Do You Believe in Soul Mates?
The idea of soul mates is great—the reality, maybe not so much.
Posted Mar 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- People who believe in soul mates put a lot of weight on their initial impressions of a relationship.
- Believers in soul mates can have highly satisfying relationships but tend to disengage from the relationship when problems arise.
- People also hold beliefs about whether or not problems in relationships can be overcome.
- It's important to recognize that beliefs can shape relationships, whatever beliefs you may hold.
Do you think people are meant to be together? That soul mates are able to find each other out of the billions of people on this planet? If so, you might be high in what researchers call destiny beliefs. These are beliefs that people are destined to be compatible or not. And that whether or not a relationship works is determined from the start.
If you believe in soul mates, you are certainly not alone. Destiny beliefs are all around us and form the basis of some of the best romance plots. Think of all the star-crossed lovers we grew up reading about or watching on TV. I’m sure you could name five movies about soul mates right now (I’m not admitting the ones that came to my mind, but this weekend I watched Descendants with my daughter and soul mates featured prominently in it).
Believing in soul mates is inspiring, and finding the person you believe to be your soul mate might make you feel like the star of a Hollywood romance. But these beliefs also have implications for how relationships play out over time. People who believe in soul mates tend to be happier with their relationships at the beginning—they wouldn’t bother to get into a relationship if they didn’t think there was potential for the person to be “the one.” And those who get into very satisfying relationships tend to stay in the relationship for longer. But when the relationship isn’t as satisfying from the get-go, they’re quick to end it (and are more OK to "ghost"). People who believe in destiny are looking for fireworks, not a slow simmer.
When problems arise, though, things can get rocky—every relationship takes work, but people who really believe in destiny may be less likely to put the work in, seeing any issues in the relationship as a sign that the relationship is not “meant to be.” Perhaps the problem is discovering that your partner isn’t as much of a nature lover as you are, or it's having your first fight about whose family to visit over the holidays. Perhaps the honeymoon stage has worn off and the relationship just isn’t as fun as it used to be. People who hold destiny beliefs are more likely to ignore or deny the problem and disengage from the relationship, rather than try to work through the problem.
Destiny beliefs aren’t the only beliefs people hold about relationships. Researchers also discuss growth beliefs. Whereas destiny beliefs refer to beliefs about initial impressions of the relationship (knowing early on whether you are meant to be or not), growth beliefs refer to people’s beliefs about the meaning of problems in relationships. People who hold growth beliefs see problems as something that can be overcome. They think even less-than-ideal relationships can grow and become stronger if people put the work into them. People who have stronger growth beliefs are more likely to persist in a relationship even if early on it isn’t highly satisfying, turn friendships into relationships, and work through problems when they arise. Growth beliefs help people remain committed even when facing relationship problems.
Destiny and growth beliefs are independent of each other, which means you can hold one, both, or neither. People who believe in soul mates and don’t see problems as something they can overcome are said to have an “evaluation” perspective. Those who don’t believe in soul mates and see problems as something that can be worked through have a “cultivation” perspective. However, people can also believe in destiny and see problems as solvable, and these people are seen as “optimistic.” Not believing in destiny or the ability to work through problems is seen as a “hopeless” perspective. These latter two perspectives have received considerably less attention from researchers.
The researchers who study these beliefs are quick to point out that they are not inherently good or bad. Holding strong destiny beliefs can be problematic when it prevents people from working through problems in a relationship that has a lot of potential, but it can also make a relationship feel special and unique when the relationship does work out. Holding strong growth beliefs can encourage problem-solving and promote commitment in the face of conflict, but it can also encourage people to stay in toxic relationships due to persistent beliefs that the relationship will succeed if you just keep working at it.
Recognizing that our beliefs shape how we approach, maintain, and end relationships is important, whatever those beliefs may be.
Knee, C. R. (1998). Implicit theories of relationships: Assessment and prediction of romantic relationship initiation, coping, and longevity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(2), 360.
Knee, C. R., & Petty, K. N. (2013). Implicit theories of relationships: Destiny and growth beliefs. The Oxford handbook of close relationships, 183-198.
Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2019). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 905-924.