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Promoting 'pillow talk'

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Relationship satisfaction found to increase with more intimate conversation

photo of pillows on a bed

New research by UD Prof. John Crowley published in the journal "Communication Monographs" finds that increased pillow talk talking with a partner immediately after sex increases mens satisfaction with their relationship.

For couples seeking a closer and more satisfying relationship, part of the answer might be something so simple they can do it lying down.

Communicating with a partner immediately after sexual activity referred to as pillow talk is an important way for partners to develop intimacy and bonding that can extend beyond the moment, said John P. Crowley, assistant professor in the Department of Communication within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Delaware and an author of recently published research on the subject. Theres a heightened emotional intimacy at this time that may prime people to develop a greater connection with their partner.

Previous studies have also found this potential for greater intimacy in pillow talk, but the new research found for the first time that increasing the time spent in such talk also increases the satisfaction heterosexual men feel in the relationship. The study, which involved only heterosexual couples, did not find a similar increase in satisfaction among women.

Specifically, when couples participating in the study doubled the amount of time they spent in pillow talk for a few weeks, men were more likely to report increased satisfaction with the relationship than men who didnt change the amount of time spent in such talk. (Previous research has found that the average time a couple spends in pillow talk is about 12 minutes.)

The research, published in March in the National Communication Associations Communication Monographs journal, was co-written by Crowley, Amanda Denes, Kara L. Winkler, Anuraj Dhillon, Ambyre L.P. Ponivas and Margaret Bennett.

The researchers worked with 50 couples, randomly assigning half to a group that was asked to double the number of minutes they normally spent in pillow talk for three weeks. The other couples made up the control group and were not asked to change their behavior after sexual activity.

Crowley said the results show how beneficial pillow talk can be and suggest that counselors and therapists might encourage couples to increase the time they spend on it in order to strengthen their relationship.

The difference in satisfaction results between men and women can likely be attributed to traditional gender roles and expectations, Crowley said.

Men in our society dont usually have the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions as much as women do, he said. But when the study deliberately fostered this kind of intimacy, it showed that men were especially receptive to it, and it increased their relationship satisfaction.

A second aspect of the research investigated whether the couples who increased their pillow talk would also show a difference in the stress they experienced in later discussions about difficult issues in their relationship. In other words: Did the positive feelings from such increased intimacy carry over to times when the couples were in conflict and lessen that stress?

Those results were less clear-cut, said Crowley, whose research often focuses on how people, especially romantic couples, handle conflict. During the difficult conversation the couples were asked to have in the research lab, the men in the increased-pillow-talk group did show a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, Crowley said. But he and his co-authors noted that the men also came into the lab with higher stress levels, possibly because they were anticipating conflict.

The subject is worth further exploration, Crowley said, but for now, he and his colleagues view pillow talk as a kind of relationship maintenance tool with the potential to help couples in various situations.

There may be a different kind of intimacy and warmth and love that develops with pillow talk that can help relationships manage problems, he said.

More about Crowleys research

Crowley, who joined the UD faculty in 2019, often collaborates with Amanda Denes, who is an associate professor of communication at the University of Connecticut and the first author on the pillow talk paper.

They, along with Lindsey S. Aloia of the University of Arkansas, are the editors of a book due to be published in June by Oxford University Press. The Oxford Handbook of the Physiology of Interpersonal Communication includes essays from 33 leading scholars in communication studies, physiology, psychology and neuroscience on the subject of how our physiology influences our communication and vice versa a growing area of research in recent years. Crowleys research focuses on the intersection of interpersonal communication and health, particularly seeking to understand how people coping with difficult life experiences, including discrimination, can communicate in ways that help them cope.

He is also studying the relationship between hormones such as oxytocin a natural hormone that plays a role in interpersonal bonding and factors including pillow talk and forgiveness.

Article by Ann Manser; photo by iStock

Published April 8, 2020

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