1. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  2. Study suggests gender differences in emotional response to cooperating

    July 5, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona press release by Alexis Blue via MedicalXpress:

    couple on dateWhile men tend to match their partners’ emotions during mutual cooperation, women may have the opposite response, according to new research.

    Cooperation is essential in any successful romantic relationship, but how men and women experience cooperation emotionally may be quite different, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.

    Ashley Randall, a post-doctoral research associate in the UA’s John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences and the UA’s department of psychiatry, has been interested for some time in how romantic partners’ emotions become coordinated with one another. For example, if someone comes home from work in a bad mood we know their partner’s mood might plummet as well, but what are the long-term implications of this on their relationship?

    Randall wondered how the act of cooperating, a beneficial relationship process, might impact emotional coordination between partners.

    Cooperation – having the ability to work things out with your partner, while achieving mutually beneficial outcomes – is so important in relationships, and I wondered what kind of emotional connectivity comes from cooperating with your partner?” she said.

    What she found in her recent study – published in SAGE’s Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and featured in the journal’s podcast series, Relationship Matters – were surprising gender differences.

    She and her colleagues found that during high mutual levels of cooperation with a romantic partner, men typically experience an “inphase” response to their significant other’s emotions. That is, if the woman in the relationship is feeling more positive, the man will feel more positive. If she feels less positive, he will feel less positive.

    On the contrary, it seems women experience more of an “antiphase” pattern during high mutual cooperation. If her partner is feeling more positive, she will tend to feel less positive, and vice versa.

    Take, for example, the following familiar scenario: A woman emerges from a department store fitting room and asks her husband what he thinks of a potential new shirt. He likes it, he says, hoping his time at the mall is nearing an end. So does the woman head straight to the cash register and make the purchase? Probably not. Chances are, her husband’s enthusiasm won’t be enough; she’ll want to try on a few more shirts first.

    Social psychology literature on cooperation tells us that women generally tend to cooperate more, while men often try to avoid conflict. Thus, men might be subconsciously syncing their emotions with their partners’ during cooperation in an effort to avoid conflict or reach a speedy resolution, Randall says.

    If that’s the case, it’s possible, although Randall’s study didn’t test for it, that women may pick up on the fact that their partner’s agreeability is not entirely authentic. If she suspects he’s not really as positive as he seems, or that he has an ulterior motive, she may become less positive herself in an attempt to get at his real feelings and reach a more mutually satisfying resolution, Randall suggests.

    “If you think about a couple that is trying to cooperate with one another, the man might go along and say, ‘oh sure, honey, this is great, are we almost done?’ whereas the women might say, ‘I‘m so glad that you’re happy, but I just want to talk about this one other thing because I think we’re really getting at a resolution,‘” Randall said.

    In the end, Randall’s results suggest that women may tend to serve as the emotional regulators during cooperation.

    Randall based her findings on an analysis of 44 heterosexual couples who were videotaped having a conversation about their shared lifestyle related to diet and health. The couples were asked to watch the video back and, using a rating dial, provide momentary feedback about how they were feeling emotionally. Researchers analyzed the videos as well as the participants’ responses to them.

    Co-authored by the UA’s Jesi Post, Rebecca Reed and Emily Butler, the study has implications for better understanding how romantic partners’ emotions are connected.

    “Cooperation is something that’s invaluable and instrumental in a successful relationship but men and women experience it differently,” Randall said. “This research provides another avenue to understanding how partners’ emotions can become linked, but future research is needed on how these emotional patterns may ultimately contribute to the longevity, or demise, of the romantic relationship.”


  3. Study suggests age affects how married couples handle conflict

    July 1, 2013 by Ashley

    From the SF State University press release via EurekAlert!:

    pregnancy coupleArguing with your spouse about where to go on vacation or how to handle the kids? As you age, you may find yourself handling these disagreements more often by changing the subject, according to a new San Francisco State University study.

    The study by Sarah Holley, SF State assistant professor of psychology who directs the University’s Relationships, Emotion and Health Lab, followed 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples across 13 years, checking in to see how they communicated about conflicts from housework to finances. The researchers videotaped the couples’ 15-minute discussions, noting the types of communication they used when talking about contentious topics.

