Self differentiation predicts changes in sexual desire between couples, study finds

The ability to maintain a sense of self and autonomy while investing in a close relationship predicts increases in sexual desire over time, according to new research published in the journal sex and relationship therapy. The new findings provide insights into how attachment and self differentiation are related to relationship functioning between couples.

“There are a lot of ideas about how to strengthen sexual relationships,” said David B. Allsop of Dalhousie University, corresponding author of the new study.

“Some people think it’s better to focus on the couple’s bond, which researchers call attachment. Others think it’s better to focus on balancing a sense of self and autonomy with attachment, which researchers call differentiation. We wanted to see whether it is better for couples’ sexual relationships to focus on the couple’s bond or, in contrast, to focus on balancing an individual sense of self and autonomy with the couple’s bond.”

Allsop and his colleagues examined two waves of data collected by the Flourishing Families Project, a longitudinal study of internal family life. The sample included 286 couples, who completed assessments of self differentiation, communication quality, relationship quality, sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and attachment style in 2010 and again in 2011.

Contrary to expectations, the researchers found no evidence that levels of anxious or avoidant attachment predicted changes in sexual desire over time. However, they found that two aspects of self differentiation predicted changes in sexual desire for men and women.

For men, lower emotional cut was associated with increases in your own sexual desire. men with lower emotional cut-off levels disagreed with statements such as “I have difficulty expressing my feelings to the people I care for” and “When things go wrong, talking about them usually makes it worse”.

for women, lower emotional reactivity was associated with increases in your own sexual desire. women with lower emotional reactivity levels disagreed with statements such as “Sometimes my feelings overwhelm me and I have a hard time thinking clearly” and “If someone is upset with me, I can’t easily let it go.”

“We found that differentiation predicted increases in sexual desire over time more uniquely than attachment,” Allsop told PsyPost. “So finding the balance between your sense of identity and autonomy with the couple’s level of bonding in your relationship may be related to increased sexual desire over time, more so than the couple’s bonding alone.”

The researchers also found that women with higher sexual satisfaction in 2010 tended to have lower emotional reactivity in 2011, while men with higher sexual desire in 2010 tended to have lower anxious attachment and emotional reactivity in 2011. avoidant tended to have partners with reduced emotional cutting.

“We also found that couples’ levels of attachment and differentiation predicted each other over time,” Allsop noted. “So better differentiation might be related to better attachment and vice versa.”

As with any study, however, the new research includes some limitations.

“The couples in our sample were middle-aged, in mixed marriages, and were from a city in the Northwest of the United States, so our results may not apply as well to older or younger people, in other types of relationships, or in different locations. different,” explained Allsop. “Doing the study again with younger couples would be interesting because younger couples are often so focused on attachment, so the results may differ between this group.”

“It’s important to remember that the couple’s bond is still very important to a couple’s sexual desire levels,” he added. “What our study adds is that trying to balance the couple’s bond with their sense of identity and their own growth may be even better for sexual desire than focusing solely on the couple’s bond.”

The study, “Longitudinal Associations Between Attachment, Self Differentiation, and Couple’s Sexual and Relational Outcomes,” was authored by David B. Allsop, Amber A. Price, Veronica Hanna-Walker, Chelom E. Leavitt, Emily H. Milius, and Shayla M. Driggs.

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