PSY 498 Navigating Romantic Relationships Op-Eds

Editors note: The content in these Op-Eds are entirely provided by the undergraduate students in the PSY 498 course: Navigating Romantic Relationships. These have not been edited for content.

Keeping the Benefits and the Friendship Separate - Shardul Shetye, Daniel Grumbine, and Anya Pressendo

If you’re single like me, then this Valentine’s day, you’ve got a devil and an angel on your shoulder. One is telling you to stay home, have a drink, and not worry about the whole thing. The other is telling you to text your friend (the one you always seem to end up naked with) to come over for dinner. Listen to the first voice. Not because I’m knocking casual sex or friends with benefits, far from it, in fact. Casual sex is a staple in university life, and with the cultural advent of friends with benefits, (FWBs) it hasn’t gone anywhere. But people aren’t robots, and the regular flood of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins you get from hooking up will end up affecting how you view your friend. So, here’s a scientific how-to on keeping yourself and your FWB from falling for each other.

Starting with the basics- why are FWBs even good? Well, it’s better than meeting strangers at a party. Multiple studies have documented and analyzed different types of casual sex relationships (CSRs) and found FWBs have higher satisfaction/sexual chemistry than others, particularly for women (Stone, 2012). Additionally, there’s an added level of safety when having casual sex with a friend. You’re not worried about what they might do, who they might be, or what’s going to happen afterward (Levine & Mongeau, 2010). You know all of that- you’re already friends. This leads us to our next point. What’s the worst part about starting up any type of relationship? The fear of rejection. Texting “wyd” to the person you met at the bar last week versus asking your FWB to come over and make ‘The Bachelor’ into a drinking game is like night and day. Given FWB relationships are more conducive to healthy and open communication than random hookups, this makes intuitive sense.

If FWB relationships are so great, why am I telling you not to invite them over for dinner? Statistically speaking, 25-31% of FWB relationships deteriorate into both people never speaking again, and I’d really like for everyone to avoid that (Machia et al., 2020). In Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, three concepts make up a relationship: passion (physical attraction), intimacy (closeness/familiarity), and commitment. You can have your friends: people with high intimacy and a dash of commitment, whom you trust and know will have your back. You can have your CSRs (casual sexual relationships): people with no commitment, no intimacy, just passion. And with FWBs, you want to have intimacy and passion, but not commitment. You need to compartmentalize certain parts of your relationship to avoid slipping into an intimate relationship. There are a whole host of rules which you should follow, but we’ve condensed them down into a shortlist.

First: communicate honestly with each other. It’s that simple. Most of the time, when FWBs end poorly it’s due to participants feeling deceived about the direction or rules of the relationship (Lehmiller, 2011; Bisson & Levine, 2009). So make sure you talk about what you want out of the relationship, whether or not you’re seeing other people, why you want to be FWBs, etc. Starting that conversation might feel like pulling teeth, but it’s better than the awkwardness that may ensue if things end poorly.

Secondly, do NOT entangle romantic/sexual activities with platonic ones. In short, don’t stop being friends just because you’re doing the horizontal tango (Baumeister, 1995; Zapien, 2016). What you have to realize is while your conscious brain is telling you that you’re smart enough to separate those things, your unconscious brain is way dumber than you realize. Going on cutesy little half-dates, hanging out naked, and pillow talking hours into the night... When you stop having those clear-cut platonic activities and interactions, an annoying little gremlin in your brain will make you view them as more than “just a friend.”

Thirdly, pursue your life and potential long-term romantic partners outside of the FWB. They are just an FWB and not a replacement/interim partner (Curry, 1970; Zapien, 2016). By stagnating and not looking for a real partner, you end up sinking into a sense of complacency and comfort. This, in turn, leads you to put more time and effort into whatever you currently have going on right now, whether you mean to or not. And once again, that annoying little relationship gremlin might make an appearance.

In conclusion, FWBs are valuable relationships, and we hope you keep your benefits from affecting your friendship this Valentine’s Day.


