When it hurts to think we were made for each other

July 24, 2014

Aristotle said, "Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." Poetic as it is, thinking that you and your partner were made in heaven for each other can hurt your relationship, says a new study.

Psychologists observe that people talk and think about in apparently limitless ways but underlying such diversity are some common themes that frame how we think about relationships. For example, one popular frame considers love as perfect unity ("made for each other," "she's my other half"); in another frame, love is a journey ("look how far we've come," "we've been through all these things together"). These two ways of thinking about relationships are particularly interesting because, according to study authors social psychologists Spike W. S. Lee of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California, they have the power to highlight or downplay the damaging effect of conflicts on evaluation. Here's why. If two people were really made in heaven for each other, why should they have any conflicts?

"Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out," says Prof. Lee. "Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love relationship lead to different ways of evaluating it."

In one experiment, Profs. Lee and Schwarz had people in long-term relationships complete a knowledge quiz that included expressions related to either unity or journey, then recall either conflicts or celebrations with their romantic partner, and finally evaluate their relationship. As predicted, recalling conflicts leads people to feel less satisfied with their relationship—but only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind. Recalling celebrations makes people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they think about it.

In a two follow-up experiments, the study authors invoked the unity vs. journey frame in even subtler, more incidental ways. For example, people were asked to identify pairs of geometric shapes to form a full circle (activating unity) or draw a line that gets from point A to point B through a maze (activating journey). Such non-linguistic, merely pictorial cues were sufficient to change the way people evaluated relationships. Again, hurt relationship satisfaction with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

Next time you and your partner have a conflict, as Profs. Lee and Schwarz would advise, think what you said at the altar, "I, ____, take you, ____, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward 'till death do us part." It's a journey. You'll feel better now, and you'll do better down the road.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Explore further: Heavy Twitter use bad for marriage: study

Related Stories

Heavy Twitter use bad for marriage: study

July 2, 2014
Heavy Twitter use can lead to conflicts and other damaging effects on marriages and romantic relationships, a study said Thursday.

Happy couples can get a big resolution to a big fight—mean talk aside

February 12, 2014
Being critical, angry and defensive isn't always a bad thing for couples having a big disagreement—provided they are in a satisfying relationship. In that case, they likely will have a "big resolution" regardless of how ...

Researcher explores what makes love last

March 21, 2014
How couples in the Wabash Valley maintain the passion in their relationships will be the topic of an upcoming podcast.

Men, women in more satisfying relationships have lower testosterone

April 11, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Many people assume that the more testosterone, the better, but a new University of Michigan study finds that might not always be the case in romantic relationships.

Valentine's Day tips to keep your relationship healthy

February 11, 2014
Ah, Valentine's Day – a time for love and sweet times spent with your significant other.

Love is a many-faceted thing: Study examines the relationship between age and satisfaction with love life

April 9, 2014
Regular churchgoers, married people or those who enjoy harmonious social ties are most satisfied with their love life. This also goes for people who are currently in love or who experience the commitment and sexual desire ...

Recommended for you

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

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.