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Does Unconditional Love Make for Healthy Relationships?

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The idea of unconditional love in relationships is a noble one. Each of us wants to be loved as we are, without conditions, and to see ourselves as capable of bestowing unconditional love on our partners. However, this type of love, in its narrowest definition, is difficult, if not impossible.

The Meaning of Unconditional Love

Part of the problem with unconditional love in relationships is the lack of understanding of what it means.

Most of us will think of a parent’s love for a child, or a child’s love for a parent, as unconditional love. This type of love depends on nothing other than the familial bond and doesn’t break down based on what the child or parent does—at least in an ideal scenario.

In the purest sense, unconditional love is about caring about the happiness of another person without any concern for how it benefits you. Research tells us that the parts of the brain that light up during unconditional love are similar to those involved in romantic love and maternal love, and are linked to the brain’s reward system. This suggests that unconditional love may be rewarding without receiving anything in return.

Unconditional Romantic Love

The question becomes whether adults in relationships can also show each other this type of unconditional love. To feel safe in a relationship, it makes sense that you need to feel as though the other person is not going to abandon you based on a whim.

You need to know that person is committed to loving you unconditionally no matter what the future brings.

The problem is that this definition in romantic relationships can break down under numerous conditions and for good reason. As much as you might love an alcoholic, a liar, or a cheater unconditionally, this isn’t healthy for you as a person.

This means the definition of unconditional love in romantic relationships needs to be expanded a bit. For love to continue, there must be mutual respect, not an attitude of your partner that “you will put up with me, no matter what I do.”

Unconditional Positive Regard

This brings us to the topic of unconditional positive regard, probably a closer approximation of what we mean by unconditional love in relationships. In this sense, unconditional love doesn’t mean always giving people what they want or always accepting what they do, at the expense of your own needs.

Instead, it is a mature type of love that means treating the other person with love and respect, even while maintaining your boundaries and protecting yourself. Whereas the immature version of unconditional love would have you feeling as though you must be everything to the other person, the mature version has you recognize that your only obligation, in the face of the other’s behavior, is to communicate your message with love and respect.

This means being attentive and attuned, even while you are setting limits and boundaries. It also means honoring the requests of others when you are able to do so without harming yourself.

It means not being harsh or dismissive, as this does not lead to compromise or solutions.

At its core, this is assertiveness—letting the other person know where you stand so that together you can work out the best outcome for the two of you together.

How to Love Unconditionally

When we think about how to go about loving someone unconditionally in a relationship, the following points emerge:

Practice open communication, so that both of your needs can be met.
Communicate in a non-defensive way. Express your feelings while listening and taking the other person’s feelings into account.

Don’t let the little annoyances of life override your love. Unconditional love means seeing past the squabbles about the little things in life. If you have a commitment of love that is larger than those things, you will have staying power.

Share power in your relationship. No one person should get everything they want, or this will lead to resentment by the other person.

When Relationships Break Down

We are programmed in life to have conditional love. You love your husband because of his unique traits and qualities that attracted you to him. It’s why you love him and not another man. The question becomes, if he changes, at what point is love withdrawn?

True mature love should come with no strings attached. It is a behavior, rather than a feeling, a point of confusion that can lead to the breakdown of romantic relationships. The satisfaction of unconditional love should come from the act of giving it to the other person, not from what you receive in return.

If we think about unconditional love as the “expression of our kindest self,” it can be maintained even if a relationship does not survive. You might know couples who still love each other but are no longer together. If a relationship is hurting you more than it is good to you, it is okay to feel unconditional love but let the relationship go.

Unconditional love is basic goodness and the total acceptance of someone, but it does not mean tolerating abuse, neglect, or other deal breakers. What about the less clear area of falling out of love with someone? If you still show them unconditional love, you will find a way to kindly and gently end the relationship.

In essence, when we first fall in love, it’s in an unconditional state, and we can’t ever imagine not feeling this way about the other person. But we live in a conditional world, and relationships do end. We all have different tastes and needs, and these can change over time.

