Key to successful relationships: Study finds it’s accurately perceiving your partner’s behavior

URBANA, Ill. — Ask 10 long-term couples the secret to their success and longevity, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Every relationship is unique, but generally speaking, long-time partners usually engage in various behaviors intended to nourish and sustain their relationship, like surprising each other with gifts or a spontaneous date night. These thoughtful actions are aimed at improving commitment, which benefits both members of a relationship’s physical and psychological health. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are looking at how these “maintenance behaviors” interact with both relationship satisfaction and commitment.

The results suggest that how we perceive our partner’s actions and motivations plays a major role in determining relationship health.

“Relationship maintenance is a well-established measure of couple behavior. In our study, we measured it with five main categories, which are positivity, openness, assurances, use of social networks, and sharing tasks,” says Yifan Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, in a university release.

“Relationship maintenance is usually studied on an individual level. But two partners work together to maintain the relationship. Each person contributes, and each person also perceives the efforts their partner is making. We wanted to look at both individual and interactive (or couple-level) relationship processes,” the researcher adds.

The study authors analyzed data encompassing 192 heterosexual married couples. Each person filled out an online survey separately from their partner. They reported on their own personal relationship maintenance behaviors over the prior two weeks, in addition to how they perceived their partner’s behaviors. Questionnaires also featured questions gauging relationship satisfaction and commitment.

couple standing on body of water during golden hour
A couple on the beach (Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash)

Researchers say some of the ensuing results were quite unexpected; few direct effects of relationship maintenance behaviors on commitment were noted. However, relationship satisfaction did appear to be a moderating factor between relationship maintenance and commitment. Put another way, more satisfaction led to a more positive assessment of a partner’s actions, ultimately strengthening commitment.

“Generally, we found people were relatively accurate about their partner’s maintenance behaviors. We also found that it is better to have accurate perception when you are highly satisfied. If you are less satisfied, accurately perceiving your partner’s efforts may not be positive. And your partner’s accuracy in perceiving your behavior may make you feel worse, because they are aware you may not be doing that much for the relationship,” Hu notes.

“When a stressful event happens, a couple that is less satisfied with each other may be more likely to react negatively than a couple with higher relationship satisfaction.”

Yet another unexpected finding was that similarities in relationship maintenance behaviors negatively correlated with wives’ level of commitment. Prior research has shown that similarities in personality traits, values, and attitudes may improve relationship satisfaction, but when it comes to relationship maintenance strategies, complementary approaches may be a better idea.

“We found that similarity in behaviors might not be helpful for promoting interactive relationship maintenance. A possible explanation could be that if partners are too similar in their approach, they have a smaller repertoire of coping behaviors,” Hu comments.

“When partners are dealing with stressors, they need to work in concert, but using different strategies may be helpful. For example, one partner can use positivity and assurances, while the other can use social networks. They can be mindful of trying to have a larger skill set for relationship maintenance behaviors.”

“Our study aligns with existing literature showing that relationship maintenance enactment and satisfaction are related to commitment,” adds study co-author Brian Ogolsky, professor in HDFS. “At the same time, we found that most relationship maintenance processes at the individual level are associated with commitment only when moderated by satisfaction, which underscores the complexity of couple dynamics.”

The study is published in the journal Personal Relationships.

You might also be interested in:

YouTube video

Follow on Google News

About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *