Romance: Love Boomerangs

The flipside of your best intentions

By Sarah Henrich, published on May 3, 2011 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

New Research on romantic relationships shows that some of our kindest gestures are not necessarily the wisest strategies. Are your loving actions undermining your bond? —Sarah Henrich

Image of a bow and arrow

The Sweet Move:

You promise love, commitment, the moon, and the stars to your significant other.

How It Backfires: People who have the most positive relationship feelings make bigger promises than less gushy people but are not any better at keeping them. In other words, major lovebirds are prone to making vows they can't keep. Instead, "Make small, concrete promises," suggests researcherJohanna Peetz of the University of Cologne in Germany. Instead of vowing to "stop arriving late all the time," be specific and realistic: "Every morning this week, I'll pick you up at 9 A.M." And then, of course, be punctual.

The Sweet Move: You discreetly avoid introducing your partner to your attractive (and annoyingly flirty) friends.

How It Backfires: Quietly removing temptations from your lover's life may make him or her more likely to cheat. Researchers at the University of Kentucky found that subtly preventing people from staring at pictures of hotties led to reduced relationship satisfaction and commitment, and softened feelings toward cheating—likely because the manipulation made them crave "forbidden fruit." Self-control is a better strategy for preventing infidelity,says researcher C. Nathan DeWall: "Boost it by practicing it—say, by exercising together."

The Sweet Move: You offer to split child care duties down the middle with your partner.

How It Backfires: When couples attempt to pitch in identically, their parenting styles often clash and actually damage the family dynamic, reports a study from Ohio State University. In couples with 4-year-olds, when fathers took over the "care" role (think bathing or feeding) instead of their usual "play" role, the quality of co-parenting—and often, the couple's relationship—plummeted. But not all hope for equality is lost: "Co-parenting takes negotiation and communication," says researcher Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan. Speak up.