Close your eyes and imagine your girlfriend is working late with an attractive coworker that you suspect she has a crush on. Or think about your husband hanging out at his high school reunion with an old flame that he has never gotten over. Such thoughts probably don’t make you feel good, and you may be anxious or upset knowing that your partner was tempted by the fruit of another (or what researchers refer to as “attending to an attractive alternative partner”). It may seem like common sense that such suspicions of a partner’s potential betrayal undermine the quality of a relationship. If you think your partner has his or her eye on someone else, that would hurt your relationship, right? Well, relationship science say otherwise — it may not be that simple. New research suggests that suspicions of partners’ temptations can actually increase commitment in relationships.
Entries in commitment (54)
When it comes to understanding the fate of any given relationship, I’d argue that knowing something about a couple’s commitment level, or their attachment to each other and long-term perspective on the relationship, is critical (see our previous article on predicting breakup here). Beyond predictions about staying together versus breaking up, commitment is also associated with all sorts of positive relationship outcomes (see our previous article on 5 Reasons Commitment is Good For Your Relationship). But how is commitment built in a relationship? More than 30 years of research on this topic has identified three pillars that form the foundation of commitment in relationships.
Ever catch your partner checking out an attractive stranger on the street? Ever notice all of the good-looking opposite-sex friends your partner has accumulated on Facebook? Such things might seem harmless, but these “beautiful” people may actually make us less appealing to our partners, due to what researchers refer to as contrast effects. Contrast effects occur when something looks better or worse depending on what we compare to it. In this case, you could look less attractive to your partner when compared to someone else that is more attractive, whether that person is a sexy passerby, a good-looking co-worker, or even someone featured in erotic material. (Read more about contrast effects here.)
Imagine that you get a great job offer, complete with an excellent salary, flexible hours and numerous promotion opportunities. The only problem is that this job offer is in a city far away from where you and your partner currently live. Thus, your partner has to choose whether or not to uproot for you, leaving her or his own job and friends behind and starting over with you in this new city. What would be the consequences of your partner making this choice? In particular, beyond the consequences this would have for your partner, how would you feel about your partner making this sacrifice for you?
We can learn a lot about what makes for happy, long-lasting romantic relationships by studying the various reasons why relationships fail. Though there isn’t a surefire algorithm that takes into account every possible factor that predicts how a relationship will evolve, research does give us insight into the characteristics and circumstances that help partners “stick” together – or not. One obvious reason why people break up is infidelity, or cheating. This “grim reaper” of relationships has attracted the attention of researchers who aim to identify tendencies that put partners at risk for getting into “sticky situations” outside of their current relationship.
Commitment, the big “C-word” in relationships, is defined as feeling connected to your partner, wanting your relationship to succeed, and thinking about your long-term future together. Although there are downsides to commitment (see here for an example), commitment is associated with lots of good outcomes...
It may be hard to believe, but I was once in a relationship for nine years where I was so unhappy, I cried nearly every day. A decade later, with a Ph.D. in Psychology under my belt and an intellectual obsession with how and why humans attach themselves to one another and form relationships, I am finally beginning to understand the mysterious crazy glue that keeps people in bad relationships. It often boils down to commitment level, attachment style, and a strange ability to distort the future.
First comes love, then comes…? These days, the answer may be a U-Haul truck. For many couples, moving in together is a key decision that transitions them from a dating relationship to a long-term committed partnership. However, a small but growing minority of long-term couples across a number of Western countries – such as Britain, Sweden, and Canada – are choosing to forgo cohabitation entirely, preferring to keep their separate homes. This phenomenon is referred to as living apart together, or LAT.
Are you dating someone and finding yourself wondering, “Where is this going?” You can easily measure your current level of commitment to the relationship to make an educated guess about whether you guys will stay together. It’s not magic. It’s not a gimmick. It’s just statistics. Give it a try: Take our relationship quiz. (I recommend you take the quiz before reading further so that you can give your natural responses.)
Editors' note: This quiz is part of an informal project on great relationships conducted by contributor
Melissa Schneider, LMSW, and is not supervised or conducted by ScienceOfRelationships.com,
other contributors, or the academic institutions affliliated with other contributors.
I think we can all agree that the word “Commitment” gets tossed around a lot. Will he commit? She has commitment issues...We all say it, but what does commitment really mean? To some, it means not cheating, and for others, it means dating exclusively or maintaining a marriage. For most of us, commitment involves some sort of obligation or promise to the other person.
When is the right time to get married? My boyfriend and I are currently in college and have been dating for 3 years. He talks about getting married and starting a life, but when is it too soon? Don't get me wrong, I love him and it's not that I don't want to be with him, but our career paths couldn't be more different, and in order for us to be together we would have to move, meaning one of us would have to give up everything (most likely me). He wants to become a physicist and has to attend many more years of schooling, while I'm going to graduate with a B.A in AD/PR. Either we get married and he'll be in school studying, or we wait until he gets his Ph.D. and is settled down.
Making a big life decision like this is not easy, and I am happy to see that you are looking at this practically rather than just romantically. When trying to decide when the “right” time is to get married, it might be useful to first consider what risk factors there are for divorce. Researchers have identified a number of socio-demographic factors associated with divorce that have remained stable over time, such as marrying too young, co-habitation before marriage, not having a religious affiliation, living in an urban area, and growing up in a household where there were not two continuously married parents.1 Other marital stressors also play an important role in predicting divorce, such as financial strains and career demands.
