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  • Writer's pictureGiulia Zoppolat

Relationship Science Roundup – Holiday Edition

It is finally that lovely time of year when people get to say “…shall we just talk about this in January?” Yes, please! This has been a trying time for so many, and I am also very ready for a cozy winter break! Before that, though, here are some of the latest in the science of relationships, for some fun winter reading.

I found these articles fascinating, and I hope you do too.

1) What are your dealbreakers (what you would absolutely not be ok with) and what are your dealmakers (what you absolutely desire) when it comes to a potential romantic partner? A new paper out in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences asked 2445 people to rate many different undesirable characteristics based on how much each one would make them reject a potential partner. Seven main dealbreakers emerged: people did not want someone who was hostile, unattractive, unambitious, filthy, arrogant, clingy, and abusive. Some very interesting gender differences and congruencies emerged. For example, women rated unambitious as more of a dealbreaker than men did; being filthy was rated as a dealbreaker by men and women to the same extent. There were also differences based on whether the characteristics were rated for short or long term potential partners: arrogance was less important of a dealbreaker for short term partners, but much more important for long term partner (filthy was an important dealbreaker no matter the length of the potential relationship).

In a follow-up study, the researchers then asked other people whether they would be more interested in first knowing a potential partner’s dealmaker characteristics or dealbreaker characteristics and, interestingly, people chose dealmakers over dealbreakers; that is, participants were more curious to learn about positive traits (e.g. warmth, intelligence, stability) than negative traits (e.g. arrogance, unattractiveness) of a potential romantic interest, at least at first. I guess this means people prefer to hear the good news first…

2) We are heavily influenced by the emotions of others, particularly by those closest to us. It is no surprise that romantic partners tend to share affective states (that is, for example, if one partner is happy, the other is also likely to be so). Scientist call this “affect contagion”, which is the spread of one emotional state from one person to another. An interesting new paper shows that – regardless of a partner’s actual emotional state or whether the partner is actually physically present – it is the perception of their emotions that shape our own feelings. It is no surprise then that who we have in our lives really matters for our own wellbeing!

3) Is there a tradeoff between self-expansion (i.e. broadening the self through new identities, perspectives, or activities) and self-concept clarity (i.e. the feeling of knowing who one is as a whole)? Apparently not, and, actually, it is actually quite the opposite. Self-expansion is linked with MORE self-concept clarity (and greater satisfaction with life), especially when people have low self-concept clarity to begin with. The kicker is that people low on self-concept clarity tend to engage less in self-expansion activities, but it seems like they are the ones that should do it the most! So, to know thyself, expand thyself. And if you needed a sign to go pick up that new hobby, then this might be it.

4) Can natural disasters bring couples closer? Yes, but it’s temporary. A study out in Psychological Science asked 231 married couples in Harris County, Texas, who experienced Hurricane Harvey (a terrible hurricane that devastated the region in 2017) about their relationship satisfaction right after the hurricane, and compared it to their relationship satisfaction from before the disaster. People felt closer to their partner and were happier in their relationship right after the hurricane, but this benefit diminished after the initial bump and went back to pre-hurricane levels of satisfaction.

5) Feeling close to a romantic partner is an important ingredient for a quality romantic relationship. The assumption is often that closer is better, but research shows that people vary in how much closeness they desire with their partner. In couples, there is often what is known as closeness discrepancy, that is the difference between actual closeness and desired closeness. The challenge is that people don’t necessarily agree on what the ideal level of closeness is for their relationship. A new paper found that the greater the discrepancy between actual and ideal closeness, the worse people rated their relationship to be. So, talk to your partner about what is your ideal closeness level, as it may be different from your own and you might not even know it!

Curious for more? Check out the previous Relationship Science Roundup.

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