There are many factors to consider to have a happy marriage: openness, honesty, equal division of the domestic labors, etc. Now researchers think that even genetics may play a role in the long-term happiness of spouses.
Yale Professor Joan Monin and her team studied 178 married couples with ages that ranged from 37 to 90 years old. The participants of the study were asked to complete a survey about marriage satisfaction and security, as well as provide a saliva sample so the team could extract their genotype.
The team found something interesting related to the oxytocin receptor variant, OXTR rs53576. This receptor variant has been previously linked to emotional stability, empathy, and sociability – not surprising given that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in social bonding. The researchers note that when at least one partner had the GG genotype variation within this receptor, they had greater overall satisfaction compared to other couples. The study is published in the journal PLOS One.
People with the GG genotype reported less anxious attachment in their marriage. This lack of relationship insecurity likely contributes to a happier marriage experience. The team estimates that couples' GG genotype accounts for about 4 percent of the variance in their' marriage satisfaction. The value is certainly small, but it is not insignificant, especially considering there are many factors that contribute to a happy and prosperous relationship.
"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," said Monin in a statement. "In marriage, people are also influenced by their own and their partner's genetic predispositions."
There are limitations to this study, including a lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity, which influences generalizability. "In addition, both samples originated from data in which married spouses were instructed to focus on health concerns and either provide or receive emotional support from their partner," the team wrote. "Although the survey instruments were completed at a separate time from the experimental support tasks, it is possible that this context may have affected participants’ attachment and marital satisfaction ratings."
Intrigued by this finding, the team now want to know more about the impact of OXTR rs53576 beyond general marital satisfaction. The researchers are interested to see if and how genetic variation influences relationship outcomes over time.