Do you fight like cats and dogs, only to kiss and make up—or are you thoughtful and focused on each other’s needs?
By studying 376 couples in their mid-20s for nine months, researchers from the University of Illinois identified four distinct approaches couples take to dating and advancing their relationship to a deeper, more committed level:
"These couples have a lot of ups and downs, and their commitment swings wildly. They tend to make decisions based on negative events that are occurring in the relationship or on discouraging things that they're thinking about the relationship, and those things are likely to chip away at their commitment," Brian Ogolsky, a University of Illinois assistant professor of human development and family studies, said in a statement.
"These couples operate in a tension between conflict that pushes them apart and passionate attraction that pulls them back together. This kind of love may not be sustainable in the long term—you'd go crazy if you had 30 to 50 years of mind-bending passion. Partners may change from one group to another over time," Ogolsky said.
Socially Involved Couple
Socially involved couples share a social network and rely on that network to make decisions about their commitment decisions, Ogolsky said. “Ideally long-term relationships should be predicated on friendship-based love. And having mutual friends makes these couples feel closer and more committed."
"These partners are very involved with each other and dependent on each other, and they use what's happening in their relationship to advance their commitment to deeper levels. People in these couples had the highest levels of conscientiousness, which suggests that they are very careful and thoughtful about the way they approach their relationship choices," Ogolsky said.
During the nine-month study period, participants tracked how committed they were to marrying their partner and why. Researchers asked each person to elaborate on their reasoning when their commitment level went up or down.
Dramatic daters were twice as likely to break up as other couples, according to the study—perhaps due to the constant ups and downs: "It's not unlike when the transmission goes out on your car, and then your starter goes out. You begin to see little things eroding, and you start to see the relationship in a negative light, and soon you give up," Ogolsky said.
On the other hand, partner-focused couples had the highest chance of staying together and being happy over a long period of time, according to the research. This may be due to their tendency to share a social network without relying on it to further their own relationship with one another, Ogolsky said.
Somewhere in the middle lay the socially involved and the conflict-ridden. Socially involved couples report high levels of satisfaction and stability, while conflict-ridden couples may have lower relationship satisfaction when they have an argument, but it doesn’t mean they’ll break up, Ogolsky said.
Researchers hope these categorizations will help couples approach their relationships more mindfully: “The important message is that there are certain ways of making commitment-related decisions that propel you forward, and others push you backward. It can be helpful for couples to think about these patterns and the ways they make important decisions about the future of their relationship," Ogolsky said.