Relationship Science Roundup – June 2021
As a researcher, it is sometimes a challenge to stay up to date on all the latest research coming out in my field. In an (admittedly futile yet truly sincere) attempt to keep up, I am inaugurating a new blog series called “Relationship Science Roundup.” I plan on compiling some of the most interesting articles coming out each month. In doing so, I hope to stay accountable to my ever-growing reading list and also to share my love for relationship science more broadly.
Hope you enjoy the latest in the science of relationships!
Obligatory disclaimer: this will not be a comprehensive review of the latest work, but a personally curated “press release” of the pieces that I have 1) seen (there is plenty more that I am sure I have missed!) and 2) found the most interesting in the last month.
Here is some of the best of June:
When it comes to romantic partners, how choosy are we? Well, according to a recent and fascinating review article in press at Personality and Social Psychology Review, not all that much. Instead, we might even be biased towards what are known as “pro-relationship decisions,” where we prefer to err on the side of initiation and maintenance of potential and current relationships. This is referred to as the progression bias, a bias due to a variety of biological, evolutionary, social, cognitive, and affective motives. From the stigma placed on singlehood and the pressure to be in a partnership to the emotional benefits of a close relationship, we may be more willing to enter and continue a relationship that to forfeit one altogether.
This phenomenon manifests in very interesting ways. For example, when looking for a relationship, people tend to rate someone as more appealing when they are presented as a potential dating partner (rather than when the same person is presented as a non-potential partner), and they also agree to dates with people who do not meet their previously identified dating standards. When a new relationship is forming, people tend to shift their initial relational goals and ideals to match the partner that they have rather than the partner that they originally wanted.
Is this a good or a bad thing? On the one hand, it could promote the formation and continuation of incompatible or unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, it may help people manage the sometimes bumpy road that comes with any relationship, providing opportunities for deep and meaningful connections to last. To know more, the full article is well worth a read.
The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, a flagship journal in the field of close relationships, has just come out with its special issue on Relationships in the Time of COVID-19. Some highlights from the featured articles:
a) The pandemic has changed what single people are looking for in a partnership (at least for now): singles not only felt more fear around being single during the pandemic, they also rated physical attractiveness of a potential partner to be less important than stability and family commitment. In a time of uncertainly, singles were more afraid of being un-partnered and desired a more stable and committed partnership than before. Article link here.
b) During periods of isolation, connecting electronically with friends – something that people relied heavily upon over the course of the pandemic – was helpful for curbing feelings of loneliness and depression, but only for those who were satisfied with the electronic contact. In other words, while technology offered an important lifeline for many, it is the subjective experience of the technology that seems to shape its benefits. Article link here.
c) It has been talked about a lot, and now more data is confirming this: the pandemic exacerbated the gender gap at home. Women did more of the parenting and home labor, while men took on more of the paid work and also had more personal time. The kicker: partners agreed that the division of labor was unfair, but this agreement did not protect women from the detrimental relational outcomes (more relational problems and lower satisfaction). Article link here.
d) The pandemic made face to face interactions more difficult and feelings of loneliness more prevalent. A study of individuals living in the United States found that living with others and/or being in a romantic relationship was helpful to thwart off loneliness. Interestingly, however, living arrangement was more important in protecting against loneliness than relationship status: that is, not living alone helped thwart off loneliness more than whether one was in a romantic relationship. This finding speaks to the importance of one’s social network and support system above and beyond that of a romantic partner. Article link here.
Non-monogamous relationships, those in which people are consensually involved with multiple romantic partners, are highly stigmatized in many societies. This stigma can be internalized by those who are engaged in these relationships (due to a similar process that occurs for other minority groups), leading to feelings of personal discomfort with their relationships. New work has found that the extent to which people have internalizes mononormativity (the idealization of monogamy), the less satisfied they felt about their partnerships. That is, societal stigmas, when applied to the self (consciously or not), can be detrimental beyond the negative effect of societal rejections (in a similar way to other minority or stigmatized groups). Article link here.
In a fascinating review article, “You spent how much?”, the authors review the research on couples and money.
For example, have you ever heard of the term “financial infidelity”? As the name suggests, this is when a partner engages in financial decisions behind their partner’s back, such as by hiding purchases, bills, or lying about one’s bank account. As emotional and sexual infidelity, this type of financial “cheating” can also be damaging to the relationship. However, some “occasional discretion” can sometimes be advantageous, such as when partner A believes in cutting out everyday “luxuries” (buying coffee out) and partner B really enjoys and is motivated by these small indulgences. In these cases, both partners might be better off by partner B not disclosing these purchases. Article link here.
Hope you enjoyed hearing about the latest in relationship science research! See you next month.