Too much commitment may be unhealthy for relationships

December 2, 2008

Romantic relationships establish special bonds between partners. Oftentimes, passionate rapport leads to permanent partnerships, and ultimately, the start of families.

Sometimes, however, one or both partners place too much emotional weight on their relationship. As a result, men or women may tend to evaluate their self-worth solely based on the outcomes of their romantic interactions. This is what psychologists term as relationship-contingent self-esteem (RCSE), and, according to University of Houston researcher Chip Knee, it's an unhealthy factor in romantic relationships.

"Individuals with high levels of RCSE are very committed to their relationships, but they also find themselves at risk to become devastated when something goes wrong -- even a relatively minor event," said Knee, UH assistant professor of psychology and director of the university's Interpersonal Relations and Motivation Research Group. "An overwhelming amount of the wrong kind of commitment can actually undermine a relationship."

Knee added that RCSE can trigger depression and anxieties during even the most minor or common relationship-based incidents, such as miscommunication, short spats over noncritical matters or a critique of one's personality or appearance.

It also factors into one or more partners developing manic, obsessive (or needy) behaviors with regard to love.

RCSE might place one at risk for serious mood changes after break-ups, divorce or threats to one's relationship. Identifying it during the early stages of a relationship can prevent such negative outcomes or help partners recognize that they are incompatible.

Knee and a group of researchers observed the impact of RCSE among heterosexual college students in a series of studies. Their findings were presented in the paper "Relationship-Contingent Self-Esteem - The Ups and Downs of Romantic Relationships," published in the flagship Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Collaborating with Knee were Amber L. Bush of UH, Amy Canevello of the University of Michigan and Astrid Cook of Idiro Technologies.

Included in these studies was a 14-day diary procedure in which 198 participants recorded the most positive and negative events in their romantic relationships.

Also documented in this daily diary were participants' feelings about themselves and their relationships.

"What we found with this particular study was that people with higher levels of RCSE felt worse about themselves during negative moments in their relationships," Knee said. "It's as if it doesn't matter why the negative occurrence happens or who was at fault. The partners with stronger RCSE still feel badly about themselves."

Individuals with RCSE also are prone to react more emotionally to relationship-based situations, Knee added. Instead of taking a step back, analyzing a situation and determining how to best address it, those with RCSE respond immediately and impulsively.

"When something happens in a relationship, these individuals don't separate themselves from it," he said. "They immediately feel personally connected to any negative circumstance in a relationship and become anxious, more depressed and hostile."

Source: University of Houston

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Schizophrenia drug development may be 'de-risked' with new research tool

November 22, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

Study finds infection and schizophrenia symptom link

November 22, 2017
If a mother's immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a University of Otago study has revealed.

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

November 20, 2017
Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.