Men Who Stray — and their DNA

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Some men have an easier time being married than others. Now we learn DNA plays a big part in marriage.
A brain hormone called vasopressin influences men’s bonding with a sex partner. More vasopressin makes men feel closer and want to stick around. Hasse Walum at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and his research team report on the effects of a variation in the gene that determines the placement of vasopressin receptors in the brain.
Around 40% of all men inherit this variant from one or both parents. In this study of Swedish men, one copy increases the likelihood that a man will avoid marrying his partner or experience marriage problems big enough to make him consider leaving. Two copies increases it again, to more than double the divorce risk for men with no copies and more than one-third considering divorce each year.
Does this mean their marriages (or their wives) are doomed? Not at all. It means men with this genetic makeup need some way other than fleeting emotions to advise them on whether it’s worth fixing a problem instead of walking out or starting an affair. For them, it can be very important to assume love and take a second look before acting on their initial, emotional interpretation of an incident.
I am sure others will claim, once again, that this is proof we’re not meant to marry for life, that we should just move on — or have an affair — when the sex gets stale or we disagree. I think watching a little boy whose father has just moved out, a teenage girl who never knew her father, or a pair of 85 year-olds helping each other enjoy life makes it clear we humans have many excellent reasons to bond.
For more on the study, see The Washington Post or Bloomberg.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

4 Comments

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  • Beth, being faithful is a choice. It is an easier choice for those who feel a stronger bond with their partner. However, the choice is available to all of us, no matter which genes we receive.
    Wives can make it an easier choice by receiving and savoring the love they are offered, instead of demanding whatever forms of love their sisters, mothers, or favorite fictional characters have been offered. They can make it easier by having sex with their husbands, because this releases vasopressin. And they can make it easier by offering to look for Third Alternatives instead of defending their side in a difference of opinion.
    Husbands genetically prone to throwing in the towel can make faithfulness an easier choice by assuming love when they become upset with their wives.
    Both can plan activities that create or recall shared, happy memories together.

  • Booyahh!!!!! Patty…
    My father of 87 years of age is one of my heroes in life. He endured my mothers’ daliances when in his 30’s and on the surface is really kind of a boring man (except for his ww2 submarine service). Yet He managed to be monogamos consecutively. My brothers and I followed those genes waiting out similar unfortunate behavior in spouses we had chosen. The fact you point out; love and faithfulness being a choice is seminal, beyond refute and balances out the equation. So does faith in The Almighty. Beyond all this, the behavior steps you suggest here can make a huge difference in physiologically bonding us to those we love and our children, endorphins and ‘chemical habituation’ to boot. Monogamy is a choice and habit, but also can be propelled by family traits. Joy to!
    Bravo!, could’nt help hoot.
    Jon Eric

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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