16 Ways to Test How Much Your Partner Cares About You

A new relationship test gives you 16 ways to see if your partner truly cares.

Posted Feb 20, 2021

Key Points: A fulfilling and healthy relationship entails responsiveness and sensitivity between partners. You can use the 16-item Responsiveness and Insensitivity Scale to see how emotionally supportive your partner is toward you.

You’d like to think that your partner cares about you and is able to respond to your needs. Perhaps you’re feeling at your wit’s end with the stress of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its impacts on your life. You have children who need constant supervision at home or whose hours in school are somewhat unpredictable. When they’re home, you need to monitor their remote learning, and when they’re in school, you worry about their exposure to the virus. Or you may be stressed by just the sheer weight of juggling work commitments with trying to have somewhat of a normal life with your partner. These are just two of the long list of possible problems you’re experiencing. Through it all, how much can you count on your partner?

Even when times are normal, it still helps to have a partner who listens to you, takes you seriously, and accepts that at times you may be feeling angry, sad, or just plain blah. According to newly published research by Dev Crasta at the Canandaigua New York Department of Veterans Affairs and colleagues (2021), “Perceived partner responsiveness (PPR) has emerged as a cornerstone concept in relationship science.” Referring to earlier work by the University of Rochester’s Harry Reis and colleagues (2004), PPR is the process through which you and your partner react in supportive ways to the “central, core defining features of the self” (p. 1). Responsiveness is now so significant to relationship researchers that is one of the 14 leading principles in the entire field.

How did PPR get to be so important in relationship research? In part, its development can be traced to the body of research conducted by Reis and his collaborators over the years as they sought to understand the factors that contribute to couple satisfaction. Couples with high levels of PPR are more likely to engage in self-disclosure, allow their emotional vulnerability to show and communicate greater levels of gratitude, trust, and support toward each other. As the research continued, even more impressive evidence was obtained showing that couples high in PPR have lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) when they’re placed under duress. They even live longer.

Just as importantly, as Crasta et al. point out, responsiveness may have gotten its biggest boost into prominence as the result of research on couples therapy. In what is known as the “Third Wave” of couples therapy, “Emotion-Focused Couple Therapy” and “Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy," “behavior is second to the task of increasing intimacy and empathic joining between partners” (p. 2).

Previous researchers studying PPR have tried several ways to quantify partner responsiveness. However, Crasta and his colleagues believe that responsiveness is only part of the equation. They note that it’s also important to take the related concept of insensitivity into account. The perception that your partner is detached and shows a lack of understanding toward you and your needs can erode PPR to an extent that outweighs whatever responsiveness your partner may show on other occasions. For this reason, the upstate New York researchers decided to improve on existing measures and incorporate perceived partner insensitivity into their new scale.

In the process of testing this scale, the authors also decided to address what’s called the “glop” problem in relationship science “where sentiment override results in multiple self-report measures describing a general evaluative dimension” (p. 2). In other words, if you love your partner, you’re willing to let slide some of the problems in your relationship. If measured properly, PPR should remove this global evaluative factor and instead provide a pure index of responsiveness/insensitivity.

To examine the validity of their newly developed measure, which they call the Perceived Responsiveness and Insensitivity scale (PRI), Crasta et al. conducted three separate studies, with samples ranging in age from 18 to 60 and older. They started by compiling all the tests they could find on PPR, leading to a potential 246 items for the PRI. Through a process of statistical whittling down, the authors were able to condense that lengthy measure into the final 16-item scale that showed the greatest validity, taking into account the “glop” factor. In the final validating piece of the research, the authors administered the scale to both partners in a relationship.

You can now take the PRI by answering on a 0 (not at all) to 5 (completely) scale each of these 16 items with respect to your closest relationship partner. Each item should be prefaced with a blank in which you insert your partner’s name, except for item 16 (if you have no partner now, substitute a past partner's name):

  1. really listens to me
  2. seems interested in what I am thinking and feeling
  3. is understanding
  4. tries to see where I’m coming from
  5. is attentive to my needs
  6. is responsive to my needs
  7. takes my concerns seriously
  8. really gets my point of view
  9. does not accept my feelings and concerns
  10. ignores my side of the story
  11. dismisses my concerns too easily
  12. seems to ignore the things that are most important to me
  13. does not really understand my wants and needs
  14. does not really take my concerns seriously
  15. often really does not hear what I am saying
  16. When I’m feeling worried or stressed about something, it only makes things worse to tell ___ about it.

The first 8 items form the responsiveness scale within the PRI and the second group forms the insensitivity scale. The average responsiveness score was slightly over 3.5 with most scores falling between 2.4 and 4.7, and the average insensitivity score was just under 1.0, with most people scoring between 0 and 2. There were gender differences with men having lower overall PRI scores, but only by a fraction of a point.

As you might expect, PRI might wax and wane over the course of even short intervals of time, and this is what the Rochester-area researchers discovered by administering the PRI over repeated intervals. In general, though, people scoring high on the PRI scale were more likely to be satisfied in their relationship, to feel that their partner was emotionally supportive, and to rate as lower any hostile behaviors by their partner at times of conflict.

You could go one step further in this process by using the PRI, as the authors did, on your partner to see how you score in your partner’s view. You could also rate your own perception of yourself as a responsive and sensitive partner by turning the question around as in, after discussing a contentious issue with your partner you “learned something about your partner’s thoughts and feelings.” Returning to the problems you're facing now in the pandemic, you could try to rate yourself on how your partner's responsiveness and sensitivity are working with respect to these stress-specific issues.

To sum up, as a measure of couple interaction, the PRI has a great deal of potential, as you can most likely see from your own scores. Although you may wish to focus on how responsive your partner is to you, relationship research would suggest that you use these items like a mirror of your own behavior as well. Fulfilling relationships are a function of the ways that couples communicate with each other. By focusing on how responsive and sensitive each of you is to each other, you can maximize your own relationship’s fulfillment even during times of stress.

References

Crasta, D., Rogge, R. D., Maniaci, M. R., & Reis, H. T. (2021). Toward an optimized measure of perceived partner responsiveness: Development and validation of the perceived responsiveness and insensitivity scale. Psychological Assessment. doi: 10.1037/pas0000986.supp (Supplemental)

Reis, H. T., Clark, M. S., & Holmes, J. G. (2004). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing construct in the study of intimacy and closeness. In D. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), Handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 201–225). Lawrence Erlbaum