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Is Men's Marital Fate Sealed at Birth?

April 09, 2001|Rosie Mestel

I'm tidying my desk for the spring, so the trash can is now overflowing with old announcements such as "Researcher Establishes Link Between Sleep, Health" and "Parents and Peers Influence Teen Smoking and Drinking."

But the wheels of science keep on turning, and the reports keep coming, including these two on the subject of matrimony: Men who were small babies are less likely to marry; and hormones in newlyweds' blood help predict whether they'll divorce. (Is there nothing that isn't being studied by someone?)

The "small baby" finding came from the British Medical Journal. Scientists obtained size information for 3,577 men born in a hospital in Helsinki, Finland, between 1924 and 1933. Compared with the men who went on to wed, the 259 men who never married were, on average, shorter and lighter at birth; they had smaller head circumferences too.

The researchers suggest that maybe there's something about poor growth in the womb that gets in the way of developing some trait important for marriage--such as social skills, sexuality, personality or emotional responsiveness. The bottom line: They just don't know.

Getting married is one thing. Next comes staying married--and for that it helps to have more than a nice, big body size at birth. That's right! It also helps to have the right levels of certain hormones in your blood.

That's what Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University and co-workers found in a set of 90 newlywed couples--couples, say Kiecolt-Glaser, who were "pristine . . . had everything going for them" and were "gloriously happy."

The scientists amassed all kinds of info about these couples--personality differences, problem-solving behaviors. And each pair talked together about a subject of conflict. Blood samples were taken during the chat and once an hour thereafter for 24 hours. Levels of key hormones (such as cortisol) that rise in times of mental stress were measured.

Fast-forward 10 years--to a time when 19% of the couples were divorced. What best predicted the divorce? Hormones, hormones, hormones--staying elevated long past the time when the couple were politely discussing their differences but later, especially in women, even when the couples were now sleeping.

Should this be a required blood test before marriage?

Income-Tax Season Exacts Toll on Health

Now we'll turn to another seasonal topic: taxes!

Did you know that the stress of filing tax returns can lead to increased grinding and clenching of teeth? (I think I did.) This, we are warned by the Academy of General Dentistry, puts extra strain on the jaw muscles--and that can lead to partial or full locking of the jaw as well as earaches and pain surrounding the temples. To avoid such clenching habits, we're advised among other things to place the tongue between the teeth (yow!) and to do gentle jaw-stretching exercises (Open. Shut. Open. Shut. And pay no attention if your colleagues are looking at you funny.)

Another big problem with taxes, of course, is getting them done. Procrastination! Hypnosis could help, says L.A. area hypnotherapist Suzy Prudden. She knows about tax procrastination firsthand: Not so long ago she was in a tax stew herself. These days, she gives people sessions to deal with not only taxes but everything from studying for exams to getting off one's duff to find a new job. She even does sessions over the phone and makes tapes so you can play them to yourself again and again.

I've had a few tax problems myself, but a bigger problem, or so my editor insists, is my habit of writing this column at something other than the last possible moment.

And so I lay on my bed for half an hour, soothing background music wafting down the phone line, as Prudden induced me to relax, inhale and exhale, and imagine "doing what you need to do in the moment . . . handing in your column on time . . . as naturally as the rhythm of your heartbeat." It sounds fantastical. True, my session didn't take place under ideal circumstances: Dogs were barking and clicking across hardwood floors outside my bedroom, and I could hear my kid trying to get a balloon water fight going--in the house?

But, hey, I filed this column early, so maybe it worked. You never know, I might even file my taxes soon.


If you have an idea for a Booster Shots topic, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel at the Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012,

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