One thing is certain; relationships that are completely lacking in unconditional love are unlikely to succeed. Beliefs and lifestyle are likely to change over time, and if you aren’t willing to see your partner go through changes, this could spell the end for the two of you.

You can be more to your partner when you offer unconditional love in the mature sense. One way to tap into this is to be mindful of the present moment. If you struggle with this, consider practicing mindfulness meditation. This will help you slow down and become aware of your relationship needs.

It can also be helpful to learn how to show yourself the same unconditional love that you are trying to show to your partner. If you don’t show it to yourself, you might be looking for too much from your partner—looking for him or her to prop you up.

By Arlin Cuncic | Reviewed by a board-certified physician


Beauregard M, Courtemanch J, Paquette V, St-Pieere EL. The neural basis of unconditional love. Psychiatry Res. 2009;172(2):93-8.

Hales SD. The impossibility of unconditional love. Pub Aff Quart. 1995;9:4.

Saybrook University. Unconditional Love.

Find Effective Stress Relievers for Different Types of Stress

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If you’re like many people, you may feel that certain stress relief techniques don’t work for you while others work quite well. There are reasons that the same stress relievers can work so differently for various people. Often the techniques that don’t seem to work for a particular person are ineffective for one of two reasons: either they are a poor match for the person’s personality or for the situation. For example, breathing exercises can effectively relieve stress, but may not be a powerful enough technique to be the sole coping strategy for someone experiencing caregiver stress, chronic job stress, or another type of chronically-occurring stress.

There are so many different ways to relieve stress that sometimes finding the right technique for your personality and situation may seem overwhelming, or at least like more work than you want to tackle when you’re already feeling stressed. Finding stress relievers that work for you, however, can be well worth the effort in that the work you do to try different techniques that work for you can ultimately change your whole experience of stress.

Whether you have a few techniques that work for you and are just looking to add one or two, or need to overhaul your way of dealing with stress and create a whole new system, the following list can help. These stress relief techniques are grouped according to various categories you may be looking at when deciding how to best manage your stress.

Acute Stress

Acute stress is the type of stress that throws you off-balance momentarily. This is the type of stress that comes on quickly and often unexpectedly and doesn’t last too long, but requires a response and shakes you up a bit, like an argument with someone in your life, or an exam for which you don’t feel adequately prepared.

Your body’s stress response is triggered with acute stress, but you can reverse it with quick relaxation techniques, and then go back to your day feeling less stressed again. These stress relievers can help you to relax and more quickly recover from acute stress.

Breathing Exercises: Great for acute stress because they work quickly.
Cognitive Reframing: Learn to change the way you look at the situation to manage your stress levels.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Like breathing exercises, PMR will give you a moment to regroup and calm down.
Mini-Meditation: Take breathing exercises a step further with this quick, 5-minute meditation technique to calm down in the moment.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is the type of stress that tends to occur on a regular basis. This type of stress may leave you feeling drained, and can lead to burnout if it’s not effectively managed. This is because, when the stress response is chronically triggered and the body is not brought back to a relaxed state before the next wave of stress hits, the body can stay triggered indefinitely.

This can lead to the host of health issues that are generally associated with stress, including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, depression, and a host of other conditions. This is why it is important to effectively manage chronic stress.

Managing this type of stress often requires a combination approach, with some short-term stress relievers (like those for acute stress), and some long-term stress relief habits that relieve overall stress. (Different emotion-focused coping techniques and solution-focused coping techniques are important as well.)

The following long-term habits can help you to better manage general stress that you may feel from the chronic stressors in your life.

Exercise Regularly: Exercise and stress management are closely linked for several reasons.
Maintain a Healthy Diet: Fueling your body well can help with overall stress levels because your entire system will function better.
Cultivate Supportive Relationships: Having a solid support system is a crucial coping mechanism.
Meditate Regularly: While quick meditations are great for dealing with acute stress, a regular meditation practice will help build your overall resilience to stress.
Listen to Music: Music can act as a wonderful, stress-reducing backdrop to everyday tasks.

The pain of emotional stress can hit harder than some other types of stress. For example, the stress that comes from a conflicted relationship tends to bring a greater physical reaction and a stronger sense of distress than the stress that comes from being busy at work.

Therefore, it is important to be able to manage emotional stress in effective ways. Strategies that help you to process, diffuse, and build resilience toward emotional stress can all work well, and different approaches can work in different situations. Here are some ways to manage emotional stress.

Write in a Journal: There are several different journaling strategies to try, all with benefits.
Talk to a Friend: Learn about the several different types of social support friends can offer you.
Listen to Music
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness can help keep you rooted in the present moment.
Talk to a Therapist

Battling Burnout

Burnout is the result of the prolonged chronic stress of situations that leave people feeling a lack of control in their lives. Certain conditions of a job can create a greater risk of burnout, including not only a high level of demands, but also unclear expectations, lack of recognition for achievements, and a high level of risk of negative consequences when mistakes are made.

Once you reach a state of burnout, it is difficult to maintain motivation to work and accomplish what you need to accomplish, and you can feel chronically overwhelmed. In addition to the strategies that work well for chronic stress and emotional stress, the following strategies can help you to come back from a state of burnout—or prevent it entirely.

Take Some Time Off: If you never take your vacation time, here’s why you should start.
Get More Laughter Into Your Life: Laughter can lead to better overall health and bring joy into your day.
Indulge in Hobbies: Don’t wait until your life calms down to engage in your hobbies.
Get More Enjoyment Out of Your Current Job: If you landed in a job you don’t love, all is not lost. Learn how to make your job more fulfilling.
Make Your Weekends Count: Learn how to bring some of your weekend into your work week for less stress.

By Elizabeth Scott, MS

Can Gratitude Help Couples Through Hard Times?

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New research suggests that thanking our partners for supporting us through hardship may increase their joy and satisfaction in giving.

When my best friend went through multiple surgeries and dislocations following a botched hip replacement, she was in near-constant pain. Her husband rose to the challenge of caring for her, but it wasn’t always easy for him. Nor was it easy for my friend, who vacillated between gratitude and frustration over his care.

“I often had to ask for help, which didn’t feel great,” my friend told me. “I felt apologetic, but I didn’t have much choice. It’s hard to give, but it’s also hard to ask.”

Our close relationships are an important part of a meaningful life. But what happens when someone we love is sick or going through a very rough time, and we are called upon to be a helper over and over again?

Caretaking for someone can be a challenge, but it’s especially charged when their needs are frequent and long-term. A caregiver may feel obligated to help, but doing so may bring little joy or sense of meaning, making it hard to sustain. And it can be equally stressful for the receiver of care.

How can couples improve this dynamic? New research suggests that what motivates people to help is crucial—and that motivation is affected by both their interactions with the person they’re caring for and their life outside caregiving.

Why do you help?
Researchers who study motivation identify two basic types: autonomous or intrinsic motivation—when you do something because it brings you joy, satisfaction, or meaning—and controlled or extrinsic motivation—when you do something out of loyalty or because you’d feel guilty if you didn’t do it. Either way, you end up helping, but autonomous motivation feels better and leads to better outcomes.

In studies looking at caregiving situations like my friend’s, researchers found that caregivers who had more intrinsic motivation to help their sick partners felt happier, more satisfied with their relationship, and less distressed about caregiving, and were less prone to exhaustion, than those who helped out of a sense of duty. Interestingly, the partner being cared for also seemed to benefit: They were more satisfied with their relationship and, in some cases, felt greater pain relief.

Why would the internal motivations of helpers affect their partners? Sara Kindt, one of the coauthors of these studies, says it has to do with how motivation affects the caregivers’ responsiveness toward their partner. To read more from Jill Suttie, click here.

Relationship Tips for Those Rocky First Few Years of Marriage

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Many couples assume that if you live together, getting married won’t really change your relationship, according to clinical psychologist Lisa Blum, PsyD, who specializes in Emotionally Focused Therapy. But things do change – and with these changes come potential obstacles.

