Neuroticism can make relationships tough, but according to new research, the cure is between the sheets.
Neurotic newlyweds who have frequent sexual relations are just as satisfied with their marriages as their less neurotic counterparts, according to a study published in the October issue of the quarterly journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The findings are important because neurotic people struggle with relationships and have higher rates of divorce than people who aren't neurotic.
"High levels of neuroticism are more strongly associated with bad marital outcomes than any other personality factor," study authors Michelle Russell and James McNulty of the University of Tennessee said in a statement.
Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotion. People who are high in the trait get upset easily, change their mood often and worry frequently.
But sex in marriage seems to ease these neurotic effects. Russell and McNulty followed 72 newlywed couples during the first four years of their marriages. Every six months, both spouses separately and privately reported their marital satisfaction and sexual activity.
On average, couples reported having sex once a week for the first six months of marriage and about three times a month by the fourth year. The amount of sex a couple had wasn't tied to their marital satisfaction, the researchers found. Sometimes happy couples had lots of sex, and sometimes they had very little.
But neurotic couples were an exception. Spouses with high levels of neuroticism were happier in their marriages if they had more sex, the study found. In fact, frequent sex was enough to wipe away the "happiness deficit" that neurotic people start out with: Getting busy made them as satisfied in their marriages, on average, as non-neurotic newlyweds. [Naked Truth: Why Women Shrug Off Lousy Sex]
The findings highlight the need to consider the entire relationship context when studying personality traits, the researchers wrote.
"Frequent sex is one way that some neurotic people are able to maintain satisfying relationships," Russell and McNulty said.
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You can follow LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas.
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