    Holley and her colleagues wanted to see how the couples might change in their use of a common and destructive type of communication, the demand-withdraw pattern, as they aged. In the demand-withdraw pattern, one person in a relationship blames or pressures their partner for a change, while the partner tries to avoid discussion of the problem or passively withdraws from the interaction.

    The researchers found that while most aspects of demand-withdraw communication remained steady over time, both husbands and wives “increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict,” Holley said. That is, when faced with an area of disagreement, both spouses were more likely to do things such as change the subject or divert attention from the conflict.

    Avoidance is generally thought to be damaging to relationships as it gets in the way of conflict resolution. For younger couples, who may be grappling with newer issues, this may be particularly true. But for older couples, who have had decades to voice their disagreements, avoidance may be a way to move the conversation away from “toxic” areas and toward more neutral or pleasant topics, the researchers suggest.

    “This is in line with age-related shifts in socioemotional goals,” Holley said, “wherein individuals tend toward less conflict and greater goal disengagement in later life stages.” Several studies have shown, Holley explained, that as people age they place less importance on arguments and seek more positive experiences, perhaps out of a sense of making the most out of their remaining years.

    The age of the partners appears to be driving this important communication shift, the researchers suggest, but the change could also be influenced by the length of the couples’ relationship. “It may not be an either-or question,” Holley said. “It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance.” To explore this idea further, she hopes to compare older couples in long-term marriages with older newlywed couples.

    The study focused on this specific set of communication behaviors, Holley said, because psychologists think the demand-withdraw pattern, with its “self-perpetuating and polarizing nature,” can be especially destructive for couples. If a husband withdraws in response to his wife’s demands to do the dishes, for example, that withdrawal can lead to an escalation in the wife’s demands, which in turn may fuel the husband’s tendency to withdraw from the argument, and so on.

    This can lead to a polarization between the two partners which can be very difficult to resolve and can take a major toll on relationship satisfaction,” Holley said.

    Holley has studied demand-withdraw communication in all kinds of couples, and she said that the pattern goes beyond the stereotype of a nagging wife and a silent husband. When she compared gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples in a 2010 study, she found “strong support for the idea that the partner who desires more change … will be much more likely to occupy the demanding role, whereas the partner who desires less change — and therefore may benefit from maintaining the status quo — will be more likely to occupy the withdrawing role.”

    The study “Age-Related Changes in Demand – Withdraw Communication Behaviors” was published online on July 1, 2013 in the Journal of Marriage and Family.


  4. Study suggests excessive Facebook use can damage relationships

    June 16, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri press release via HealthCanal:

    Computer UserFacebook and other social networking web sites have revolutionized the way people create and maintain relationships.

    However, new research shows that Facebook use could actually be damaging to users’ romantic relationships. Russell Clayton, a doctoral student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, found that individuals who use Facebook excessively are far more likely to experience Facebook–related conflict with their romantic partners, which then may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.

    In their study, Clayton, along with Alexander Nagurney, an instructor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and Jessica R. Smith, a doctoral student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, surveyed Facebook users ages 18 to 82 years old. Participants were asked to describe how often they used Facebook and how much, if any, conflict arose between their current or former partners as a result of Facebook use. The researchers found that high levels of Facebook use among couples significantly predicted Facebook-related conflict, which then significantly predicted negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, and divorce.

    “Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy,” Clayton said. “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners. Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”

    Clayton says this trend was particularly apparent in newer relationships.

    “These findings held only for couples who had been in relationships of three years or less,” Clayton said. “This suggests that Facebook may be a threat to relationships that are not fully matured. On the other hand, participants who have been in relationships for longer than three years may not use Facebook as often, or may have more matured relationships, and therefore Facebook use may not be a threat or concern.”

    In order to prevent such conflict from arising, Clayton recommends couples, especially those who have not been together for very long, to limit their own personal Facebook use.

    “Although Facebook is a great way to learn about someone, excessive Facebook use may be damaging to newer romantic relationships,” Clayton said. “Cutting back to moderate, healthy levels of Facebook usage could help reduce conflict, particularly for newer couples who are still learning about each other.”

    This study is forthcoming in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

     


  5. Study suggests meeting online ups likelihood of marriage success

    June 9, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago press release via EurekAlert!:

    datingMore than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, according to new research at the University of Chicago, which also found that online couples have happier, longer marriages.