Even if you haven’t shared a home, you may not be prepared for the new challenges of matrimony. “These days, many couples wait a substantial amount of time before they actually get married, so the typical triggers of the redefinition of the relationship are simply there in the shadows, waiting to spring,” said psychotherapist and author Jeffrey Sumber, MA.

Why does marriage change a relationship? According to Blum, there are two reasons. For starters, being married feels different internally for couples. Secondly, people, including family and friends, treat you differently and perceive you as a unit.

According to Sumber, some partners might even panic the first year after realizing that “this is now our life together so we might as well get comfortable.” This “may even lead to a power struggle to make sure our own preferences and wants are met early on and thus create a trend into the future.”

Below, Blum and Sumber share their solutions for the most common challenges newlyweds face, along with general tips for a happy and healthy marriage.

Marriage Challenges & Solutions

Challenge: Becoming a unit. Once you’re married, you become a unit legally, socially and religiously, Blum said. As you navigate becoming a unit, differences are naturally magnified. Take the example of differing political affiliations. When you get married, you might wonder what your political commitment will be as a couple and where you’ll donate your money, Blum said.

The same questions surface surrounding finances – how do we spend our money? – and cultural and religious practices, she said. Even celebrating birthdays differently can become a big issue.

Families tend to be more tolerant of unmarried partners having separate plans – even if they live together, she said. But once you’re married, there’s more pressure to attend events jointly.

Solution: Unmarried couples also tend to have greater acceptance of doing things separately and differently, Blum said. But once the papers are signed, there’s the implicit expectation that you’ll do things one way, she said. “I don’t think that needs to be the case.”

Instead, when brainstorming solutions, step back and discuss whether you’re OK with doing activities separately, she said. Can you find a solution that lets each of you do what you love while letting the other in? As Blum said, “Rather than an ‘either or’ solution, could it be a ‘both and’?”

One couple Blum knows attends their own church twice a month and goes to the same services once a month. She’s also seen other couples alternate years for the holidays.

Again, the key is to avoid the assumption that there’s one right way – even if it looks very different from how your family of origin does things, Blum said.

Challenge: Decreased intimacy. Even within months of the honeymoon, some couples see their sex life change dramatically, Sumber said.

Solution: “It is essential that couples maintain an open dialogue about their sex life well before the wedding and then maintain this conversation long into the life of the marriage,” Sumber said. For some couples the solution is to schedule intimacy nights during the week, he said. To read more from Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., click here.

Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?

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Last month, Britain appointed its first “minister for loneliness,” who is charged with tackling what Prime Minister Theresa May called the “sad reality of modern life.”

Public-health leaders immediately praised the idea — and for good reason. In recent decades, researchers have discovered that loneliness left untreated is not just psychically painful; it also can have serious medical consequences. Rigorous epidemiological studies have linked loneliness and social isolation to heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide. Vivek Murthy, the former United States surgeon general, has written that loneliness and social isolation are “associated with a reduction in life span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”

But is loneliness, as many political officials and pundits are warning, a growing “health epidemic”?

I don’t believe so, nor do I believe it helps anyone to describe it that way. Social disconnection is a serious matter, yet if we whip up a panic over its prevalence and impact, we’re less likely to deal with it properly.

Anxiety about loneliness is a common feature of modern societies. Today, two major causes of loneliness seem possible. One is that societies throughout the world have embraced a culture of individualism. More people are living alone, and aging alone, than ever. Neoliberal social policies have turned workers into precarious free agents, and when jobs disappear, things fall apart fast. Labor unions, civic associations, neighborhood organizations, religious groups and other traditional sources of social solidarity are in steady decline. Increasingly, we all feel that we’re on our own.

The other possible cause is the rise of communications technology, including smartphones, social media and the internet. A decade ago, companies like Facebook, Apple and Google pledged that their products would help create meaningful relationships and communities. Instead, we’ve used the media system to deepen existing divisions, at both the individual and group levels. We may have thousands of “friends” and “followers” on Facebook and Instagram, but when it comes to human relationships, it turns out there’s no substitute for building them the old-fashioned way, in person.

In light of these two trends, it’s easy to believe we’re experiencing an “epidemic” of loneliness and isolation. Surprisingly, though, the best data do not actually show drastic spikes in either loneliness or social isolation.

