In today’s world of online dating and casual sex, relationships are more complicated than ever. Many of us come into university dreaming of supportive, committed relationships only to feel lost and confused. But being in a relationship is also challenging. Many have no idea how to balance classes, assignments, and work with a romantic commitment.
The Relationships and Well-Being Lab (RAWLab), run by University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) Psychology Professor Emily Impett, can help address these problems. The lab focuses on research topics at the intersection of relationships and well-being with the goal of understanding how the former shapes the latter.
In James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, Jack sacrificed his life so Rose could survive. King Edward VIII renounced his kingdom to be with Wallis Simpson. Prince Frisco of Netherlands renounced his claim to the throne to marry Mabel Wisse Smit. Although many couples have made sacrifices in the name of love, a partner’s sacrifices are not always beneficial for their relationship. Research suggests that sacrifice might be a double-edged sword. When a partner gives something up, there is only a 50 per cent chance that their sacrifice will be acknowledged by their partner.
Negative feelings from such a sacrifice can harm relationships: “People who sacrifice also experienced an increase in ambivalent feelings toward their partner, and this ambivalence, in turn, was longitudinally linked to thoughts of break up,” finds the RAWLab in their recent paper titled “Sacrifices: Costly prosocial behaviors in romantic relationships.” No matter what popular cultures show us, sacrifices are not always a great idea. They usually stem from good intentions by a partner, but they can have the opposite impact on the relationship.
Sexuality and relationships are also complex subjects for young daters. Communicating sexual desires is often considered a taboo. That makes sex even harder to discuss in a relationship. “In one study, 69 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men reported faking enthusiasm or arousal during sex,” concludes the RAWLab. Those part of the statistic did this to spare their partner’s feelings and reinforce their partner’s perception of security and satisfaction in their relationship. However, after doing this, partners felt less trust, closeness, and commitment toward their partner. On the contrary, people who positively disclosed their sexual desires predicted higher sexual and emotional satisfaction.
Research also shows that gender makes a difference between the expression of sexual desire and the mental well-being of a partner. According to research from the RAWLab, women fake sexual orgasms to spare their partner’s feelings more often, whereas “Men report using more deceptive affection in their romantic relationships than women, […] and feel less guilt and shame after doing so”
Rejection is difficult as people often don’t know how to deal with it or move forward from it. While both partners should feel comfortable and safe discussing their feelings and desires about sex in a relationship, rejecting sexual interests in a relationship can hurt a partner and become a contentious issue.
The RAWLab reveals that, “People reported feeling more rejected, insecure, and dissatisfied when their partner rejected their sexual advances than when their partner declined a request to engage in nonsexual activities.” Sexual activity can be a way for people to show affection and increase intimacy with their partner. Rejection of sexual activity can therefore feel like a rejection of their love.
Preserving mental health in relationships can be a tricky task. There are new things to learn regarding relationships but few trustworthy resources to learn from. Entering the dating scene should not be a nerve-wracking experience. Instead, it should be exciting and fun—its unique possibilities for social connections and learning experiences are endless.
Staff Writer (Volume 49) — Malavika is in her third year, pursuing a double major in Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology and Professional Writing and Communications with a minor in Political Science. With her contributions to The Medium, she hopes to share her perspective as a young Indian immigrant. She likes research and write about interesting new topics. While procrastinating on her assignment deadlines, you can find her watching romantic Bollywood movies, true crime documentaries, or baking delicious treats.