Psychology predicts your relationship’s future

You’re interested in predicting your own relationship’s fate, of course. Researchers in psychology are also interested. Can there be a recognizable sign that indicates the future of a relationship? Researchers have typically tried to answer this question by measuring a certain aspect of a relation at a particular moment and then comparing that measurement with the relationship outcome months or years later. One group, for example, found that higher boredom predicts lower relationship satisfaction nine years later.

Some researchers, including Ximena Arriaga at Purdue University, have suggested that the typical method of measuring a single moment in time may not fully capture the relationship experience. It might be more revealing to look at patterns of change as the relationship develops. Researchers, such as Ximena Arriaga from Purdue University, have suggested that measuring a single moment might not capture the experience of a relationship. It may be more revealing, instead, to examine patterns of change over time.

The ups and downs of your relationship may be more important than its quality in a particular moment to determine how it will end. This question was examined by a recently published study, which tracked how relationships developed over time based on people’s changing perceptions of what direction things were heading.

The course of true love or not

Your relationship can feel like a happily ever after some days and happily never after other days. Researchers refer to your feeling that your relationship will lead to marriage as your commitment.

What would your relationship look like if you could plot it? A straight line indicating steady progress? Maybe a curved line that shows you have hit a few bumps on the road? This trajectory may affect how your story ends.

Researchers Brian Ogolsky and colleagues hypothesized in a recent study that the fluctuation of individuals’ commitments to marry over time could predict future relationships. Interviewers asked 376 couples dating in their 20s to chart graphs showing how their perception of marriage probability (the vertical scale ranged from 0% – 100%) changed with time.

The interviewer marked key dates and noted where marriage chances changed for the better or worse. Spending too much time with your friends, fighting, or being too different can all lead to a decrease in commitment. Meeting the partner’s parents, spending time together, sharing a lot of common interests, and getting positive feedback from family or friends could increase commitment to marry.

The participants updated their graphs through short interviews every seven months. A final interview was conducted nine months after the beginning of the study. Participants were also asked to provide information on changes in their relationship status, such as moving from dating to being broken up or from casual dating to serious dating.

Researchers examined the graphs to determine the number of turning or changing points in the commitment to marry, noting downturns and times when marriage chances decreased. Researchers also looked at the degree or slope of change that occurred during turning points in order to determine if the relationship was escalating rapidly, slowly eroding, or taking any other trajectory.

Four types of commitments can be categorized.

Researchers identified four distinct patterns of commitment based on the feedback provided by participants each month.

Dramatic (34%) – This group experienced a relationship that was “up and down,” with more ups and downs and a greater change in commitment. They spent more time apart, had a lower opinion of the relationship, and their family and friends were less supportive.

Partner-focused (30% sample) – This group was committed to their partner and had very few downturns. The amount of time that they spent together determined their commitment.

Socially engaged (19% sample) – This group had very little variation and experienced fewer downturns compared to the conflict-ridden and dramatic groups. Changes were determined largely by how much they interacted with their social networks and what friends and family members thought about the relationship.

Conflicted (12 % of the sample). This group contains the fighters. This group also had many downturns, just like the dramatic group. Conflict in the relationship was the main cause of these changes, even though they weren’t as dramatic. The people in this group also had fewer positive things to report about their relationship than the group that was focused on the partner and received less support from friends and family than the group with a social focus.

It is intuitive to fit your relationship into four neat categories, much like you would do if you were to boil down your personality into a single color or a series of letters. But classification simplifies. Relationships and psychological experiences can be complex, defying simple categories or groups. Every relationship is unique, so it’s impossible to fit them neatly into these four categories. They do, however, provide a framework to understand how relationships develop.

What is the trajectory of your life? 

Is my relationship doomed or not?

The relationship outcome was better predicted by knowing the changes in commitment over time than the relationship quality as measured at the initial interview.

The dramatic group was twice as likely to split up than the other groups. The partner-focused group is more likely than the dramatic group to see their relationship progress.

These results show that it’s good to focus on your partner, but not in a dramatic way. Those who experience frequent and substantial changes in their commitment to a relationship should be concerned about its long-term sustainability. They may be more susceptible to breakups because they are so in touch with their social networks. These friends may be “backburner relationships, where the person keeps in touch with the other to keep the possibility of a future relationship open.

Relationships progress at different rates and follow different patterns.

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