The main evidence for rising isolation comes from a widely reported sociology journal article claiming that in 2004, one in four Americans had no one in their life they felt they could confide in, compared with one in 10 during the 1980s. But that study turned out to be based on faulty data, and other research shows that the portion of Americans without a confidant is about the same as it has long been. Although one of the authors has distanced himself from the paper (saying, “I no longer think it’s reliable”), scholars, journalists and policymakers continue to cite it.

The other data on loneliness are complicated and often contradictory, in part because there are so many different ways of measuring the phenomenon. But it’s clear that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers. For example, one set of statistics comes from a study that counted as lonely people who said they felt “left out” or “isolated,” or “lacked companionship” — even just “some of the time.” That’s an exceedingly low bar, and surely not one we’d want doctors or policymakers to use in their work. To read more from Eric Klinenberg, click here.

If they haven’t replied to your texts it doesn’t mean they’re ignoring you

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There’s a lonely kind of craziness in falling out with people who almost certainly have no idea you’ve fallen out.

We live, according to the cliche, in an age of “instant communication”. Only we don’t. The truth is we live in an age when instant communication is possible – when your email, text or direct message might receive a reply in moments – but when that’s often not what actually happens. Emails, and increasingly texts and DMs, too, wait days or even weeks for a response. “The result,” as Julie Beck put it recently in the Atlantic, “is the sense that everyone could get back to you immediately, if they wanted to – and the anxiety that follows when they don’t.” In the old days, instant replies were either obligatory (as in face-to-face conversation) or impossible (as in snail mail). Now, though, we’ve hopelessly confused the two. So when no reply is forthcoming, we’ve no idea what to think.

This explains the peculiarly modern phenomenon of being involved, at any given time, in a half-dozen emotionally awkward situations that may in fact not exist beyond the confines of one’s own head. Right now, for example, I’m convinced a dear friend is angry or distressed that I still haven’t responded to his newsy pre-Christmas message; meanwhile, a professional contact who suggested lunch has gone silent since my enthusiastic reply, perhaps having realised she’d confused me with someone more noteworthy and being too embarrassed to admit it. Yet of course I have zero evidence for either belief: I suspect my friend hasn’t given the matter any thought, while the contact is furiously busy and will eventually reply. There’s a special, lonely kind of craziness in experiencing ongoing tensions with people who almost certainly aren’t experiencing them back. To read more from Oliver Burkeman, click here.

Can You Be Too Selfless in Your Relationships?

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According to a new study, people who are concerned about others have higher well-being—but only if they respect their own needs.

How much should we help others? In our close relationships, is it better to care for others or to put our own needs first? You may have faced this dilemma yourself if your partner ever asked you to help with the dishes after a long workday, for example, or a friend asked you for an early morning airport ride.

According to a recent study, people who are motivated to care for others tend to fare well—but it is also important for us to not neglect self-care and our own needs.

In this study, published in Psychological Bulletin, the researchers explored communal motivation. People who are higher in communal motivation tend to be especially concerned about other people, and this concern motivates them to care for others. They tend to help others without keeping track of what each person “owes” the other (for example, think of the caregiving that a parent provides to a child).

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis—a study that aggregates the results of other research—of 100 studies (including some previously unpublished data) with a total of over 26,000 participants, mainly from Europe and North America. These studies had used questionnaires to measure participants’ and their partners’ well-being (their satisfaction with life and positive and negative emotions), their satisfaction and emotions in their relationships, and three types of communal motivation:

General communal motivation: Their overall level of concern for the well-being of other people (including people they are close to, as well as more casual acquaintances and even strangers).
Partner-specific communal motivation: Their willingness to care for and support a specific relationship partner (such as a romantic partner, friend, or family member).
Unmitigated communal motivation: Their willingness to support others selflessly, even at the expense of their own needs.
The researchers found that participants higher in general communal motivation, as well as partner-specific communal motivation, reported higher levels of well-being—and so did their relationship partners. Additionally, both they and their partners were happier in their relationships compared to people lower in those traits. To read more from ELIZABETH HOPPER, click here.

