I kicked off SPSP this year by attending the close relationships pre-conference where Dr. Emily Impett (my mentor) received the Early Career Award. In her award address, Dr. Impett presented research on how we may give up our self-interests to meet our relationship partner’s needs, and when this can be beneficial and when it is may be less ideal. More importantly, Dr. Impett’s work suggests that why we give to our partners matters more than what we are doing. For example, an individual may give to their partner to pursue positive relationship outcomes, such as to feel closer or to express love (i.e., also known as approach goals) or to avert negative outcomes such as to avoid disappointing a partner or to prevent conflict (i.e., also known as avoidance goals).
Approach and avoidance goals apply to a wide range of relationship behaviors. In her talk, Dr. Impett discussed some of our work on sexuality where we consider couples’ approach and avoidance goals for sex and how one partner’s sexual goals influence the other partner’s sexual and relationship quality. One interesting finding is that although we might have sex to avoid disappointing our partner (i.e., for avoidance goals), partly because we believe it provides benefits to our partner (even if it doesn’t benefit us as much), this is not the case. Our partner does not benefit as much as we think. The data suggest that on days when one partner in a relationship has sex for avoidance goals, the other partner feels more negative emotions and reports lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. This research suggests that simply “giving it up” to avoid negative outcomes, may not benefit the relationship.
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Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.