FRIDAY, Feb. 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Want to boost your emotional connection with your romantic partner this Valentine's Day? Try having a deeply personal conversation with another couple.
That's the conclusion of a new study that aims to figure out why friendships between couples seem so beneficial to their well-being.
The research, based on observations of couples who didn't know each other, isn't based on an exact replication of real life. And the findings don't say anything about potential risks, like the possibility that close relationships between couples could lead to infidelity.
Still, the study suggests that emotionally intimate relationships with other couples can kindle passion.
"Seeing your romantic partner reveal information about his or herself and seeing other people respond to your partner in a validating way may not only give you a new perspective but also make you feel good about them," said study lead author Keith Welker, a graduate student in the department of psychology at Wayne State University, in Detroit.
At issue: The value of friendship between couples, said an expert not involved with the study.
"Previous research tells us that couples with more shared friends have better relationships," said Gary Lewandowski Jr., chairman of the department of psychology at Monmouth University, in West Long Branch, N.J. "These friendships are especially important for support and we know that when couples form friendships with other couples, it helps the individual couples become closer to each other."
In the new study, Welker and colleagues tried to dig more deeply into the foundation of the idea that friendships between couples are beneficial. Does it matter what they talk about or how open they are about their lives?
To find out, the researchers recruited about 150 couples who had been dating for at least a year. The couples were ethnically diverse, between their early 20s and 40s, and almost entirely heterosexual.
The researchers assigned each pair to talk to each other or meet another couple. The couples were given topics to discuss in a room on campus: Some were told to make small talk, while others discussed more revealing questions, such as, "What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?" and, "If you could go back in your life and change any one experience, what would it be and why?"
Surveys revealed that levels of "passionate love," which Welker described as "the component for love that revolves around excitement and obsession with the person you're dating," grew only in the couples who had deeper chats with other couples.
Welker speculated that this has something to do with how the conversation encouraged couples to reveal things about themselves. "This creates closeness," he said. "You feel validated and cared for, like your relationship is accepted by other people."
So should couples go on double dates? "Your mileage will vary," Welker said. "One evening with another couple is probably not going to rejuvenate your relationship entirely. But in the big picture, spending time with other people who are validating of your relationship on an ongoing basis could help your relationship."
Lewandowski, the Monmouth professor, said friendships between couples would be more important for those in long-term and established relationships.
"It is later on when partners get comfortable that they can become bored or in a rut, which is when having another couple to hang out with can be especially important," he said. "Regardless of how long a couple has been together, I could see these couple friendships being especially important for any couple who wants to stay active and avoid things getting stale or too routine."
What about the risk of infidelity, which the study doesn't examine? Could emotionally intimate relationships between couples lead to other kinds of intimacy? "Anything is possible, I suppose," Lewandowski said. "But I suspect it generally won't happen since the connection was established in the context of two pre-existing couples."
The findings were scheduled for presentation at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's annual meeting, held this week in Austin, Texas. The study has not gone through the review process typically required of research that appears in peer-reviewed journals.
Learn how to reduce stress -- the kind you might develop in a relationship -- from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Keith Welker, M.A., graduate student, department of psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit; Gary Lewandowski Jr., Ph.D., professor and chairman, department of psychology, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.; presentation, Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting, Austin, Texas, Feb. 13 to 15, 2014
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