The Couple that Plays Together Stays Together, but there’s Something Even Better

Taking an art class together may be one of the best ways for couples to grow closer.

Playing board games brings couples together, too – but not as much as painting together.

In a study titled “Examining Couple Recreation and Oxytocin via the Ecology of Family Experiences Framework,” Karen Melton, Maddie Larson, and  Maria Boccia of Baylor University set out to investigate the effect shared activities had on couple’s levels of the “love hormone,” oxytocin.

They divided couples into two groups: one set of teams shared a game night while the other teams took an art class. They measured everyone’s levels of oxytocin before and after the experiment.

Doing something fun together boosted everybody’s oxytocin. But the couples who took the art class together had the most significant increase – mainly because it raised the men’s oxytocin so much.

“The Love Hormone”

Oxytocin is the molecule that makes mothers and babies love each other. It has the same effect on couples.

Just before a mother gives birth, high levels of oxytocin help stimulate labor. Some of that oxytocin reaches the baby through the umbilical cord. After the baby is born, that oxytocin makes the mother and the baby bond with each other.

Children and adults both release oxytocin when they receive loving touch. The oxytocin then makes them more affectionate.

Oxytocin also:

all of which make it easier for people to be sweet and tender with each other.

Not What Researchers Expected

The researchers originally predicted that playing a game together would be the best way to make couples feel closer. They assumed that because a game involves more communication and interaction than an art class, the people who played games with their partners would produce more oxytocin.

Surprisingly, the couples taking the art class touched each other more. Even gently putting your hand on your sweetheart’s shoulder releases oxytocin for both of you.

Dr. Karen Melton, a professor of child and family studies and one of the lead researchers, said, “Typically, an art class is not seen as an interactive date with your partner. But sometimes couples that were painting turned the activity into a bonding time by choosing to interact — putting an arm around their partner or simply saying, ‘Good job,'”

It’s Different for Boys

The men in the art class showed a more significant increase in oxytocin than anyone in the study. Their oxytocin levels tended to double.

Oxytocin increases traits and skills that make men better partners. It improves men’s ability to recognize other people’s emotions. It also helps men express their own emotions.

For better or worse, oxytocin may also make men more protective partners.

The women in the study who went to the game night produced more oxytocin than those who went to the painting class. But that increase was much smaller than the boost the men got from the art class.

Researchers didn’t explain men’s and women’s different responses to the activities.

Their main conclusion was that couples who want to feel closer to each other should make time for shared fun.