How Do You Know Whether Love Will Last?
If we expect our relationships to be happy, they will be
Posted June 27, 2016
You have just begun a new relationship and you find yourself falling head over heels for your new lover. He seems to feel the same way. Perhaps he brings you flowers or texts you many times a day, listens attentively, and wants to spend all his free time with you. Or perhaps she seems to share your hopes and dreams, laughs with you, and you have great chemistry together. Alternatively, perhaps you are a married couple whose relationship is going through a rocky phase. You fight a lot and seem to lead parallel lives, without much physical or emotional intimacy. You begin to doubt whether you’ll be together forever. Which of these relationships will last and grow and which will fade?
How do you know if your partner is going to stick with you through the rough patches or whether early romance will lead to more serious commitment? A recent study suggests that our visions of the future with our partner and our predictions of how happy that future will be are powerful predictors of relationship commitment.
The investment model (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978) of relationship commitment proposes that we stay committed to romantic relationships to the extent that
- they meet and do not frustrate our needs (e.g., for intimacy, fun. security, excitement etc.),
- they are more attractive than other potential relationships or ways of spending our time
- the breakup of the relationship would lead us to lose valuable resources (like time, money, housing, fun activities, or being part of a family or social group).
Sometimes we stay in relationships that are not so satisfying because we would lose too much by leaving or because we don’t have any better alternatives. Or we leave relatively satisfying relationships because a more attractive (or resource-rich) alternative partner appears.
A recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Professor Edward Lemay of the University of Maryland suggests an alternative theory, called the forecast model of relationship commitment. This model suggests that our expectations of how happy we will be with our partner in the future determine how committed we are to our relationships, over and above the three factors discussed above.
In other words, if we are going through a challenging stage in the relationship (e.g., having a new baby or a difficult teenager, financial stress, fighting, or one partner needing to work all the time), we are more likely to stay if we think the relationship will improve and bring us happiness in the future. We are more willing to invest effort and make sacrifices if we see the potential for future gain. But if we think things won’t improve or we don’t see long-term happiness with our partner, we are less likely to invest or to behave in ways that help the relationship.
In new relationships, we may think about whether our partner wants the same things in life that we do, what type of parent they would make, whether we would continue to have fun together, and so on.
Research studies found strong support for the three factors specified by the investment model and the additional factor of predicted future satisfaction suggested by the forecasting model.
- Those who saw a happier future with their partner reported more commitment on a daily basis, and one year later.
- The studies also showed that when people anticipate more future satisfaction in the relationship, they are less likely to behave destructively. For example they do less blaming, criticizing, and rejecting.
- They are also more likely to respond constructively to negative behavior by the partner.
- These positive relationship behaviors are likely to enhance the stability of the relationship.
The researchers concluded that.
“People pursue relationships that are expected to bring pleasure and disengage from relationships that are expected to bring pain, and this can be seen in the effects of these expectations for the future on relationship commitment.” p. 49
So, if you want your relationship to last, try talking to your partner about your dreams and hopes for the future of the relationship and paint a picture of the happy times you see ahead.
Lemay Jr, E. P. (2016). The Forecast Model of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(1), 34-52.
Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and former Professor of Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. She is an expert on relationships, stress, and mindfulness. She provides workshops, speaking engagements and psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet. She is the author of The Stress-Proof Brain (February, 2017).