“I love you.” Makes Men Happier

Men feel happier than women when their partner says, “I love you,” and men are also the first to offer such confessions, according to researchers who have presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in San Diego from Jan. 26 to Jan. 28.

Josh Ackerman of the MIT Sloan School of Management conducted six studies and found that from an evolutionary perspective, when a partner chooses to say “I love you” depended on their cost-benefit analysis of the relationship and their perception of what best protects it. 

Not only did researchers find that men are first to utter their confessions of love and feel happier than women when they hear it, psychologists also found that the man in a couple feels happier if the confession occurs before the couple has sex and the confession makes women happier after sex.

"This work shows that our intuitions are not always correct," Ackerman says. "When and why we express romantic love are guided by deep-seated motivations that are best understood in an economic framework. Love confessions are akin to economic resources that people use to negotiate evolved romantic interests," the authors wrote in the study published in the June 2011 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Being Apart Puts a Burden on Health

Researchers found that not only does love play a critical role in the health a couple’s relationship, it also affects couples themselves. 

Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah studied 34 co-habiting couples and tracked their health and well-being before, during and after a four to seven-day separation.  Researchers found that physical separations increased cortisol levels, had negative impacts on sleep and on levels of positive interactions. 

"During separations, only lengthy phone calls appeared to 'stand in' for contact," Diamond said in a statement. "The findings can contribute to our emerging understanding of the processes through which longstanding romantic ties are beneficial for our health."

The Dark Side of Love

Studies that primed participants with feelings of love found that partners behaved more aggressively and belittled their rivals more, particularly for people who were chronically jealous and who worried about infidelity.

Jon Maner of Florida State University conducted experiments that allowed participants to blast attractive rivals with painful blasts of white noise or gave participants the opportunity to belittle attractive rivals while reviewing mock profiles for a student dating service.  Researchers found that participants who experienced strong feelings of love toward their partner were also more vigilant to the potential of infidelity and led them to behave more aggressively toward attractive rivals. 

"From an evolutionary perspective, love binds romantic partners together for the long term and is associated with a wealth of positive relationship processes," said Maner. "The more love one feels for one's partner, the more one has to lose if the relationship ends," he says. "It's all about protecting one's relationship."

"Thus, while love serves an important relationship function – and in that sense is a 'many-splendored thing' – it can also have a dark side," Maner concluded.