For the Love of Genes: Are Genes Influencing our Relationships?

What if genes had the power to influence our relationships? Does that mean one needs to do genetic testing before getting into a relationship? Or would that mean one’s family history defined their love life? What is this genetic mystery? Read on to find out…

It is a well-known fact that humans are dependent on social interaction; both romantic and non-romantic. In the past, it was purely due to the necessity to survive under severe conditions, however lack of social interaction has now been linked to emotional distress, inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, and accelerated aging. This has intrigued many researchers around the world to explore the association of biological processes and behaviour in relationships. 

People fall in love for so many different reasons: physical attraction, meaningful friendships, personality, social influence and more. But who would have thought genes could be influencing the dynamics of their romantic relationship? 

Oxytocin, known as the “love hormone”, plays a vital role in controlling social interactions and romantic attachment. Several studies have confirmed its production during the development of interpersonal relationships. Interestingly, oxytocin is produced in a similar manner when bonding with dogs or other pets. A study by Joan Monin at Yale University demonstrated that only 4% of marital satisfaction is linked to oxytocin receptor gene variation. Strangely, there seems to be a lack of evidence regarding the differential production of oxytocin in maintaining romantic relationships. 

person in white medical scrub suit standing beside white and blue hospital bed
Studying genetic makeup could help couples to see if their genes align. Image: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash.

Scientists at McGill University pioneered the idea that one’s genes could affect their relationships. Their study found that the CD38 gene is involved in oxytocin secretion, which therefore influences people’s interactions with their partner. This affects their attachment, daily social behaviour, and expression of both positive and negative feelings towards their loved one. The scientists found that different CD38 alleles have an impact on humans. To put it simply, a gene has two alternative forms (alleles) which are found at the same location of a chromosome. Moreover, there are many combinations possible causing different behaviours in couples, with at least one couple having a genetic variation leading to a “partner effect”. 

This revelation could have many practical implications for couples – be these both positive and negative – but could also direct social support to couples whose genes are not “matched”. Might this mean that genetic screening early of couples early on could help to avoid stress in relationships?

By Sakina Amin

Header image: Roselyn Tirado/Unsplash