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). 

Facebook image: Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

References

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Barelds, D. H., & Barelds-Dijkstra, P. (2007). Love at first sight or friends first? Ties among partner personality trait similarity, relationship onset, relationship quality, and love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(4), 479–496. doi:10.1177/0265407507079235

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 13(1), 3–66. doi:10.1177/1529100612436522

Foster, C. A., & Campbell, W. K. (2005). The adversity of secret relationships. Personal Relationships, 12(1), 125–143. https://doi-org.ecsu.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00105.x

Frijns, T., Finkenauer, C., & Keijsers, L. (2013). Shared secrets versus secrets kept private are linked to better adolescent adjustment. Journal of adolescence, 36(1), 55-64.

Kurzban, R., & Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: Mate preferences in action. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(3), 227–244. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2004.08.012

Lavner, J. A., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2013). Newlyweds’ optimistic forecasts of their marriage: For better or for worse?. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(4), 531.

Lemay Jr, E. P., & Venaglia, R. B. (2016). Relationship expectations and relationship quality. Review of General Psychology, 20(1), 57-70.

Luo, S., & Klohnen, E. C. (2005). Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(2), 304–326. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.88.2.304

Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? Evidence from a speed-dating study. Journal of Personality, 77(4), 933–964. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00570.x

Ma‐Kellams, C., Wang, M. C., & Cardiel, H. (2017). Attractiveness and relationship longevity: Beauty is not what it is cracked up to be. Personal Relationships, 24(1), 146-161.

MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of sexual self-disclosure in the sexual satisfaction of long-term heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 46(1), 3-14.

Montoya, R., & Horton, R. S. (2013). A meta-analytic investigation of the processes underlying the similarity-attraction effect. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(1), 64–94. doi:10.1177/0265407512452989

Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The self-fulfilling nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: Love is not blind, but prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1155–1180. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.71.6.1155

Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J. F., & Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(8), 1277–1285. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.12.021

Snyder, M., Tanke, E., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 656–666. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.35.9.656.

Sprecher, S., & Hendrick, S. S. (2004). Self-disclosure in intimate relationships: Associations with individual and relationship characteristics over time. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(6), 857-877.

Thao, H., Overbeek, G., & Engels, R. E. (2010). Effects of attractiveness and social status on dating desire in heterosexual adolescents: An experimental study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(5), 1063–1071. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9561-z