- Partners' attitudes often evolve independently from one another, challenging the tenet that couples' worldviews converge over time.
- Couples are highly similar in areas relevant to one's needs for social connection and understanding the world.
- Partners are generally more similar to each other than they are different, but that doesn’t mean their attitudes evolve in unison.
A new study calls into question a longstanding tenet of relationship science — that romantic couples exhibit convergence in their attitudes, traits, beliefs, and behaviors over time.
“A fundamental principle of relationship development is that romantic partners become psychologically interdependent; their experiences and views converge over time,” say the authors of the research led by Matthew Hammond of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “[Our] results challenge interpreting these theories as specifying that couples become more similar across time: People’s traits, well-being, and beliefs followed trajectories that were disconnected from their partners.”
Partners' Attitudes Evolve Independently
To arrive at this conclusion, the authors examined data from 171 mixed-gender couples who took part in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey over a four-year time period (from 2015-2018). They tracked how couples’ responded to questions regarding their psychological and physical health, relationship well-being, personality traits, political beliefs, environmental attitudes, religiosity, gender and sexuality attitudes, and group- and country-based ideologies — and whether couples’ showed signs of convergence in their attitudes, experiences, and views over time.
They found limited evidence that couples’ experiences and worldviews converged over time. For instance, there were some instances of short-term attitude convergence, such as the synchronizing of political opinions during an election year. But these effects were generally short-lived. More often than not, couples’ attitudes evolved independently from one another. In fact, there were some instances of belief divergence, such as one partner becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their life and the economy to the extent that their partner was, on average, becoming more satisfied.
The authors state, “Altogether, we cannot conclude that partners in long-term relationships work to maintain one unified perspective about themselves and the world.”
Couples Are More Similar Than They Are Different
While couples did not exhibit the level of belief convergence the researchers expected to find, they weren’t entirely dissimilar in their attitudes and worldviews either. For instance, the researchers found a high degree of similarity between couples in the areas of relationship needs, beliefs about religion, beliefs about the environment, and beliefs regarding societal groups. Interestingly, couples were least similar in the areas of personality traits and individual health.
“At a fundamental level, we showed that romantic partners are highly similar to one another,” say the researchers. “Similarities occurred for constructs that were most relevant to people’s needs for social connection and understanding the world.”
What does this all mean? Couples are generally more similar to each other than they are different — but that doesn’t mean their attitudes and worldviews evolve in unison.
The authors note that more research is needed to understand whether these results are found cross-culturally, or whether they are specific to New Zealand or Western cultures.
“Our results do not generalize across cultures,” state the authors. “In particular, the motive to hold a shared consensus, or at least perceive consensus, may be stronger in people with collectivistic backgrounds and extend to their families and communities.”
Hammond, M. D., & Sibley, C. G. (2021). Romantic Partners Are Similar in Their Well-Being and Sociopolitical Attitudes but Change Independently Over Time. Social Psychological and Personality Science.