Love by the Numbers

The latest in relationship research.

Danger: Beware of the Soul Mate Fallacy

How a destiny mentality could hurt you.

There are seven billion people in the world and one soul mate out there somewhere for you to find, right?

Research has quite clearly shown that a strong belief in destiny can actually be harmful to you and your relationship. Here's why. Having the mentality of believing that you've found your soul mate is related to all kinds of unhealthy thinking about your love life.

Let's illustrate. You fall in love and start a relationship. Relationships have processes and phases that they tend to follow. Infatuated love (when most of your time is spent thinking about that special person) will most likely only last a number of months(1). What really matters is what happens next! 

How will you react when your soul mate starts looking a bit less perfect?

People who hold strong beliefs in destiny are prone to lose interest much faster in their partner and prone to give up much easier when the relationship looks a bit less rosy(2). Why? Look at it this way - if you believe that "we're either meant to be together or we're not" then you're more likely to see negative things in your relationship as an indicator that perhaps that "special one" actually isn't your true soul mate after all. Perhaps you were simply mistaken: if you were meant for one another, then why should you have to work so hard at your relationship?

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Do you have a 'work it through' mentality?

Are you the type of person who naturally faces hardships with a "work it through" mentality? In other words, do you see the good things and the bad things as equally part of the process of life? All relationships will go through hardship, and it's how you respond to that hardship that matters. The best predictor of whether your relationship will succeed in the long term is how you resolve disagreements(3). Research shows that people in relationships who have a "work it through" mentality will cope much better when trials come and that the relationship will stand a better chance of long-term survival(4).

My advice.

* Ask yourself what kind of general view you have: do you believe that things are either meant to happen or not OR do you believe that things happen as a consequence of how much effort and hard work you put in? Try to realize what you can control and what you can't. Understand that to get really good at anything (including relationships), thousands of hours of practice are needed.

* Start looking at "working on your relationship" as romantic! There is no predetermined soul mate waiting to be found. That said, over time, you can certainly experience the feeling of a specific person being your soul mate. That feeling comes from working on the relationship, compromising, and learning to understand your partner very well. 

* Beware of the Soul Mate Fallacy. People who believe in fate are likely to also believe that a partner can read one's mind without the communication of needs ("if he's my soul mate, he'll understand what I need"), that men and women are extremely different in their relationship needs (not consistent with relationship science), or that sex in a relationship will always be good (evidence shows that sex will change as a relationship changes; a good sex life needs to be nourished and needs continous practice).

To test how much you believe in the idea of predestined soul mates, take this quiz: 

For further reading:

  1. Sternberg, R.J. (1988). The triangle of love. New Work: Basic Books.
  2. Knee, C. R., Patrick, H., Vietor, N. A., & Neighbors, C. (2004). Implicit theories of relationships: Moderators of the link between conflict and commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(5), 617-628. 
  3. Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles of making marriage work. New York: Random House.
  4. Knee, C. R., Patrick, H., Vietor, N. A., Nanayakkara, A., & Neighbors, C (2002). Self-determination as growth motivation in romantic relationshipsPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(5), 609-619.

About the author: Dr. Bjarne Holmes is Associate Professor and the Program Director for Psychology at Champlain College in beautiful Burlington, Vermont (come study with us!!). His research focuses on attachment, well-being, health, relationship attitudes and beliefs, and the role of media influence on social identity in young adults. Dr. Holmes is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and he produces the journal's podcast series,"Relationship Matters" (download the podcasts for free here). He's also a regular contributor to the web page Science of Relationships (read his articles here). Dr. Holmes is available for media interviews, expert commentary, or consulting. 

Bjarne Holmes, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Program Director for Psychology at Champlain College in Vermont. more...

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