My wife, Clare, and I have been happily married for more than 35 years. The general view is that the key to a successful relationship is being open and truthful, yet a recent study suggests that having some secrets can keep a couple closer.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut found that doing things such as hiding a secret stash of chocolate from your partner (which, I confess, is something I have done) is not only common but can actually strengthen a relationship.
That’s because it seems the guilt we feel often leads to what the researchers call ‘greater relationship investment’. In other words, because I feel guilty (which I do) when I have a chocolate stash, I’m more likely to put the bins out or cook dinner (which is also true).
They’re clearly not talking about having major secrets, such as having a love child, but trivial things that the other person wouldn’t mind if they found out.
Using data from questionnaires, the researchers found that having a secret stash of food was the most common secret (40 per cent), followed by spending money on clothing or jewellery (20 per cent), making a secret donation (8 per cent), or splashing out on health, beauty or wellness products (6.3 per cent), reported the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut found that doing things such as hiding a secret stash of chocolate from your partner is not only common but can actually strengthen a relationship
One couple the researchers spoke to both claimed to be vegetarian but admitted to secretly eating meat when the other person wasn’t around.
I asked Clare if she knew that I hide chocolate and if she minded. ‘Of course I know,’ she said. ‘You’re incredibly bad at hiding things and I can hear when you’re trying to quietly open a drawer and stuff chocolate in your mouth while hiding the sound of the wrapper being buried in the bin.’
All of which got me thinking about what science says on the success of relationships.
WAS YOUR PARTNER A SMILEY TEEN?
A surprising way of predicting whether a couple will stay married is by studying the intensity and genuineness of their smile in photos taken when they were young.
A genuine smile involves the contraction of two sets of muscles: the zygomaticus major, which raises the corners of your mouth, and the orbicularis oculi, the ring of muscle around your eye sockets. With a genuine smile, the corners of the mouth turn up and eyes crinkle. In a U.S. study from 2009, researchers asked middle-aged men and women for photos from when they were around 18 years old. The smiles in their photos were then scored for how genuine they were.
One in 20 of those whose smiles were ranked in the top 10 per cent (i.e. the most genuine) were divorced; those with smiles in the bottom 10 per cent had a one in five chance of being divorced.
The researchers said it could be because ‘smiling people attract other happier people, and the combination may lead to a greater likelihood of a long-lasting marriage’.
DO THEY APPRECIATE THE THINGS YOU DO?
One of the biggest bones of contention in any marriage is when one partner feels they’re doing a disproportionate amount of the housework. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center in the U.S. more than half the married couples surveyed said sharing chores is ‘very important’ when it comes to a successful marriage, putting this just behind ‘having shared interests’ and ‘a satisfying sexual relationship’, and ahead of having children or an adequate income.
I must confess that in our home Clare does a disproportionate share of the housework, something she reminds me of frequently.
What makes her particularly cross is when she feels that I’m taking what she does for granted — and this is reflected in research.
‘Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last,’ was the conclusion of a 2016 study from the University of Georgia, based on data from 468 married couples.
One of the biggest bones of contention in any marriage is when one partner feels they’re doing a disproportionate amount of the housework
Gratitude was measured by assessing the extent to which people felt appreciated by their partners and acknowledged when they did something nice for them.
The researchers concluded that feeling appreciated was not only the most significant predictor of a successful marriage, but it could also protect a marriage in times of economic hardship.
But being grateful isn’t enough — you have to articulate it.
When I discussed this article with friends, one said that while she was delighted that her husband bought her flowers, she wished that instead of leaving them on the kitchen table for her, he would hand them to her, saying: ‘These are for all the lovely things you do to make me happy.’
AVOIDING INFIDELITY, THE DEAL BREAKER
Cheating is a common reason why couples break up — and a 2018 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed some interesting ways to spot a potential cheater.
Researchers monitored 233 married couples for nearly four years, asking them to record intimate details of their relationship, including whether they had cheated.
At the start of the study everyone was asked to look at photos of attractive men or women, while the researchers measured how long they continued to stare.
Those who looked away faster than average were nearly 50 per cent less likely to later have an affair than those who stared.
Psychologist Jim McNulty, who led the study, says that while this may be unconscious, there is evidence that if you’re aware you’re prone to being tempted you can take steps to prevent it.
So, there you go. According to scientific research the secrets to a happy marriage include resisting infidelity, smiling, expressing your gratitude and, perhaps, keeping a secret stash of chocolate.
You may curse them when you are coughing or sneezing, but viruses are not all bad news:
Some viruses, called phages, attack and kill bacteria and have been shown to work against even antibiotic-resistant forms. Last January, for example, doctors in Belgium reported they’d used phages to successfully treat a bombing victim who had a leg infection nothing else could touch.
Phages are also being used in the UK to treat diabetic foot ulcers that won’t heal.
Other promising areas include using viruses for gene therapy and to destroy cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
We’re turning killers into cures.
Beware this risk of cold-water swimming…
I love swimming in the sea — apart from the pleasure of being in the sea, regularly dousing yourself in cold water, whether it is a brisk swim or a cold shower, can boost your mood and bolster your immune system.
But there are also dangers.
Last week in Cornwall I went swimming at the same spot where, three years ago, my memory was wiped.
Clare and I had been swimming for a few minutes, before we decided to race each other back to the shore. I remember thinking ‘I am definitely going to win’ — and then it all went blank.
The next thing I remember is being in A&E. According to the A&E consultant, I had experienced transient global amnesia, memory loss brought on by the cold-water swimming, and that it would almost certainly return to normal within 24 hours.
If you plan to continue swimming in the seas as the weather turns colder (which I do), make sure you take a friend along in case you get into trouble
Transient global amnesia is said to be rare, affecting about one in 10,000 people in the UK every year, but perhaps it is not as rare as we think, because when I first wrote about it, I heard from a number of people who’d had a similar experience.
It also happened to a close friend of mine less than a month ago while she was swimming in a river.
One theory is that being in cold water may alter the blood flow to a part of the brain, the hippocampus, that’s essential for laying down memories.
So if you plan to continue swimming in the seas as the weather turns colder (which I do), make sure you take a friend along in case you get into trouble.
As well as absorbing knowledge, many school pupils can expect to be inhaling polluted air, with a 2021 study suggesting that 98 per cent of state primary and secondary schools in London, and 24 per cent outside the city, are in areas that regularly exceed safe levels.
But trees can cut pupils’ exposure: researchers from Lancaster University installed ‘tredges’ (trees managed as a head-high hedge) at three primary schools in Manchester and have just revealed that Western red cedar is the most successful at cutting air pollution — because its leaves are covered with tiny corrugated projections, trapping pollution particles which are then washed away by the rain.
A brilliantly cheap and effective way to improve air quality and protect children’s lungs.