    Although the study did not determine why relationships that started online were more successful, the reasons may include the strong motivations of online daters, the availability of advance screening, and the sheer volume of opportunities online.

    “These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

    The results were published in the paper, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of June 3 to 7.

    Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, exchanges of email, instant messages, multi-player games and online communities. The research shows that couples who met online were more likely to have higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital breakups than relationships that began in face-to-face meetings.

    Marriage breakups were reported in about 6 percent of the people who met online, compared with 7.6 percent of the people who met offline. Marriages for people who met online reported a mean score of 5.64 on a satisfaction survey, compared with a score of 5.48 for people who met offline. The survey was based on questions about their happiness with their marriage and degree of affection, communication and love for each other.

    For the study, Cacioppo led a team that examined the results of a representative sample of 19,131 people who responded to a survey by Harris Interactive about their marriages and satisfaction.

    The study found a wide variety of venues, both online and offline, where people met. About 45 percent met through an online dating site. People who met online were more likely to be older (30 to 39 is the largest age group represented); employed and had a higher income. The group was diverse racially and ethnically.

    People who met offline found marriage partners at various venues including work, school, church, social gatherings, clubs and bars, and places of worship. Among the least successful marriages were those in which people met at bars, through blind dates and in virtual worlds (where individuals interact in online spaces via avatars), the researchers found.

    Relationships that start online may benefit from selectivity and the focused nature of online dating, the authors said. The differences in marital outcomes from online and offline meetings persisted after controlling for demographic differences, but “it is possible that individuals who met their spouse online may be different in personality, motivation to form a long-term marital relationship, or some other factor,” said Cacioppo. Meeting online also may provide a larger pool of prospective marriage partners, along with advance screening in the case of dating services. And although deception often occurs online, studies suggest that people are relatively honest in online dating encounters; the lies tend to be minor misrepresentations of weight or height.

    “Marital outcomes are influenced by a variety of factors. Where one meets their spouse is only one contributing factor, and the effects of where one meets one’s spouse are understandably quite small and do not hold for everyone,” Cacioppo said. “The results of this study are nevertheless encouraging, given the paradigm shift in terms of how Americans are meeting their spouses.”

     


  6. Study suggests good relationship can buffer effects of dad’s depression on young children

    May 21, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois press release via EurekAlert!:

    What effect does a father’s depression have on his young son or daughter? When fathers report a high level of emotional intimacy in their marriage, their children benefit, said a University of Illinois study.

    “When a parent is interacting with their child, they need to be able to attend to the child’s emotional state, be cued in to his developmental stage and abilities, and notice whether he is getting frustrated or needs help. Depressed parents have more difficulty doing that,” said Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development.

    But if a depressed dad has a close relationship with a partner who listens to and supports him, the quality of father-child interaction improves, she noted.

    “A supportive spouse appears to buffer the effects of the father’s depression. We can see it in children’s behavior when they’re working with their dad. The kids are more persistent and engaged,” said Jennifer Engle, the study’s lead author.

    In the study, the researchers used data from a subset of 606 children and their parents who participated in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

    When their child was 4½ years old, parents ranked themselves on two scales: one that assessed depressive symptoms and another that elicited their perceptions of emotional intimacy in their marriage. Parents were also observed interacting with their child during semi-structured tasks when the children were 4½, then 6½ years old.

    “At this stage of a child’s development, an engaged parent is very important. The son’s or daughter’s ability to focus and persist with a task when they are frustrated is critical in making a successful transition from preschool to formal schooling,” Engle said.

    Interestingly, depressed mothers didn’t get the same boost from a supportive spouse.

    That may be because men and women respond to depression differently, she added. “Men tend to withdraw; women tend to ruminate. We think that high emotional intimacy and sharing in the marriage may encourage a woman’s tendency to ruminate about her depression, disrupting her ability to be available and supportive with her children.”

    Depressed men, on the other hand, are more likely to withdraw from their partners. “This makes emotional intimacy in the marriage an important protective factor for fathers,” McElwain said.

    The study emphasizes the need for depressed parents to seek support, if not from their spouses, from friends, family, and medical professionals, she added.

