It’s Not You, It’s My DNA

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Photo: Tetra Images/Corbis

In romantic relationships, often one party is highly attuned to emotional ups and downs, while the other party, not naming names or anything, needs to be informed about such developments. Broadly speaking, there are some people who stick out crappy relationships for months without seeming to care much about the crappiness, while others instantly identify deal-breakers and skedaddle out of there.

What causes this? Some mix of patience, love, timing, and a genetic variant called 5-HTTLPR.

A recent study from the University of California in Berkeley shows that a genetic variation can indicate whether people are more likely to put up with a bad relationship. The researchers examined 100 married partners’ genotypes over thirteen years. As senior author and psychologist Robert W. Levenson puts it:

An enduring mystery is, what makes one spouse so attuned to the emotional climate in a marriage and another so oblivious? With these new genetic findings, we now understand much more about what determines just how important emotions are for different people.

This gene variant, an allele called 5-HTTLPR, is involved in the regulation of serotonin, which can predict how emotions affect relationships. People with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles were more unhappy than others when their marriages provoked negative emotions — but happier when there were positive emotions. Meanwhile, people with one or two long 5-HTTLPR alleles were less bothered by the emotional ebbs-and-flows in a marriage, taking the good with the bad.

The study’s researchers noted that neither variation was necessarily beneficial. Researcher Claudia M. Haas explains:

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. Conversely, people with one or two long alleles are less sensitive to the emotional climate.

Each allele is inherited from your parents, so their patient tolerance contributes to yours. Feel free to thank them every day for your current relationship quirks. They love to hear that from you.

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