How to Know if You’ve Married the Wrong Person

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We all marry people for reasons that don’t really pan out over the long haul — and that’s ok. Christine Carter provides three ways to embrace the reality of an imperfect partner.

When my first marriage failed, I wanted desperately to fall in love and start again. I wanted to show my princess-obsessed little girls that lasting love was possible; that their romantic dreams could come true. That my romantic dreams could come true.

When I met Mark, the man who is now my second husband, I was optimistic. He met my propensity for anxiety with a proclivity for deep calm. He told me that he wanted to dedicate the second half of his life to romance. I was sold. Even better, no one was a bigger champion of me (or my work) than him. In that first year together, he gushed over me in a way that only my grandmother had done before. It felt great.

Four years after we met, we married. It was something I had to talk Mark into; going through a divorce is hard, and neither of us were eager to go through that again. But I think I had a deeper agenda, one I couldn’t see then. I think I wanted to marry Mark in part because I didn’t want to raise my kids alone. It was so much more fun to have an adult to talk to at night. I also married Mark—again, unconsciously—in an attempt to preserve those feelings of being adored which are the hallmark of the early stage of almost every relationship. Nothing could be more romantic than a wedding and a honeymoon; nothing, in theory, could make our relationship more permanent than marriage.

This is obviously faulty logic. There was, of course, no actual connection between the feelings I wanted to resurrect and the institution of marriage. Indeed, as Alain de Botton has so wisely written, we attempt to use marriage to “make nice feelings permanent.” He continues:

Marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.

Marriage did move us onto a decisively different plane, complete with a move to the suburbs and the ensuing long commute. Three of our teenagers decided to live full-time with us (the fourth goes to boarding school). This was a departure from the week-on, week-off custody arrangements we were used to. Mark and I lost all the alone-time we had as a couple, but our family life blossomed. I thrived in a house full of teenagers. To read more from Christine Carter, click here.

Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?

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How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors

Do you feel anxious in a yellow room? Does the color blue make you feel calm and relaxed? Artists and interior designers have long believed that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, and emotions. “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” the artist Pablo Picasso once remarked.

Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions.

Certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.

So how exactly does color work? How is color believed to impact mood and behavior?

What Is Color Psychology?

In 1666, English scientist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all of the visible colors. Newton also found that each color is made up of a single wavelength and cannot be separated any further into other colors.

Further experiments demonstrated that light could be combined to form other colors. For example, red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Some colors, such as green and magenta, cancel each other out when mixed and result in a white light.

If you have ever painted, then you have probably noticed how certain colors can be mixed to create other colors.

“Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area,” researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier have noted.

“Surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning, and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigor.”

Despite the general lack of research in this area, the concept of color psychology has become a hot topic in marketing, art, design, and other areas.

Much of the evidence in this emerging area is anecdotal at best, but researchers and experts have made a few important discoveries and observations about the psychology of color and the effect it has on moods, feelings, and behaviors.

Of course, your feelings about color are often deeply personal and rooted in your own experience or culture. For example, while the color white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.

The Psychological Effects of Color

Why is color such a powerful force in our lives? What effects can it have on our bodies and minds?

While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the color spectrum are known as warm colors and include red, orange, and yellow. These warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility.

Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are known as cool colors and include blue, purple, and green. These colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness or indifference.

Color Psychology as Therapy

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or the use of colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colorology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

In this treatment:

Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.

Modern Research on Color Psychology

Most psychologists view color therapy with skepticism and point out that the supposed effects of color are often grossly exaggerated. Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. Research has demonstrated in many cases that the mood-altering effects of color may only be temporary. A blue room may initially cause feelings of calm, but the effect dissipates after a short period of time.

However, the existing research has found that color can impact people in a variety of surprising ways:

One study found that warm-colored placebo pills were reported as more effective than cool-colored placebo pills.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that installing blue-colored streetlights can lead to reduced crime in those areas.
More recently, researchers discovered that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, something that might prove useful during athletic activities.