    The article was published in Developmental Psychology and is available pre-publication online at http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-14498-001/. Jennifer M. Engle, now of Sewanee, the University of the South, and Nancy L. McElwain of the University of Illinois are co-authors.

     


  7. Study suggests cues to help avoid rejection

    May 15, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release via HealthCanal:

    Couple TalkingNot surprisingly, playing the random “He loves me, he loves me not” game is not the best way to determine if the object of your affection returns your feelings.

    However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that people do pay attention to how their relationship partners feel about them in order to avoid experiencing loss or rejection. This work shows that if you want your partner to love you, you need to show love first. Published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the study offers a direct measure of perceived partner closeness, or how to gauge if he or she does in fact love you.

    Developing closeness with another person can be risky, so you need to regulate the closeness to protect yourself from things like rejection or sharing too much with the wrong person,” explained the study’s lead author, Jennifer M. Tomlinson, a post-doctoral research fellow within the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Department of Psychology. “When we become close with someone, we begin to include aspects of them in our self image. We also look for cues that relationship partners value us in the same way. What our work found was that this predicts whether people feel comfortable increasing their own closeness in a relationship.”

    To determine the specific cues that people use to assess whether they want to be closer with a partner, Tomlinson and Stony Brook University’s Arthur Aron ran two studies. First, they assessed whether people perceived that their partners were satisfied and felt close to them in a sample of 77 undergraduate students who were involved in romantic relationships. The results showed that a person’s perception of how close their partner feels to them was the key variable in predicting increases in one’s own closeness. So in other words, when you feel your partner loves you, that increases the amount of love you feel for them.

    In the second study, they tested the same processes using an implicit measure of closeness with 260 undergraduates who reported on either a current or most recent past relationship. The results showed that perceptions of how satisfied and close a partner feels also influence people’s subconscious willingness to be close to the partner. The researchers found that before people were willing to open up themselves, they looked for cues that their partner felt the same way. This is the first research to introduce a model that suggests a pathway through which one romantic partner includes the other in their own self-image, indicating that it is safe to increase closeness.

    “It’s important to communicate with your partner about how you feel and value them, but this research shows that you can hone in on perceptions and look for cues before taking your relationship to the next level,” Tomlinson said.

    Brooke Feeney, professor of psychology at CMU and director of the university’s Relationships Lab, believes that this research on perceived partner closeness and its effects in promoting positive relationship outcomes has interesting implications for the role that perceptions play in shaping relationship processes.

    “These perceptions are likely based in what the partner actually does in the relationship, but it is interesting to consider that these perceptions also may be biased by characteristics that the perceiver brings to the relationship, such as the perceiver’s personal sense of security or self-worth,” Feeney said.  “This research provides a strong foundation for exploring this concept of perceived partner closeness, how it originates and how it relates to important relationship outcomes.”

    This work was partially funded by the National Institute on Aging and was completed when Tomlinson was at Stony Brook University completing her Ph.D. in social and health psychology.

    For more information, listen to Tomlinson talk about the study in “Relationship Matters,” a podcast produced by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.


  8. Study examines what makes couples ‘click’ in four minutes

    May 8, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University press release by Brooke Donald via HealthCanal:

    datingCan you “click” with someone after only four minutes?

    That’s the question at the heart of new research by Stanford scholars Dan McFarland and Dan Jurafsky that looks at how meaningful bonds are formed.

    McFarland, a sociologist at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, and Jurafsky, a computational linguist, analyzed the conversations of heterosexual couples during speed dating encounters to find out why some people felt a sense of connection after the meeting and others didn’t.

    Their paper, “Making the Connection: Social Bonding in Courtship Situations,” was published this month in the American Journal of Sociology.

    One of the key features of a community, social network or relationship is the sense that it’s meaningful, that there is some kind of force behind the relationship,” McFarland said. “We wanted to get at what the essence of the connection is, what makes people feel like they bonded.”

    McFarland said much of the literature on social bonding points to characteristics – traits, status, attributes, motivation, experiences – as reasons why people connect. But, he said, those explanations ignore or downplay the role of communication.

    There is a great deal of uncertainty, the paper notes, about the meaning of signals we send to other people, and how that plays into forging interpersonal connections.