  1. Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1995). Personal narratives about guilt: Role in action control and interpersonal relationships. Basic and applied social psychology, 17(1-2), 173-198.
  2. Bisson, M. A., & Levine, T. R. (2009). Negotiating a friends with benefits relationship. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(1), 66-73. doi:
  3. Curry, T. J., & Emerson, R. M. (1970). Balance theory: A theory of interpersonal attraction?. Sociometry, 216-238.
  4. Lehmiller, J. J., VanderDrift, L. E., & Kelly, J. R. (2011). Sex differences in approaching friends with benefits relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 48(2-3), 275-284.
  5. Levine, T. R., & Mongeau, P. A. (2010). Friends with benefits: A precarious negotiation. In M. Bruce, & R. M. Stewart (Eds.), College sex: Philosophy for every one: Philosophers with benefits; college sex: Philosophy for every one: Philosophers with benefits (pp. 91-102, Chapter xiv, 235 Pages) Wiley Blackwell. doi: Retrieved from
  6. Machia, L. V., Proulx, M. L., Ioerger, M., & Lehmiller, J. J. (2020). A longitudinal study of friends with benefits relationships. Personal Relationships, 27(1), 47-60.
  7. Stone, K. M. (2012). Contemporary relationships: friends-with-benefits and sex-buddy relationships (Doctoral dissertation, Deakin University).
  8. Zapien, N. (2016). The beginning of an extra-marital affair: A descriptive phenomenological psychological study and clinical implications. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 47(2), 134-155.

Heart to Heart: Synching Up with Your Partner - Jacob Moyer and Cami Swaine

            Think about a time you looked into the eyes of your partner (or crush). Your heart probably started beating fast, and your breathing may have shallowed. Whatever those moments made you feel, it may be comforting to know that you both might be feeling the same things due to a fascinating phenomena known as physiological coregulation. Simply put, physiological coregulation is when partners unconsciously influence each other’s nervous systems to physiologically synchronize. Your racing heart and quick breathing shouldn’t be something that makes you feel nervous or weird - it’s a natural response.

            You might be wondering, why haven’t I heard of this phenomenon before? And how does it work? Ample research had been done on the physiological effects of a situationally induced stimulus on a single person. One type of such research covered in Intimate Relationships is the misattribution of arousal, framed as when “something else in our immediate environment is really the cause of [our] reactions, then we might misinterpret physiological reactions caused by that environment as attraction to people who happen to be nearby” (Goodfriend, 2020). It wasn’t until about a decade ago that dyadic models began to be used in this research. Dyadic models studying physiological coregulation measure both participants’ physiological responses simultaneously, allowing researchers to investigate if and how social influences between partners are a two-way street.

            One of the most notable early studies on this topic, conducted by Helm, Sbarra, and Ferrer (2012), brought in thirty-two heterosexual couples to complete three laboratory tasks while their respiration and heart rate were monitored. The couple would first sit separately in the room, eyes closed and relaxed, to establish a baseline. In the second task, the couple would gaze into each other’s eyes, an exercise chosen by the researchers for its established usefulness as a task of emotional poignancy, strongly associated with feelings of closeness and intimacy. The last task was another gazing session, but this time the couple was asked to try to imitate their partner’s physiological state, so that researchers could investigate whether coregulation, if found, was consciously activated. Male and female partners’ heart rates and respiration achieved significant synchronicity during the gazing task, as hypothesized. However, during the imitation task, a strange reverse synchronicity was observed, showing that positive physiological synchronization between couples is an unconsciously driven phenomenon - getting in your head about what your partner is feeling doesn’t bring you any closer to them. Your body will find a natural rhythm with your partner’s - without your “help.”

A more recent study on physiological coregulation in couples looked at physiological synchronicity as couples discussed the positive and negative aspects of their relationship. Coutinho et al. (2021) reported that heart rates of spouses are positively associated in both directions, corroborating previous research. Additionally, their discussion explained a key difference found between overall heart rate, which was positively correlated, and heart rate variability, which was negatively correlated. This difference in synchronous direction is suggestive of our autonomic nervous system divisions, since overall heart rate is associated with our sympathetic nervous system (our “gas”), while heart rate variability is associated with parasympathetic nervous system control (our “breaks”). Our body’s systems are working in complex ways to simultaneously raise and manage our physiology, as our partner’s does the same, all without any conscious work necessary.