A study that looked at historical data found that sports teams dressed in mostly black uniforms are more likely to receive penalties and that students were more likely to associate negative qualities with a player wearing a black uniform.

Color Can Influence Performance

Studies have also shown that certain colors can have an impact on performance. No one likes to see a graded test covered in red ink, but one study found that seeing the color red before taking an exam actually hurt test performance. While the color red is often described as threatening, arousing or exciting, many previous studies on the impact of the color red have been largely inconclusive. The study found, however, that exposing students to the color red prior to an exam has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance.

In the first of the six experiments described in the study, 71 U.S. colleges students were presented with a participant number colored either red, green or black prior to taking a five-minute test. The results revealed that students who were presented with the red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those presented with the green and black numbers.

Additional Research Is Still Needed

Interest in the subject of color psychology is growing, but there remain a number of unanswered questions. How do color associations develop? How powerful is the influence of these associations on real-world behavior? Can color be used to increase worker productivity or workplace safety? What colors have an impact on consumer behavior? Do certain personality types prefer certain colors? As researchers continue to explore such questions, we may soon learn more about the impact that color has on human psychology.

Zena O’Connor, a faculty member in the Department of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Sydney, suggests that people should be wary of many of the claims they see about the psychology of color.

“Many of these claims lack substantiation in terms of empirical support, exhibit fundamental flaws (such as causal oversimplification and subjective validation), and may include factoids presented as facts,” O’Connor explains. “In addition, such claims often refer to outdated research without referring to current research findings.”

So what’s the bottom line? Experts have found that while color can have an influence on how we feel and act, these effects are subject to personal, cultural, and situational factors. More scientific research is needed to gain a better understanding of color psychology.

Elliot, AJ. Color and psychological functioning: A review of theoretical and empirical work. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00368.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology. 2013;65:95-120.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color and psychological functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007;16(5): 250-254.
Kida, TE. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make In Thinking. New York: Prometheus Books; 2006.
O’Connor, Z. Colour psychology and colour Therapy: Caveat emptor. Color Research & Application. 2011;36(3):229-234.
By Kendra Cherry, Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD

Dishwashing causes relationship distress

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Doing Dishes Is the Worst. This is now an empirically proven fact. Dishwashing causes more relationship distress than any other household task.

Every day, they slowly accumulate. Plates covered in sauces and crumbs. Bowls with a fine layer of sticky who-knows-what. Forks, knives, and spoons all gummed with bits of this and that. At the end of a long day of work, cooking, cleaning, and, for many, negotiating with small children, a couple has to face the big question: Who is going to do the dishes?

A report from the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF), a nonprofit that studies family dynamics, suggests that the answer to that question can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship. The study examined a variety of different household tasks—including shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and found that, for women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help. Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task.

What is it about dishes? Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, and the lead author of the study, offers one possible reason: “Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” Additionally, unlike some other chores such as cooking or gardening, doing dishes well does not beget compliments, he observes: “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”

The most unpopular household tasks, Carlson told me, also tend to be the ones most often associated with women. Traditionally, women have shouldered full responsibility for chores that involve cleaning up after someone else: doing the laundry, cleaning the toilet, washing dishes. Men, on the other hand, are often associated with mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, washing the car—tasks that don’t require getting up close and personal with somebody else’s daily grime. Today, women who have to shoulder those traditionally female chores alone “see themselves as relegated to the tasks that people don’t find desirable,” Carlson said. That breeds resentment.

Over the past several decades, men have assumed a greater share of household chores. Today, they perform an average of four hours of housework every week, compared to two in 1965. Dishwashing is actually one of the tasks partners are most likely to take turns doing: Between 1999 and 2006, the share of couples who divvy up dishwashing responsibilities rose from 16 to 29 percent, according to the CCF report. This may make it all the more annoying for women who still find the task falling to them. If a woman goes over to a friend’s house and sees a male partner handling or helping with the dishes, Carlson told me, she’s likely to feel worse about her own arrangement. “The more often a task is shared, the worse it is for you not to share it,” Carlson said. To read more from CAROLINE KITCHENER, click here.