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Going Steady: How Do People Decide to Make Their Relationships Exclusive?

As someone who is fascinated by all things “decision making-y” in relationships, I was really excited to attend a symposium this morning on how people’s commitment to their relationships can change over time. One talk in particular, by Sara Branch and colleagues, was about how people make that critical, early relationship choice to agree to be exclusive with their partners. Sara examined whether this decision could be predicted by the three components of the investment model , which have all been shown to be involved in other key relationship decisions. Sara found that two of these components indeed played an important role in decisions about exclusivity. Specifically, people were more likely to choose to become exclusive with their partners if:

1) They were more invested in their relationships (i.e., had put more time, energy, and other resources into building and maintaining the relationship).

2) They had lower quality alternatives to the relationship (i.e., they thought that their partner was one of the better dating partners they could attract).

However, the third component of the investment model - which is generally very important for decisions like breaking up - did not seem to be a factor when choosing to become exclusive. Specifically, people who were more satisfied with their relationships were no more likely to choose to become exclusive than people who were less satisfied. One possible reason that Sara suggested for this is that most people are high in satisfaction in the early stages of their relationship. So, maybe people take their relationship satisfaction with a grain of salt when making early relationship choices. Alternatively, people who are really happy with their casual dating relationships might like their relationships just the way they are, and may not want them to change into an exclusive relationship. It will be exciting to hear more about Sara’s research in future years as she continues to grapple with these questions.

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Samantha Joel - Science of Relationships articles

Samantha's research examines how people make decisions about their romantic relationships. For example, what sort of factors do people take into consideration when they try to decide whether to pursue a potential date, invest in a new relationship, or break up with a romantic partner?

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Reader Comments (1)

I think Sara's last name was actually "Branch" with an "r".

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarie
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