What Draws Us Together Can Also Tear Us Apart

The same factors that inspire relationships to begin can cause their demise.

Posted Jul 28, 2019

Christiana Rivers/Unsplash
Source: Christiana Rivers/Unsplash

Think about the factors that might inspire you to pursue a new romantic partner: finding someone attractive, perhaps, or discovering similar interests. It may come as a surprise that some of the same factors associated with beginning a relationship can also be associated with ending one.

Here are a few potentially double-edged features to consider.

Physical Attractiveness

Physical appearance is a very important factor in determining who we consider as a potential romantic partner (see Luo and Zhang, 2009; Kurzban and Weeden, 2005; Thao et al., 2010). However, if we are looking for long-term, stable relationships, it may be better to choose a partner based on other characteristics (perhaps honesty or trustworthiness). Attractive individuals are more likely to end their relationships in order to pursue new relationships, perhaps because they are less able to resist the many potential new partners available to them due to their attractiveness (Ma-Kellams et al., 2017).

Personality Similarity

We are often attracted to others who are similar to us in important ways. Having similar attitudes positively impacts liking (Montoya and Horton, 2013) and couples with similar personalities are likely to have more fulfilling romantic relationships (Barelds & Barelds-Dijkstra, 2007; Luo & Klohnen, 2005). However, while similarity may be beneficial for positive traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, when it comes to traits such as neuroticism, disagreeableness, or depression, similarity may be detrimental to the relationship (Finkel et al., 2012). For example, neuroticism in both members of a couple is associated with declining relationship satisfaction as well as a greater risk of relationship dissolution (see Finkel et al.).

Secret Relationships

Sharing secrets can enhance attraction, even among strangers (Aron et al., 1997). In romantic couples, sharing secrets is associated with stronger relationship satisfaction and relationship quality (Frijns et al., 2013; Sprecher and Hendrick, 2004). Sharing sexual secrets can increase couples’ sexual satisfaction as well (MacNeil and Byers, 2009). A concealed sexual relationship may increase couples’ intimate feelings towards one another, but only over the short-term. In long-term relationships, secrecy is associated with poorer-quality relationships (Foster and Campbell, 2005). The authors suggest that keeping the relationship secret may not only impose a burden on the couple, but the lack of social support from friends and family outside of the relationship can cause further detriment as well.   

High Expectations

Most often positive expectations are associated with enhanced relationship quality (Lemay and Venaglia, 2016). For example, Murray et al. (1996) found that the more positively couples viewed their relationships and their partners, the more likely those relationships were to persist and the less likely those couples were to report conflict. Positive expectations may even cause relationships to improve through a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you expect your partner to be kind, you may unintentionally facilitate his or her kind behavior (Snyder et al., 1977). However, unrealistically optimistic predictions might leave couples unprepared to handle relationship problems and may therefore be associated with decreased relationship satisfaction (Lavner et al., 2013). Couples with higher expectations may be less likely to make the effort to solve their relationship problems or to discuss their relationship issues and thus may experience diminished well-being in their relationships (Lemay and Venaglia, 2016). 

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