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Oct 10, 2013 11:45 AM EDT

Marital Happiness Depends Upon the Size of a Gene Variant Involved In the Regulation of Serotonin, Study

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People with a certain type of gene variant are more likely to suffer from emotional conflicts in their marriage, while people with a different type of variant are less concerned by it, according to a new study from Chicago's Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley

"An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage and another so oblivious?"questioned senior author and psychologist Robert W. Levenson in an official statement. "With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people."

The researchers found a link between relationship satisfaction and a gene variant, or allele, known as 5-HTTLPR. They said that all humans inherit a copy of this gene variant from each parent involved in the regulation of serotonin. This is the first major study to establish a link between genetics, emotions, and marital fulfillment.

According to NY Daily News, the team arrived at the conclusion after studying the genotypes of more than 100 spouses and observing their interaction with their partners over a period of 13 years.

The researchers found that participants with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were unhappy in their marriages when they were surrounded by negative emotions, such as anger and contempt, and lived happily when there were positive emotions around, such as humor and affection. On the other hand, participants with one or two long alleles were found to be least bothered by the emotional tensions in their marriages.

"We are always trying to understand the recipe for a good relationship, and emotion keeps coming up as an important ingredient," said Levenson.

Researchers said that this finding does not suggest that couples with different variations of 5-HTTLPR are mismatched. Instead, they said that those with two short alleles are more likely to flourish in a good relationship and suffer in a bad one.

"Individuals with two short alleles of the gene variant may be like hothouse flowers, blossoming in a marriage when the emotional climate is good and withering when it is bad," said researcher Claudia M. Haase. "Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate. "Neither of these genetic variants is inherently good or bad," Haase added. "Each has its advantages and disadvantages."

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