HomeLifeBrain synchronicity could be key to a happy marriage

Brain synchronicity could be key to a happy marriage

Happy marriages are all in the mind – literally – if the latest research is anything to go by.

Stanford University researchers in collaboration with scientists in China have uncovered new insights into marital satisfaction, and have found that synchronised brain activity correlates to higher marital satisfaction.

Past studies of marital relationships have identified various factors that contribute to happiness levels, such as religion, sex and communication, but a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August, goes a step further, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis to further unlock the potential secrets to a happy marriage.

The authors of the study used as a starting point the hypothesis that measuring marital satisfaction might be possible by looking at the brain’s response to marital and other socially relevant cues.

Read: Celebrity marriages that have stood the test of time

Taking it a step further, they postulated that neural activity in partnered individuals becomes synchronised over time and shared life experiences, and that such synchronicities might contribute to greater marital satisfaction.

To test this, they asked 35 couples in China who had been married for at least a year to watch relationship-related movie clips, as well as object-related (unrelated to relationships) images.

What they found was that married couples who reported greater marital satisfaction were more likely to show activity in similar parts of the brain when they watched the relationship-related movie clips.

Read: How can I get my marriage back on track?

However, when shown object-related images, there was no evidence of this synchronised neural activity. This was consistent regardless of whether or not the participants reported marital satisfaction.

One of the study’s co-authors, Dr Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University, said: “Married couples overall, compared with random couples, had more similar brain activity independent of levels of satisfaction. On top of that, you get additional synchronisation in those who self-report to be more satisfied in their marriage.”

Chicken or egg?

The question you might be tempted to ask is, were the couples’ brains in sync before they were married, or did they converge over time after marriage? The answer to that is not clear, said Dr Menon.

“We don’t know whether there [are] selection-based behaviours arising from similar brain activity in a relationship, or whether couples evolve over time to develop similar anticipatory and predictive brain representations,” he explained.

Read: Divorce after decades of marriage is on the rise

That viewpoint has been echoed by psychiatrist Dr Jared Heathman.

“Married couples often think the same, which is called synchronised thinking,” he says.

“This type of thinking can be something that brings couples together. People often choose partners that are similar to them. Synchronised thinking can [also] be a learned response that occurs after a couple has been together for a long period of time.”

Has your marriage thrived because you both share similar thoughts? What are some of your markers of a happy marriage? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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