    We wanted to see if there is anything about the interaction that matters or is it really just what I look like, what I do, what my motivation is. Is it all things that are psychological or in my head or is there actually something in how we hit it off?”

    Their analysis of nearly 1,000 dates found that words, indeed, do matter. How the words are delivered, when and for how long make a difference to how people feel toward each other, and in this case, whether the men and women sensed that they “clicked” during their encounter.

    The four-minute date, the study found, was enough time to forge a meaningful relationship – something that seemed to go beyond looks and motivation. But female participants reported lower rates of “clicking” than men, suggesting the women are more selective and, in this particular setting, more powerful.

    The participants in the study were graduate students at Stanford, and wore audio recording devices during their dates. The dates lasted four minutes each, and after they were done, the participants filled out a scorecard that, among other things, asked if he or she would like to go out on a real date with the person. If both parties said yes, a real date was set up.

    For the purposes of this study, the participants also filled out pre- and post-date surveys.

    The dates were transcribed and computer software was used to analyze the words and speech to see if any characteristics of the language corresponded to the participants’ reporting of feeling a sense of connection.

    “We were looking at conversational behaviors or speech features and how they express characteristics of the social experience, how you feel about the other person,” Jurafsky said.

    Women reported a sense of connection to men who used appreciative language (“That’s awesome” or “Good for you”) and sympathy (“That must be tough on you”).

    Women also reported clicking with male partners who interrupted them – not as a way to redirect the conversation but to demonstrate understanding and engagement, for example, by finishing a sentence or adding to it.

    Both genders reported clicking when their conversations were mainly about the women.

    “You could say men are self-centered and women are always trying to please men and dates will go well if they talk about the guy, but it turns out that’s just not true. It’s just the opposite,” McFarland said. “This is a situation in life where women have the power, women get to decide. So talking about the empowered party is a sensible strategy toward feeling connected.”

    While interrupting could be viewed as positive, asking a lot of questions tended to have a negative result.

    “Women feel disconnected when they have to ask men questions, or when men ask them questions,” the paper said. Questions were used by women to keep a lagging conversation going and by men who had nothing to say.

    Successful dates, the paper notes, were associated with women being the focal point and engaged in the conversation, and men demonstrating alignment with and understanding of the women.

    Shared stories also indicated a sense of connection, as did speakers who showed enthusiasm by varying their speech to get louder and softer.

    The researchers said the longer it took for the individuals to decide on a date, the more they reported having a bonding experience, suggesting communication can change someone’s feelings about another person and break the association with traits.

    Further studies could look at same-sex relationships, for example, or could explore the transitions to other states, like marriage.

    Stanford’s Institute for Research in the Social Sciences and various grants from the National Science Foundation supported this interdisciplinary research effort.

     


  9. Study suggests making sacrifices in a relationship may not always be beneficial

    April 30, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona press release:

    pregnancy coupleA pile of dirty dishes looms in the kitchen. It’s your spouse’s night to wash, but you know he or she has had a long day so you grab a sponge and step up to the plate. It’s just one of the minor daily sacrifices you make in the name of love. But what if you had a long, stressful day, too?

    A new study from the University of Arizona, forthcoming in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, published by SAGE, suggests that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is generally a positive thing, doing so on days when you are feeling especially stressed may not be beneficial.

    The study, led by Casey Totenhagen, a research scientist in the UA John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, is featured in the journal’s podcast series, Relationship Matters.

    Participants in the study included 164 couples, married and unmarried, whose relationships ranged in length from six months to 44 years.

    Each of the 328 individuals was asked to fill out daily online surveys, over the course of seven days, indicating the daily sacrifices they made for their partner in 12 categories, such as child care, household tasks and amount of time spent with friends, among others. They also were asked to report on the number of hassles they experienced that day and how much those hassles affected them. The participants then ranked, on a scale of one to seven, how committed they felt to their partners, how close they felt to their partners and how satisfied they felt with their relationship that day.

    For purposes of the study, sacrifice was defined not as a large, life-altering decision but rather as a small change in daily routine in order to do something nice for a partner and maintain the quality of the relationship.

    Researchers found that individuals who made sacrifices for their significant others generally reported feeling more committed to their partners when they performed those nice behaviors. But when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of hassles, they did not feel more committed.