A 2015 study investigating physiological coregulation found a significant association between physiological coregulation and empathetic accuracy in couples, especially in the women’s ability to match their partner. Specifically, Timmons et al. found that when women were more accurately able to distinguish the emotions of their romantic partner, there was a greater physiological linkage (i.e. coregulation) between the couple. This finding was associated with higher relationship satisfaction. Improving our ability to emotionally understand our partner goes hand in hand with our bodies’ ability to literally “sync up”.

            Valentine’s Day comes with a lot of pressure to express love. For those of us with partners, it might make us overthink the ways we show our partners love. However, research on physiological coregulation shows us that when we’re with our special person, we have no choice but to literally follow our heart. Whether you’re already spending this Valentine’s Day with them or they’re out there waiting for you, your special person’s heart is made to beat with yours.


Coutinho, J., Pereira, A., Oliveira‐Silva, P., Meier, D., Lourenço, V., & Tschacher, W. (2021). When our hearts beat together: Cardiac synchrony as an entry point to understand dyadic co‐regulation in couples. Psychophysiology, 58(3), 13.

Goodfriend, W. (2020). Intimate Relationships. Sage Publications.

Helm, J. L., Sbarra, D., & Ferrer, E. (2012). Assessing cross-partner associations in physiological responses via coupled oscillator models. Emotion, 12(4), 748-762.

Timmons, A. C., Margolin, G., & Saxbe, D. E. (2015). Physiological linkage in couples and its implications for individual and interpersonal functioning: A literature review. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 29(5), 720–731.

Our fates are in the stars - Leena Darwish

Our fates are in the stars. Everything you need to know about yourself or others, just look up and you will find your answer. If someone came up to you and said that, you would probably think two things: 1) Wow, how poetic or 2) what in the world is this crazy person saying to me? Well, believe it or not, people do turn to the stars looking for answers. In fact you may have done it yourself. People turn to astrology, the study of the movements and positions of celestial bodies, and interpret them as somehow having an influence on human affairs, such as personality and love. Here, the main human affair we will look at is love. More specifically, people believing in astrology can affect their expectations of their relationship.

There are different types of astrology, such as Chinese New Year  or Gemstone. The one that will be the main focus will be zodiac signs. Zodiac signs are split into 12 different constellations and these separations are based on Earth’s orbit around the Sun. In order to figure out what sign you are, you would have to see where your birth date falls under.

With these zodiac signs, there are certain traits that are associated with each one. For instance, a Taurus is labeled as being patient and reliable, but also is characterized as jealous and possessive. With these traits, people often will look at their own and their significant others' signs, and see what is positive or negative about their signs. Some people will take this to heart, others will completely dismiss it and sometimes can change their behavior based on these characteristics. These are known as external and internal locus of control. External locus of control is “the belief that their life and outcomes are determined by outside factors, such as luck or predestined fate, while the internal locus of control is “the belief that they are generally in control of what happens to them” (Goodfriend 275). A study done by Miller, Lefcourt, and Ware, which used a locus of control scale, found that “spouses with higher internal LOC scores believed that their willpower to create change would result in actual change” leading them to be “more responsible for what happened in their marriage”, whereas “spouses with higher external LOC scores held the belief that their own behaviors and efforts in the marriage were fairly irrelevant to outcomes in the relationship” (Miller et al. 1983). So, even if one does not believe zodiac signs, the very fact that they are exposed can affect how they behave and may affect their relationships in the future. If someone does believe in zodiac signs, they may look very deeply into these traits and characteristics for themselves and even others. In the case of a significant other, positive and negative traits can lead an individual to look at their partner in a different light and fixate on certain behaviors more than they would have beforehand. This belief of zodiac signs being held as true can lead to something known as destiny beliefs.