The key to decoding your relationship’s future could be sitting in your pocket right now. It’s not your wallet, or those breath mints, or that crumpled lottery ticket. It’s your cell phone.
Similar to how a runny nose and sore throat can quickly let us know we have a cold, the right kind of information about our romantic relationships can tell us a lot about their future potential. For example, researchers know that a couple’s level of love, commitment, and “positive illusions” are powerful predictors of future relationship success (see my last article here), whereas the number of fights couples have and their respective personality traits are surprisingly less important (see more here.). I call these “predictive elements” -- i.e., the punchy details that psychologists use to predict the quality or future outcome of relationships (basically, whether or not a couple will live happily ever after). Although we cannot rely on these elements to foresee the precise outcome of any particular relationship, it is safe to think of them as useful clues. Predictive elements are like the weather report from a station you trust. If they say there’s a 90% chance of rain, then you should probably pack an umbrella.
There’s something to be said about the “we-ness” of high-quality romantic relationships. When you think of your relationships in a plural sense (e.g., “We've been together for 6 years,” rather than "I've been with him/her for 6 years"), you sometimes start to define who you are (what psychologists call your self-concept) in terms of those relationships. By defining yourself in this way, you include aspects of your romantic partner in your self-concept. For example, you might take on some of your partner's characteristics, or see your partner's interests as your own (think about it – did you actually get into that eccentric rock band because you think they make great music...or was it because your partner liked them first?). In many studies, partners who define themselves in this pluralistic way tend to enjoy greater closeness, more commitment, and greater relationship satisfaction.1,2 In other words, the more you include your partner in your self-concept, the better your relationship is likely to be.
But is it always good when we include our partners in our selves?
A recent article in The Atlantic reports on data indicating that men and women may not be on the same page when it comes to commitment and expectations related to living together (read the article here). What do you think?
Check out our past articles on cohabitation here:
- Fact Checking Cohabitation and Marriage
- Should We Live Together? A Question Worth Asking
- Two’s Company. But Is It Necessarily Bad Company?
I love making up a good acronym as much as the next relationship researcher, and today I’ve invented one about the top three predictors of a successful relationship: PICL*.
In the 22nd installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Casey Totenhagen (University of Arizona) dicusses recent research on how the daily sacrifices we make in relationships (e.g., doing the dishes, picking up a partner from work) influence how happy and committed we are in our relationships.
Totenhagen explained, “In a relationship the partners are interdependent, and what I’m feeling and getting out of the relationship really depends on how my partner is treating me. These sacrifices are opportunities that we have to show our partners that we care about them, that we’re invested in the relationship, and that we want and expect the relationship to continue.”
If you had a chance to write a short description of your feelings for your partner on Valentine’s Day, what would you say? After all, proclaiming your feelings for your partner is the reason for the (Valentine’s Day) season. In the past, newspapers gave readers the opportunity to post a Valentine’s Day announcement (some newspapers like the Telegraph in the UK still offer this opportunity). This doesn’t happen so much any more (damn you internet!), but regardless of the medium, it isn’t everyday that you get to be nosy and see what people have to say about their relationships. That’s where relationship science comes in…
Having just moved into a new house, one thing is clear to me (and the moving guys): Couples accumulate a lot of stuff. Whether it’s the crates full of grunge CDs from college or our new bedroom furniture, I have firsthand knowledge that as a couple’s relationship develops, so does their collection of objects and artifacts. Now I’m not talking about the folks on Hoarders here. Rather, as normal couples build a household together, undoubtedly that includes merging each individuals’ possessions along with the acquisition of new things (please see my credit card statement as evidence for the latter).
What do those household objects say about relationships? Can we tell anything about a couple by looking at their stuff?
Remember that classic scene from Runaway Bride where Julia Roberts bolted from the altar and trotted across the horizon in a wedding dress? Or when Chandler in Friends left a note for Monica before he fled just hours before their nuptial? These storylines are common in TV and movies, but it can happen in real life too. Many people get cold feet before their big days; it is so common that friends and family usually tell the bride/groom-to-be to just brush it off as a little blip on the path to living happily-ever-after. Indeed, people often have more doubts about themselves, their partners, and their relationships when they face significant changes in their lives.1 But are we right to ignore these doubts? Not so, according to recent research.
If You’re In A Relationship, Is It OK To Browse Hookup Sites For “Innocent Flirting” And “Harmless” Fun?
BC submitted the following question:
Have you written much on gay hookup apps (Grindr, Scruff, etc)? I just had a lengthy discussion with my cousin on Facebook after posting my criticism of Dan Savage's latest Savage Love. In it, Savage wrote that a gay man can have a hookup app on his phone while in an exclusive relationship and just use it for chatting with friends and innocent flirting. Why would someone be active on a hookup app and, if confronted with a hot guy to hookup with, not actually hook up with them?
This is a great question! Although I am not aware of any studies specifically examining how use of hookup applications impacts people’s relationships, there is plenty of research to suggest that bringing these applications into a monogamous relationship could potentially lead to trouble down the road. Thus, I don’t fully agree with Savage’s take that engaging in such behavior is completely innocent.
Geekosystem.com…We love you, but you should probably stick to what you do best (sharing random, marginally humorous things you find on the internet) and leave relationship science to the experts.
A few days ago Geekosystem ran a story titled, Television Is Destroying Our Romantic Relationships, As If We Need The Help. The first two sentences of the article read as follows:
We can add television to the list of things that are destroying marriages across the world. According to a recent study from Albion University, watching television can be a significant cause of marital strife.