Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Do You Believe in Relationship Magic?

Does fate, luck, or magic affect your relationship or is it your own actions?

"If you believe in magic, don't bother to choose." —The Lovin' Spoonful

Simply put, internal locus of control is good, whereas an external locus of control is bad, according to Julian B. Rotter, who developed the construct in the 1950s. Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe that they are in control of their lives. They believe that their own actions and decisions influence the outcome and direction of their lives. Their fortune, good or bad, is due to what they did or didn't do. One's own ability, effort, and actions determine what happens. Whereas persons with a strong external locus of control believe that what happens to them is due to outside factors. What happens is largely out of their control. The good that happens to them is due to fate, luck, chance, or magic and they blame others for their misfortune.

Andrea-Piacquadio/Pexels/License CO0
Source: Andrea-Piacquadio/Pexels/License CO0

Locus of Control and Couple Satisfaction

Numerous studies suggest that locus of control plays a significant role in both couple satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Doherty (1981) found that one form of dissimilarity, the more external wife and more internal husband, was associated with marital dissatisfaction. Myers and Booth (1999) found that the higher a couple's marital locus of control score was, the more positive marital quality they had as well as lower negative marital quality. In addition, they found that spouses with lower levels of marital locus of control were more likely to report the presence of marital strains linked to lower levels of marital quality.

Lee and McKinnish (2019) researched couples over time and found that internal locus of control is linked to marital satisfaction. They also found that one's own locus of control matters more for marital satisfaction than one's spouse’s locus of control. Couples in which the husband is more externally oriented experience declines in marital satisfaction over time compared to more internally oriented husbands. Is there a relationship between locus of control and couple satisfaction?

Locus of Control and Overindulgence

A follow-up study examined the connection between locus of control and childhood overindulgence in romantic relationships. The sample consisted of 233 individuals who were in a romantic relationship (dating, committed dating relationship, engaged, cohabitating, or married). Participants were asked questions covering childhood overindulgence and four scales including the Miller Marital Locus of Control Scale (MMLOC). The MMLOC measures an individual's internal and external locus of control within the context of their relationship (e.g., how to solve disagreements, discussion of problems, methods of avoiding conflict, discussion of difficult issues, etc.). Internal and external locus of control scores were calculated.

Externals, Internals and Childhood Overindulgence

The analysis indicates that if individuals were overindulged as children, they were more likely to view their relationship from an external locus of control. Externals believe that circumstances out of their control play a major role in their relationship. Externals think that the unhappy times in their relationship just seem to happen regardless of what they do.

Marital external locus of control:

  • is positively correlated with childhood overindulgence.
  • is positively correlated with Over-nurture, the type of childhood overindulgence in which overparenting occurs.
  • is positively correlated with Soft Structure, the type of childhood overindulgence in which parents do not have rules, enforce the rules, or make children do chores.
  • is not correlated with the type of childhood overindulgence called Too Much, when parents give children too much of everything.

Marital internal locus of control:

  • is not correlated with childhood overindulgence.
  • is not correlated with any type of childhood overindulgence: Over-nurture, Too Much, or Soft Structure.

Overindulged children who grow up with an external locus of control think:

  • that happy times in their relationship just seem to happen without any of their own efforts.
  • that circumstances play a major role in determining whether their relationship functions smoothly.
  • that they have helped to bring about unpleasant experiences in their relationship.
  • that circumstances of one sort or another play a major role in determining whether their relationship functions smoothly.
  • their partner's mood state is often a response to something they have said or done.

Nature or Nurture?

What is the origin of one's locus of control? Is it nature? Are we born as an internal or external? Or do we learn to be internal or external, and if we learn it, can we then unlearn it? Like most constructs in psychology, the origins of locus of control are probably not purely nature or nurture.

"Locus of control is often viewed as an inborn personality component. However, there is also evidence that it is shaped by childhood experiences—including children’s interactions with their parents. Children who were raised by parents who encouraged their independence and helped them to learn the connection between actions and their consequences tended to have a more well developed internal locus of control." — Richard B. Joelson

Logically and statistically, childhood overindulgence and an external locus of control are connected to each other. This is true especially if parents over-nurture their children and they are soft on structure.

"Over-nurture is being over-involved in your children’s lives. It is doing things that children should be doing for themselves, smothering them with love, allowing them too many privileges, making sure they were always entertained, and hovering over them constantly trying to insulate them from frustration, stress, and anxiety." — David Bredehoft

Practice Aloha. Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude.

© 2020 David J. Bredehoft


Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80(1), 1–28.

Miller, P. C., Lefcourt, H. M., & Ware, E. E. (1983). The construction and development of the Miller Marital Locus of Control scale. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 15(3), 266–279.

Doherthy, W J (1981). Locus of control difference and marital dissatisfaction. Journal of Marriage and the family, 43, 369-377.

Myers, S. M, & Booth, A. (1999). Marital strains and marital quality: The role of high and low locus of control. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61, (2), 423-436.

Lee, W. S., & McKinnish, T. (2019). Locus of control and marital satisfaction: Couple perspectives using Australian data. IZA Discussion Papers, No. 12599, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn.

Bredehoft, D. J., & Clarke, J. I. (2006). Questions about growing up overindulged and adult relationships. Poster presented at the National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN. 11.11.06.