    On days when people were really stressed, when they were really hassled, those sacrifices weren’t really beneficial anymore, because it was just one more thing on the plate at that point,” Totenhagen said. “If you’ve already had a really stressful day, and then you come home and you’re sacrificing for your partner, it’s just one more thing.”

    “You need to be mindful of the resources that you have to do those sacrifices at the end of the day,” she added. “Maybe trying to pile on more sacrifices at the end of a really stressful day isn’t the best time.”

    It’s worth noting, Totenhagen said, that individuals on the receiving end of a partner’s sacrifice did not report feeling more committed to their partner, perhaps because they were unaware that their partner had done anything special for them; that lack of awareness is a phenomenon explored in other research and is something Totenhagen hopes to study more in depth in the future.

    When it came to feelings of relationship satisfaction and closeness, making sacrifices for one’s partner seemed to have little bearing one way or another.

    However, the daily hassles reported by an individual did affect closeness and satisfaction for both partners, regardless of which one experienced those hassles.

    “We found that sacrifices did not significantly predict satisfaction and closeness, but we found that hassles played a pretty big role for those two outcomes,” Totenhagen said. “And it didn’t matter which partner was having the hassling day; it likely affected both individuals.”

    Those findings, Totenhagen said, support existing research suggesting people don’t typically do very well at compartmentalizing different aspects of their lives – like work and personal lives – which often results in a “spillover” effect.

    If I have a terrible day at work, I’m going to come home feeling grumpy, and probably my quality of interaction with my partner won’t be as great,” she said. “And if my partner has a stressful day, they’re probably coming home feeling grumpy and they won’t have the energy to have positive interactions, so I still suffer from my partner’s stressful day.”

    The implication, said Totenhagen, is that couples would do best to work through those daily hassles together.

    It’s really important that couples work on coping with those daily stressors as they occur, before they have a chance to build up,” she said. “Even if I had stressful experiences that didn’t involve my partner, it can still impact my partner, so it might be beneficial for us to work on those together.”

    Totenhagen’s co-authors on the paper – titled “Good days, bad days: Do sacrifices improve relationship quality?” – include Melissa Curran, Emily Butler and Joyce Serido, all of the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

    The work is part of Totenhagen’s ongoing research on romantic relationships.

    I want to understand what makes good relationships good and bad relationships bad, and I think that a lot of that comes in our daily interactions with our partners and how our daily lives seep into our relationships,” she said. “I think it’s really useful, then, to try and understand not just the big things that happen in relationships but the things we can do every day to foster positivity with our partners through our everyday interactions.”

     


  10. Study examines gender differences in treatment of romantic partnerships

    April 12, 2013 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) press release via AlphaGalileo:

    Women immerse themselves in their romantic relationships, while men place their best friendships and romantic partners on an equal but distant footing.

    These are the findings by Dr Anna Machin and Professor Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford presented today, Thursday 11 April 2013, at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Harrogate.

    A total of 341 people took part in online psychological research forum where they answered questions regarding the maintenance, role and value of their best friend and romantic partnerships.

    Women saw the maintenance of their romantic partnerships as a team sport, involving equal input from both partners with shared goals and beliefs being the key to success. Further, their happiness and contentment were intimately bound up in both their best friendships and romantic partnerships.

    In contrast, men were found to exist at a greater distance from both of their closest relationships. When asked to score themselves against their best friends and romantic partners on a range of attributes their responses indicated that, consciously or not, they continued to act as though they were members of the dating market despite being in committed relationships.

    Women preferred cooperation not competition with their best friends. They also scored their partner consistently higher than themselves, seemingly placing their partner on a pedestal.

    However, both sexes reported emotional extremes within their romantic partnerships, the effects of which appear to be buffered by their relationship with their best friend.  For both sexes this relationship is a vital source of comfort, stability and understanding, a refuge from the sometimes choppy waters of the romantic relationship.

    Dr Machin concluded that: “Our research shows that successful relationships are much more essential to women’s well-being than men’s. Men seem to keep their relationships at arm’s length with one eye on the dating market.  It seems that regardless of our culture of monogamy and commitment the biological imperative still operates, to a greater or lesser degree, for men. The war of the sexes is still alive and kicking within our relationships.”