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Newlywed's satisfaction may be linked to a genetic variant

1 March 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1085

Psychologists have found a genetic variant associated with relationship satisfaction in the first years of marriage.

A single nucleotide polymorphism in the CD38 gene, called the 'CC' variant, was found to be associated with higher levels of gratitude, trust and forgiveness in relationships. Individuals with the CC variant also reported higher levels of marriage satisfaction after three years.

'Marriage satisfaction tends to start high then drop,' said Dr Anastasia Makhanova at University of Arkansas, first author of this research. 'We were interested in seeing if some of the reasons that people might have a harder time maintaining relationship satisfaction in the newlywed period is due to some potential underlying genetic predispositions.'

The longitudinal research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, followed 142 individuals, or 71 couples. Three months after marriage their DNA was collected, and they answered a questionnaire about gratitude, forgiveness, trust and marital satisfaction. The questionnaire was repeated every four months for three years.

When comparing individuals, they found those with the CC variant in the CD38 gene were more grateful, trusting and forgiving of their partner and reported higher marriage satisfaction.

The CD38 gene codes for a protein that sits in the outer membrane of our cells, with numerous functions throughout the body. Recently, rodent studies have shown CD38 may be involved in the process of oxytocin release. Oxytocin, also known as the 'love hormone', is released in the brain during bonding, whether it is between a mother and child or romantic couples.

This may hold some clues to the precise mechanism of how the CD38 gene influences relationship processes, but there is more to learn.

The researchers at University of Arkansas stress that this finding does not mean individuals with other CD38 variants will never be satisfied in their relationships.

'So, it's not that people who don't have the CC genotype are doomed to have problems,' Dr Makhanova said, 'It's just that they're more likely to have issues in some of these domains, and so those people might have to work a little bit more in those domains.'

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