorces are NOT preceded by serious relationship problems,” he said, dropping some profound knowledge. “Boredom, rather than misery, characterizes many unstable marriages. In these cases, infidelity is often the trigger that leads one partner to leave the union. In contrast, when couples stick together through difficult times, remain faithful to one another, and actively work to resolve problems, positive long-term outcomes (while not guaranteed) are common.”

See more: How 10 Couples Stay Madly in Love After Many Years

“Our research shows that positive outcomes for couples in long-term marriages are the norm. Contrary to what many people think, marital quality does not inevitably decline—it tends to remain high or even improve over the decades. This knowledge should encourage most couples to look to the future with a degree of optimism.”

In the grand scheme of things, maybe 20 years isn’t that long of a time to wait for peak happiness in your marriage—especially if you’re in it for a lifetime of love.

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Turns Out, Flings and Serious Relationships All Start the Same Way

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Ten years ago, I went to the movies with a guy who lived next door to me in high school. I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, so I wasn’t looking for anything serious. That certainly wasn’t going to be an issue with this guy, though. A stickler for punctuality, I arrived at his house at the time we agreed, only to find that he was still getting dressed. We made small talk while he ironed his shirt. This isn’t going anywhere, I thought, pushing away my slight annoyance.

Today, we share a kid, a house and two small dogs. Who could have possibly seen that coming?

While it’s pretty common for people who are head over heels to talk about how they just knew their partner was “the one” from the very beginning, don’t believe the hype. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, short-term and long-term relationships actually look pretty much the same in the very beginning.

Researchers executed a series of five studies to better understand the role of relationship length in the science of romantic relationships. In total, they surveyed more than 800 people. In one experiment, for example, they asked participants to reflect back on their short- and long-term relationships and indicate the timing of important events, such as their first one-on-one date or first sexual encounter. They also asked them to gauge their romantic interest at that point in time. Their goal was to figure out at what point those warm and fuzzy feelings generally start to plateau and decline in short-term relationships.

“At approximately the 15th event, romantic interest continued to rise in long-term relative to short-term relationships, and ultimately, long-term relationships reached a higher peak of romantic interest than did short-term relationships,” the study states. “These data are consistent with the possibility that short-term relationships are relationships that fail to progress beyond the early initiation stages, perhaps because one or both partners discovered things about each other that caused romantic interest to cease rising or to plummet.”

The study’s authors also found that “as the relationship becomes sexual, romantic interest in short-term relationships levels out and falls, presaging an end to the relationship that arrives sooner than in long-term relationships.”

As Paul Eastwick, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and lead author on the study, explained in a statement: “People would hook up with some partners for the first time and think ‘wow, this is pretty good.’ People tried to turn those experiences into long-term relationships. Others sparked more of a ‘meh’ reaction. Those were the short-term ones.”

Interestingly, the study also found people define “short-term relationship” a lot of different ways: from one-night stands with strangers to casual hookups with well-known friends that can last days, weeks, and even months. And in many cases, the nature of these relationships wasn’t clear until much later with hindsight.

See more: 19 Signs You Should Marry Your Partner

The takeaway from this is clear: It’s impossible to know from the jump if the cutie you’re eyeballing is marriage material or not. In fact, the study supports previous research that found the idea of “love at first sight” is actually an illusion. Some things really do become clearer with time.

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Wedding

Who Are the Men Taking Their Wives' Last Names?

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There are so many gendered questions women are sick of answering: Why are you still single? Are you really going out wearing that outfit? When are you going to have kids? How do you manage to balance work and family?

And my favorite: When you get married, are you going to take your husband’s last name?

It’s longstanding tradition for women to change their surnames to match their partner’s once they get married. A 2015 survey found that only 22 percent of women married in recent years have kept their maiden names.

However, a small segment of men do decide to change their names after they get married. (I personally know of, well, one.) Researchers out of Portland State University were curious about just who these husbands were. In other words, what kind of guy would take his wife’s last name? Their study, which focused on the likelihood a man would change his name based on his level of education, were published in the Journal of Family Issues in May.

To get some better understanding on what they consider “[o]ne of the most persistent gendered aspects of modern heterosexual marriage,” the study’s authors analyzed the national survey responses of 877 men who were married or previously married. They found that in their sample, only 27—or 3 percent—changed their name. Of those, 25 dropped their last name to take their wife’s, while the other two went with the classic but cumbersome hyphenation.

