Your Genes May Make You Feel Insecure in a Romantic Relationship: Study
Mon, August 15, 2022

Your Genes May Make You Feel Insecure in a Romantic Relationship: Study


We are only human, which means that we cannot always be truly certain and confident about every aspect of our lives. There will be moments of uncertainty that can cause us to feel insecurity of varying magnitudes. If left unmanaged, said insecurities can have a serious impact on many parts of life, including your romantic relationship.

Common causes of insecurities in a relationship are low self-esteem, negative past experiences, unequal past relationship experience, personal life fulfillment or lack thereof, and individual attachment style. A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry suggests that biology may also play a role in why a person feels insecure about their relationship.

Opioid system and human attachment

Authors Kristina Tchalova from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and the team wanted to find out whether the genetic variant OPRM1 in the opioid system, which is a group of receptors related to regulating brain reward, pain, and addictive behaviors, is linked with feelings of insecurity in romantic relationships.

Results show that when faced with their partner’s dismissive, sarcastic, or quarrelsome behavior, people with μ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) tend to feel more insecure in their relationship, especially when their partner displayed more dismissive behavior than usual.

Senior author Jennifer Bartz also told Medical Xpress that the gene variant has been observed in feelings of social rejection among humans and in insecure mother and infant attachment in non-human primates. However, no study has looked at the gene in terms of a romantic partner’s reactions in their daily lives. This led the team to experiment to have a better understanding that the human attachment system may depend on the opioid system as well as the biological foundations of attachment, which is an enduring and deep emotional bond that connects one person to another.



Tracking subjects’ insecurity and arguments daily

Utilizing the event-contingent recording method, each heterosexual couple living together kept a daily diary of their daily interaction with their partner that lasted for 5 minutes or more. Couples also recorded their behavior, such as when they were sarcastic, distant, or quarrelsome. They then rated their feelings of insecurity that resulted in those interactions. The researchers instructed the subject cohabiting couples to submit their reports every day without discussing these things with their respective mates. On average, every couple separately reported 30 interactions daily. Subjects with the OPRM1 gene variant were recognized from the saliva sample collected. The team then correlated the diary information and the subjects’ feelings of insecurity.

Co-first authors Dr. Gentiana Sadikaj and Ms. Kristina Tchalova said that from a clinical perspective, their study recommends a potential risk factor in the relationship between maladaptive psychological functioning and social stress or loss. Social stress is a situation that threatens one’s esteem, relationships, and sense of belonging.

It has already been established that some people differ in how sensitive they are to negative interpersonal events in their close relationships. The recent findings suggest that some of such individual variability is caused by genetic differences, particularly in the opioid system. The authors noted that future study is needed to determine whether those carrying the said genetic variant are also susceptible to developing psychological problems as their body’s response to interpersonal stress.   

Most common fights couples have

Psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Grant Hilary Brenner, M.D., who was not involved in the study, said that the common reasons for couples disagreement include not showing enough love or affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated, feelings, talking to an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, jealousy, being possessive, past relationships, whose friend they hang around more, chores, housekeeping, who does more work, frequency of sex, one wants sex while the other doesn’t, sharing responsibilities, not showing up when supposed to, in-laws, sexual acts, telling private information about relationships to others, who’s boss, who is in control, what to wear, dominance, plans, goals in life, children, who should pay for something, and one uses all the other’s money.

According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of teens in a romantic relationship expect to hear from their significant other or partner at least once a day, if not more often. 35% said they expect to hear something from their SO every few hours.

While small fights are normal in a relationship, some arguments end in a breakup. The most socially acceptable way to break up with someone is through an in-person conversation, which stood at 8.4 on a scale of 1 to 10 rank of acceptability. The least acceptable breakup methods are through a message on social media, getting a friend to tell them, or changing social media status to “single” (2.7). Text messaging (3.4) is also widely viewed as one of the least acceptable ways to break up with someone.

In 2019, database company Statista conducted an online survey on the importance of romance in a relationship. The result shows that 40% of respondents said that romance was essential to them as they could not feel loved without it. The same percentage said romance grows more important as the relationship goes on but some 12% said it’s important at the beginning of a relationship but not after the relationship has been established.



Ways to stop feeling insecure in a relationship

If it’s insecurity that ruins relationships, there are ways to stop the inner feeling of being inadequate or threatened in some way. Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D., who wrote the book Think Forward to Thrive, said it helps take stock of your value. You will feel more secure in a relationship if you know what you have to offer to the other person. Second, build your self-esteem and avoid looking outside for validation. Third, maintain your sense of self-identity while in a relationship. This means taking care of your needs for personal well-being. Remember that it takes two healthy people to maintain a healthy relationship. The fourth way to stop feeling insecure in a relationship is to trust in yourself.  For instance, trust yourself not to hide your feelings and your inner voice when you know that something is not right.

Insecurities can hurt the relationship because it puts a limit on the amount of emotional intimacy that a partner can share. By understanding where the insecurity comes from, we can begin to overcome and challenge the inner critic that limits our happiness.