This question was the focus of an ambitious new study recently published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The researchers, Drs. Judith Gere and Emily Impett, recruited couples who had just begun dating within the last four months. Each member of the couple listed up to six goals that they were currently pursuing. For example, one partner might list goals like saving money and eating healthier, whereas another partner might list goals like improving their woodworking skills and travelling frequently. Or, for Game of Thrones fans: If Jon Snow and Ygritte were participating in this study, Jon might list goals like supporting the Night’s Watch and upholding his honor, whereas Ygritte might list goals like supporting Free Folk sovereignty, honing her survival skills, and reminding Jon of what he knows.*
After listing their goals, participants were asked to indicate how important each goal was to them as well as how strongly they felt each goal came in conflict with their partner’s goals. Goals within relationships can be incongruent or incompatible, such that conflict arises when both partners try to pursue their goals simultaneously. For example, one person may feel that saving money is important to them, but that goal often comes into conflict with their partner’s goal of wanting to go on luxurious vacations. (Supporting the Night’s Watch versus the Free Folk are rather incompatible goals as well). But what are the consequences of having conflicting goals with a new romantic partner? Is the relationship doomed, or is there room for compromise?
To find out, the researchers asked participants about their goals again three months later. The researchers found that the more someone’s goal conflicted with their partner’s goals at the beginning of the study, the more likely they were to devalue that goal over the next three months, or even stop pursuing the goal altogether. In other words, people shifted their goals to be more in line with their partners as their new relationships developed. As a frugal saver and a spendthrift traveler spend more time together, the frugal person may become less frugal over time as they come to appreciate the joys of travel, whereas the traveler may become more satisfied by less frequent trips and cheaper accommodation. As Jon Snow and Ygritte spend more time together, they may start to feel somewhat less loyal to the Night’s Watch and the Free Folk, respectively, as they feel increasingly loyal to each other. Furthermore, Gere and Impett found that these shifts in goals were associated with greater commitment over the course of the study. As partners’ goals become more congruent, they become more dedicated to each other and to staying in the relationship long-term.
Overall, these results suggest that people in new dating relationships tend to shift and adjust their goals to better align with their dating partners. Partners become more in-sync with each other over time, sometimes at the cost of their personal goals. For people who can’t bear the thought of compromising on their goals… well, they may be better off with a partner whose goals align with theirs in the first place.
I wonder what Daenerys is up to these days.
Are you seeing someone new right now? Our lab is conducting an online study on brand new relationship experiences. If you went on your first date with a new dating partner within the last four weeks, please consider participating in our study! Relationshipdecisions.org/national-pair-project
Gere, J., & Impett, E. A. (2017). Shifting priorities: Effects of partners’ goal conflict on goal adjustment processes and relationship quality in developing romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.