Relationships can be difficult to understand, to say the least. Each one’s very different from the next, and there are hundreds of variables involved; despite this, scientific research is continuously being conducted on this notoriously tricky, abstract subject. A recent study suggested that we tend to love people who are bad for us, and if that’s not confusing enough, a new paper published in the Journal of Marriage and Family claims to be able to predict the staying power of your relationship.
For the study, 376 dating couples in their mid-20's were queried each month for nine months; they were asked how they felt about the idea of marrying their partner, their changing personalities and preferences, and so on. People often claim that they’re committed to their partner for all eternity, but these attitudes can change through time, and this is precisely what the authors of this new study attempted to track.
Their comments – such as “we were fighting a lot” and “we have more in common than I thought” – and types of bonding (passionate versus friendship-based love, for example) were converted into numerical values and graphed.
Previous studies tracking relationship statuses tended to focus on the average behavior of individuals and couples, assuming that their relationship is functionally similar to that of most people. This new study dismisses this concept, and identifies four distinct types of couples in relationships: dramatic, conflict-ridden, socially involved, and partner-focused.
The dramatic group involved couples whose attitude towards how committed they were to the relationship fluctuated greatly over time; they often made negative associations with it. The conflict-ridden couples showed a high frequency of argumentative behavior, and they became less strongly committed to the relationship over time – but they remained more committed to the relationship as a whole than the dramatic couples.
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Conversely, those in the socially involved group were heavily influenced by how often their relationship interacted with their social networks of friends and family, both online and off. If these groups were maintained, the relationship was healthier than those in the previous two categories. Lastly, those in the partner-focused group, as you can imagine, depended heavily on how often they interacted and spent time with each other – the more time, the better.
Out of the 376 couples, it should come as no surprise that those in the dramatic group (34 percent) were most likely to be the first to break up. Those in the conflict-ridden group (12 percent) were also deemed quite unlikely to end up with a marriage further down the road.
Nineteen percent belonged to the socially involved group, whose commitment to marriage varied the least. The remaining 30 percent belonged to the partner-focused category, who overall showed the highest level of personal satisfaction and positive interaction with their partners; this group was deemed far more likely to marry. The remaining 5 percent were those who dropped out of the study.
It won’t come as a shock to know that the study found that regular drops in commitment levels over time meant that couples were less likely to end up sticking together. But these are only predictions: No marriages actually occurred during the short study, which is an obvious limitation. To gain a better insight, scientists should extend the study period to years rather than months.
So spend more time with each other, with or without friends and family, and ditch the drama, says science.