Interestingly, when researchers looked at the reported education levels of the men who decided to change their names, none of them had advanced degrees. In fact, as men’s education increased, the odds of taking on their wife’s name decreased.

“Among men with less than a high school degree, 10.3 percent reported making a nontraditional surname choice in marriage,” they wrote. “Among men with a high school degree but no college, this percentage is 3.6, and among men with any college, only 2 percent changed their name in marriage.”

Additionally, the study’s authors found that the men who were most likely to take their wife’s name had about the same amount of education as she did. Also, if a husband had less schooling than his wife, he was less likely to take on any part of her name.

Overall, the results are a bit surprising because we generally think men who are more educated are also more likely to endorse and support gender equality. However, as the study’s authors write: “Lower class are more likely to endorse sexist beliefs, but their behavior is often more egalitarian compared with their more educated counterparts. Surname choice in marriage, it turns out, is an excellent example of this.”

It’s important to point out that this isn’t just about what name you or your partner sign on your checks; rather, it’s about the different, and sometimes unfair, expectations society places on men and women. After all, if changing one’s name was just that, wouldn’t more men be doing it?

See more: 7 Feminist Alternatives to Outdated (and Patriarchal) Wedding Traditions

Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer is a sociology professor at Portland State University and lead author on the study. In 2017, she authored another paper that looked into why so many Americans believe a married woman should change her name. The most common reason she found was the belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves.

“Sometimes people think that if women keep their own name and make men change their name, it’s women being selfish or bucking tradition when they should follow gender norms,” Shafer said in a statement. “We expect women to be the ones to caretake and give to their families in a way that we don’t expect of men.”

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New Study Shows Fighting With Your Spouse Can Make Chronic Conditions Worse

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There’s an old adage about how fighting can be good for your relationship. And for many people it can be: The makeup sex alone can be worth a passionate argument over the best way to fold socks. (Apparently there are multiple ways to fold socks—clearly, your way is wrong.)

But if you’re living with a chronic illness—as half of all Americans are—then you may want to check any unnecessary bickering. According to a recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the only thing worse than living with a chronic condition is fighting with your partner while living with a chronic condition.

Researchers were interested in getting a better understanding of how the day-to-day interactions in a marriage impact the health of a person living with a chronic disease. One older study found that when a wife reported more positive interactions during the day, her husband slept better that night; another study found that couples who were more physically intimate had lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

In the current study, the authors focused on two groups of people: 145 patients who’d been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the knee and 129 patients with type 2 diabetes. Participants kept daily diaries for 22 and 24 days, reporting on how tense or enjoyable their interactions were with their spouses. They also rated their general mood (ranging from frustrated to joyful) and how severe their symptoms felt.

Through their analysis, researchers found that “negative marital interactions may play a role in symptom exacerbation.” In both groups, patients were in a worse mood on days when they reported more tension than usual with their partner. That, in turn, led to more severe symptoms or pain. Additionally, the participants with arthritis appeared to get stuck in a terrible cycle: When they fought with their partners and subsequently felt physically worse, their pain often carried over to the next day, which led to more tensions with their partner.

These results could have some serious implications for health: As the researchers point out, people with “severe knee osteoarthritic pain become disabled at a faster rate, and individuals with uncontrolled diabetes are at risk for multiple health complications including neuropathy, blindness, and kidney disease.”

Lynn Martire, one of the study’s authors and a professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, pointed out how important it was that they were able to see this association in two different groups of participants with two different diseases. “The findings gave us insight into how marriage might affect health, which is important for people dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis or diabetes,” she said in a statement.

Alternatively, it’s important to consider how health might affect marriage. In fact, a 2015 study suggested that the onset of a wife’s illness later in life is associated with an elevated risk of divorce (though the same wasn’t found when the husband became ill). An older report found that women who had a serious illness were seven times as likely to become separated or divorced as their male counterparts.

See more: How to Stay Healthy (and Sane) When Your Partner Is Sick

So, what do you do if your or your partner’s illness is stressing out your marriage? Talk it out. As Annmarie Cano, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, told SELF recently: “Couples must develop a habit of knowing how they’re feeling, learning how to express it to the partner, and really listening in a non-judgmental way when the partner discloses emotions that might heighten the other partner’s distress.”

Cano went on to explain in a recent TEDx talk that it’s not just the physical suffering that takes a toll on a person living with a chronic condition, but also the emotional burden. “How loved ones respond to them makes a big difference in their quality of life,” she said. “Specifically, our ability to pay attention and be with someone who is suffering has healing power.”

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