As someone who glamorously teeters on the edge of codependency, I’m never particularly far away from my boyfriend — and, despite what society says about, you know, spending some time apart, it turns out hanging out all the time might actually be a good thing.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, has explored how important it is to be physically close to your romantic partner. Specifically, it looked at how proximity influences relationship dynamics in older couples who’ve been married for a long time. Most interestingly, it found that partners’ heart rates synchronize when they’re together — which is, like, so cute.
To conduct the study, researchers followed 10 couples over a two-week period, monitoring their proximity to one another, as well as their heart rates (said to be a physiological marker of arousal). PsyPost reports that participants — who were between the ages of 64 and 88 — also self-reported their levels of relationship satisfaction and global stress.
The researchers concluded that proximity was consistently associated with each partner’s heart rate, with synchronization working in a “lead-lag” way — meaning, one partner’s heart rate would lead a change, then the other’s would follow. The study’s co-author Brian Ogolsky, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, said in a press release that this “suggests a delicate balance.” He added, “When one partner triggers the other partner, they start a unique couple-level dance that affects their physiology and their patterns throughout the day.”
However, Ogolsky pointed out that “just being close to another person isn’t always beneficial,” explaining that “it depends on the nature of the interaction.” Also, changes in heart rate can be positive or negative. Furthermore, the sample size was particularly small, and only incorporated white, heterosexual college educated couples from the Midwest, meaning results can’t necessarily be extrapolated to the wider population.
Still, the findings “indicate an interaction that is collectively meaningful in some way,” and provides interesting insight into relationship dynamics. Other studies have also backed this idea up — in 2017, researchers at the University of Colorado found that when lovers touch, their breathing and heart rates sync, and their pain subsides. A 2019 study suggested that when two people fancy each other, their heart rates surge at the same time — and a 2021 follow-up found that when two people feel chemistry on a first date, their heart rates start to beat in time.
Responding to a similar study, shared to Reddit years ago, one person said they noticed “syncing breathing with [their] girlfriend in bed.” Under another post about the same topic, one redditor wrote: “My fiancé has intense anxiety and migraines occasionally. I’m normally very calm and laid back. When she gets worked up, I just curl up next to her and I instinctively match her breathing and try to guide it down with mine. Doesn’t fix everything, but she’s normally in a bit better mood after a few minutes.”
With limited research into the topic, it’s hard to know for sure — but it’s a sweet idea, anyway. It also gives me a good excuse to be needy (for vigorous heart health, of course), so I buy it.