Partners’ level of similarity in their values, backgrounds, and life goals promotes attraction and relationship success. Although “birds of a feather” may flock together, do those similarly-feathered birds always have the best relationships over the long flight ahead? Recent research on self-control suggests that the answer is both yes and no.
Entries in self-regulation (6)
Have you ever been out at a bar or at a party and had someone try a pick-up line on you? These lines can be corny (“Hey, how much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice”) or straightforward, (“Do I know you from somewhere? You look really familiar”). Researchers refer to these types of pick-up lines as “opening gambits” or “relationship initiation strategies.” (Editor’s Note: If you use either of those terms in public, you probably won’t be picking up anyone).
As any good social scientist will tell you, a person’s surroundings and environment have powerful influences on behavior. To assume that there are only cheaters and non-cheaters in the world is an oversimplification. Instead, there are situations where infidelity is more likely to occur. For example, the stress one experiences from a long day at school or at work could increase the chances of being unfaithful.
Suppose you’re at dinner with someone you just started dating. You’re reading the menu and you see a meal you would just love to have – in my case, it would be baby back ribs. You can almost taste how great those ribs will be, in all of their fall-off-the-bone glory. The server then passes right by you with the food for the table next to you, and wouldn’t you know it – they ordered ribs! But then you remember how messy ribs are to eat. And then you think about how disgusting you will look holding the bone and pulling the meat off like you’re an animal. What will your date think of you? So rather than indulge yourself, you instead order the beet salad.
We’ve all done it-- made promises to our partner only to later break them. New research confirms that those who care the most about the feelings of their partner may set themselves up for failure by over-promising. In contrast, people who are less focused on their partner's feelings and instead more focused on controlling their own behavior promise less but are more likely to keep their word.
Peetz, J., & Kammrath, L. (2011). Only because I love you: Why people make and why they break promises in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 887-904. doi: 10.1037/a0021857
We take it for granted that support from a partner is good (e.g., see the post on invisible support from a few days ago). Partners help you in many ways; when you need help studying for a big exam or are trying to exercise more, having your partner there to support and encourage you is a big help, right? A new paper by Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel questions this assumption. They propose that people are actually less motivated and try less hard to achieve their goals when they have thought about the help that a partner could provide them in reaching those goals.1
Basically, having a helpful partner can lead you to try getting away with being more of a slacker. For example, if you think about how your partner helped you on a previous academic task, you'll procrastinate more. You'll also exercise less if you previously thought about how your partner had helped with past health and fitness goals. Seriously, why bother with the Shake Weight when you can just think about your partner's help? These results were accentuated when participants recently exerted energy on other tasks; when they were tired they relied on a partner's help more at the cost of their own efforts.