Romantic partners influence each other's goals

September 27, 2020

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Romantic partners influence each other's goals

Let’s have something less dire to end on! And this is the perfect antidote to gloom and doom.

A new study shows that over the long-term, what one partner in a two-person relationship wishes to avoid, so too does the other partner—and what one wants to achieve, so does the other. These effects can be observed regardless of gender, age and length of the relationship, as researchers report in a study of more than 450 couples.

The research team wanted to examine the short- and long-term interdependence of approach goals and avoidance goals within couples. The participants reported whether they had tried to avoid conflicts or share meaningful experiences with their partner that day. This was followed by an analysis of how the information affected the goals of the partner.

The goals of each person were recorded daily over the course of two 14-day measurement periods at an interval of 10 to 12 months; 456 male-female couples took part. The average age of the participants was just under 34 years old, and the average relationship length was almost 10 years. The study appeared in the latest issue of The Journal of Gerontology.

The study showed that when one person within a couple avoids distress and conflicts, for example, the other tries to do the same. And conversely, when one person seeks personal growth and meaningful experiences, the other wants to achieve them too. The team of psychologists found significant delayed effects between the partners. These appeared regardless of gender, age or relationship length.

It was notable that the daily goals of one partner—which can change—mainly coincided with the medium-and longer-term goal trends of the other partner. It therefore takes several days to months for the long-term relationship goals of one partner to have an impact on the goals of the other.

What the researchers say: “This could be an adaptive mechanism to maintain the stability of the relationship,” said the lead author, “by not being influenced by every momentary shift made by the partner.”

So, what? Since I am currently writing a short book on love—the science of it and the how-to of finding love and preserving a loving relationship—I found this study very illuminating.

The present study reaffirms Alicia and my long-held belief that it is commonality that holds people together. The kind of commonality that is exhibited by this study takes, I assume from my own research, some time to develop and it’s interesting that the average relationship duration of those couples in the study was 10 years. The average longevity of marriages in Western society—and, incidentally in hunter-gatherer society—is seven years. Hence the seven-year itch.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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