A gene involved in the regulation of serotonin can predict how much our emotions affect our relationships, according the study that may be the first to link genetics, emotions, and marital satisfaction.
"An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage, and another so oblivious?" said University of California Berkeley psychologist Robert W Levenson.
"With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people," said Levenson, senior author of the study.
Researchers found a link between relationship fulfillment and a gene variant, or "allele," known as 5-HTTLPR. All humans inherit a copy of this gene variant from each parent.
Participants with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were found to be most unhappy in their marriages when there was a lot of negative emotion, such as anger and contempt, and most happy when there was positive emotion, such as humour and affection.
By contrast, those with one or two long alleles were far less bothered by the emotional tenor of their marriages.
The new findings don't mean that couples with different variations of 5-HTTLPR are incompatible, the researchers note.    

Instead, it suggests that those with two short alleles are likelier to thrive in a good relationship than suffer in a bad one.
The results of the study, which looked at the genotypes of more than 100 spouses and observed how they interacted with their partners over time, bore this out, they said.
"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 Claudia M Haase, assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University.
"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. Each has its advantages and disadvantages," added Haase, lead author of the study.
For spouses with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles, who made up 17 percent of the spouses studied, researchers found a strong correlation between the emotional tone of their conversations and how they felt about their marriage.
For the 83 percent of spouses with one or two long alleles, on the other hand, the emotional quality of their discussions bore little or no relation to their marital satisfaction over the next decade.
The study was published in the journal Emotion.


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