If You’re Feeling Insecure About Your Relationship, Maybe It’s Biology’s Fault

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Insecurity happens to all of us and it stems from different reasons, at different times, and manifests in different ways. But did you know that biology could actually be the reason some people feel more insecurity in their interpersonal or romantic relationships than others?

A study in Montreal at McGill University tracked around 100 heterosexual couples’ and their feelings during their interactions for 3 weeks. They tracked their individual feelings for every 5 minute+ interaction with their partner.

Researchers wanted to see if a fairly common genetic variant in the opioid system (related to pain and reward) was the reason for feelings of insecurity in romantic relationships.

This variant was found in earlier studies of mother-infant attachment in non-human primates and in feelings of social rejection in humans, but it hasn’t been looked at through a romantic lens till now.

Even though these findings clearly come from a very small and homogenous (in sexual orientation) sample size, it’s something to keep an eye on for future research and updates!

So…what were the findings?

The findings suggest that there could in fact be a link! They found that when faced with their partner’s quarrelsome, sarcastic or dismissive behavior, those with that gene variant in the opioid system tended to feel more insecure in their relationships.

“We know that individuals differ in how sensitive they are to negative interpersonal events within their close relationships. This research suggests that some of that individual variability is underpinned by genetic differences in the opioid system.”

Ms. Kristina Tchalova and Dr. Gentiana Sadikaj, who are co-first authors on the study.

Each couple reported individually an average of 30 interactions a day. Researchers then correlated this with their diary information about feelings of insecurity linked to a partner’s bothersome behavior.

They knew which person had the variant through a simple saliva sample!

How does this translate to pain, though?

Evolutionarily speaking, primitive pain-regulating mechanisms may have been “borrowed” to regulate our attachment to those close to us. Because we depend on those people for nurture and survival, it might be the reason it’s suuuuuper painful when we feel those relationships being threatened.

“This work suggests a potential risk factor in the relationship between social stress/loss and maladaptive psychological functioning. Future research will be needed to see whether individuals carrying this genetic variant are particularly susceptible to developing psychological problems in response to interpersonal stressors.”

Ms. Kristina Tchalova and Dr. Gentiana Sadikaj, who are co-first authors.


H/T: McGill University

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