Scientists took a deep dive into relationship dynamics and found that a couple's level of commitment to each other may depend on factors related to relationship maintenance.
A recent study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Department of Human Development and Family Studies has shed light on the role that relationship maintenance behavior plays in the well-being of romantic relationships. Specifically, the researchers examined the dynamics of married couples and long-term romantic partners by exploring how behaviors that help sustain relationships impact satisfaction and commitment.
The team analyzed data from 192 mostly white, heterosexual married couples living in the Midwest with an average marriage length of 14 years. Each person completed surveys, which included questions about relationship maintenance behaviors over the past two weeks and their perceptions of their partner's behaviors, as well as questions to gauge their relationship satisfaction and commitment.
Relationship maintenance behaviors are actions a partner takes to help maintain the couple’s bond. These include:
- Positivity: Being cheerful and non-critical.
- Openness: Discussing relationship needs with their partner.
- Assurances: Acknowledging the relationship will continue.
- Use of social networks: Interacting with common friends and family.
- Sharing tasks: Engaging in the equitable division of household chores.
Analysis of the responses showed few direct effects of these relationship maintenance behaviors on commitment. Instead, relationship satisfaction emerged as a moderating factor, as higher levels led to a more positive assessment of a partner's behavior, reinforcing their bond.
"Generally, we found people were relatively accurate about their partner's maintenance behaviors. We also found that it is better to have accurate perception when you are highly satisfied. If you are less satisfied, accurately perceiving your partner's efforts may not be positive," said study author Yifan Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.
The study also uncovered that when a couple's relationship maintenance behavior was similar, it negatively impacted the wife's commitment level.
Hu explained, "We found that similarity in behaviors might not be helpful for promoting interactive relationship maintenance. A possible explanation could be that if partners are too similar in their approach, they have a smaller repertoire of coping behaviors. When partners are dealing with stressors, they need to work in concert, but using different strategies may be helpful."
All in all, the research suggests a person's perception of their partner's relationship maintenance behaviors is influenced by how satisfied they are with their partner. And this plays a role in how committed the person feels.
However, because the research involved heterosexual married couples who were predominantly white, the study's authors suggest these findings might not generalize to people of other racial/ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ individuals, or other types of relationships, such as label-free relationships or those who are casually dating.
They also say that future studies looking into the mechanisms behind these findings with a larger and more diverse group of couples could provide more insight on relationship satisfaction and other factors that impact a person's commitment to their partner.
- Personal Relationships. The role of individual- and interactive-level relationship maintenance on married couples' commitment.
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. For relationship maintenance, accurate perception of partner’s behavior is key.